Associate professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at Sangamon State University, Miller is a 1949 graduate of the University of Illinois. He was a reporter for 25 years and received over 20 A.P. News Awards and the national Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting.
President of the University of Illinois

John Corbally

John Corbally A successful advocate of higher education, Corbally discusses his 'old-fashioned' and often unpopular views on progressive income tax, students on governing boards, tuition hikes and intercollegiate athletics

DR. JOHN E. CORBALLY is president of the University of Illinois, the ninth largest university in the nation with 60,000 students at three campuses: Urbana-Champaign, Chicago Circle and Chicago Medical Center. Students come from every county in the state; 90 per cent of them come from Illinois. The annual appropriated budget totals over $245 million, which is about $20 for every person in the state.

Dr. Corbally's career has been devoted to public education since he received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. in educational administration and finance from the University of California, Berkeley. The 52-year-old administrator has been president of the university for over five years.

In a recent wide-ranging interview in his campus office in Urbana, Corbally discussed his concerns about state support of higher education, including the question of tuition hikes, collective bargaining for faculty members and the role of students on governing boards.

Q: You were successful in leading a drive to get the legislature to override the veto to restore about half the funds for increases in faculty salaries. Your reaction?
A: As you know, we simply agreed to start spending as of the date it was approved rather than going back to the beginning of the fiscal year [July 1, 1976]. I don't find that a major problem. The full amount to support that increase over a fiscal year was restored to our base, and we agreed to not use it all in 1977.1 think the most heartening aspect of that is a sort of reaffirmation on the part of the General Assembly of the action they had taken in the spring when they gave higher education a really thorough hearing. I added up something like four and a half hours of hearings just on the University of Illinois budget. They were well aware of the financial problems. They came up with a salary level which they thought the state could afford and we were delighted they reaffirmed that action.

Q; In this lobbying effort, you went all out by enlisting the support of students, their parents, and alumni to pressure legislators to override the veto, Is this a bit unusual?
A: I think it is important you not try to get large numbers of people all stirred up constantly. For four or five years we had gone up to the legislature with inadequate support. We had been working hard, and it just seemed to us that the case for some redress of this two-and-a-half per cent salary increase was good enough reason to decide that the time had come to go to the alumni and to the parents. Regardless of that override, whether we had won or lost, the effort stirred up a great deal of interest and indicated a strong amount of support. I anticipate that effort will continue to be helpful to the university over the next year or two.

Q: Gov. James Thompson says this will be a year of austerity for Illinois. He says he will insist the state spend less than it receives. Funding for higher education, therefore, doesn't look good. Yet, in a November position paper, Thompson said, "Since education is the highest priority of state government, we should make every effort to insure that we provide sufficient funds to maintain the highest level of quality obtainable." What is your reaction?
A: It's very early in Gov. Thompson's term. We had an opportunity during the transition period to begin to talk about our needs. Higher education is not a major user of the general revenue fund of the state, and I don't find it totally inconsistent to think that we can exercise great care in spending, maintain

6 / March 1977 / Illinois Issues

the total state expenditure plan within projected revenues, and still begin to move the support of higher education back to where it traditionally has been in Illinois. Given the right kinds of reviews and studies, it is possible to honor a priority commitment to higher education and to stay within the revenues of the state.

Q: Some critics say that with expected declining enrollments beginning in 1980, there should be a sharp cutback in funding for higher education. Do you agree?
A: The enrollment question has two aspects. One, the state support per student in terms of constant dollars in Illinois over the last five years has dropped. It would take quite a healthy increase in higher education appropriations to get the real dollars per student back up to where they were 10 years ago. Secondly, the enrollment impact upon each institution is different. I do not anticipate a time when the University of Illinois will fall below its current enrollment of 60,000 students on the three campuses. Pressures to get into the university remain high. We're forced every year to deny admission to very well qualified people. We're just simply not an institution that will be faced with problems of declining enrollment unless our dollars decline to the point where we can't take as many students as we can today.

Q: Some critics are questioning the need for higher education. There was a cover story in Newsweek magazine last year entitled, "Who Needs College?" It pointed out that many college graduates cannot find jobs, some Ph.D.'s are driving cabs. Journalism schools, for example, are being flooded with the applications of students who want to become future Woodwards and Bernsteins. How do you feel about it?
A: The first thing you have to recognize is that there are probably a lot of young people who go on to college or university after graduation from high school either because of parental or grand-parental or some other family pressures or because of peer pressures "everybody else is going on to college, so I will too." There are many people who are pressured into higher education who don't know why they want to go and in many cases would be much better off if they were permitted to follow their inclination and maybe go to work, maybe go to some kind of preparation program for one of the service industries. Goodness knows we have need in this society for people who can do all kinds of work and not all those workers are best prepared in a university.

For those who want to become the new flash reporter for the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Chicago Tribune, the odds are that only one out of a thousand will. That doesn't trouble me provided that the university, the faculty, the counselors, the people involved in talking with that young person as he or she starts at the university, present an honest picture. They must indicate that the odds that you will be this kind of a reporter in this kind of a place, or that you will become an opera singer, or that you will be a physicist in one of the top five corporations are not 100 per cent.

Because we don't have a managed higher education economy, we are going to have students finishing baccalaureate degrees who will have to go into alternate kinds of careers. Our task at the university is to make sure that our educational programs are sufficiently noncareer-specific so that we can deliver on our claim that even though the baccalaureate degree holder becomes a cab driver which is a worthy career that the baccalaureate degree holder as a participating citizen in this country is going to be better for his or her university experience than without it.

Q. You favor tuition increases. Gov. Thompson during the campaign came out strongly against them. He said, "A tuition increase would create a most severe financial hardship for middle-income families which are ineligible for little, if any, financial assistance in the form of scholarships." How do you reconcile your stand with that?
A: My assumption is something like this. The University of Illinois is a public university. One of the goals of a public university is to maintain low tuition. Theoretically, if you went back to the beginning, they had no tuition. That went by the boards a long time ago, so pragmatically you say, 'low tuition instead of no tuition.' I work on the simple assumption that if your tuition five years ago was a low tuition, if state support has increased over that five-year period (not, in my view, sufficiently), and if inflation has impacted every other price we pay in society, we could, at a minimum, apply an inflationary factor to tuition of five years ago and still have a low tuition. This state has a magnificent scholarship program with the combination of the Illinois State Scholarship Commission program and the federal programs. You have to get awfully high in the so-called middle-income group before you don't get some assistance. I simply take the somewhat pragmatic view that tuition is a price, and a period of sustained inflation impacts prices. In my view, we've somewhat foolishly not let tuition go up slowly with inflationary pressure in order to maintain the same general ratio of tax support to student contribution. [Corbally informed the University of Illinois Board of Trustees at its January meeting that he expects to propose tuition hikes of $90 per academic year for undergraduates and $120 for graduate students to be voted on by the board at the February 16 meeting. The amounts he named are the highest he would go and are the same as those recommended by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.]

Q: Advocating tuition hikes doesn't make you popular with students. Nor do remarks you made finding fault with students serving on governing boards and taking part in tenure decisions.
A: Students obviously disagree with my views, but I try to be very open and very direct with my views. I have some very old-fashioned views about roles within a university. I've never been very excited by pretending that a university and teaching are so simple to operate that decisions about those things can just as well be made by an 18-year-old as by a tenured faculty member who has devoted maybe 30 years to his or her profession. Students on governing boards strikes me as an absolute violation of the conflict of interest statutes in the state of Illinois. The only saving grace is that student trustees don't vote. They would like to have the votes and I think if they did, I would be inclined to feel that we had entered a conflict of interest. We have students on boards as non-voting members. Our students make motions, second motions, attend all our meetings, and get all the mail that any other board members does, so we are not playing games with the statute, even though I don't believe in it.

Q: But, without a vote, they have very little power, right?
A: It actually has some negative aspects. You could say that now you know student views because you have

March 1977 / Illinois Issues / 7

Corbally: 'I find myself opposed philosophically and from experience to faculty collective bargaining'

three of them on the board, so it is therefore no longer necessary to spend time trying to get student views. That, obviously, is ridiculous. It is crucial to have other avenues to get student views. I would not deny the fact that for a student who approaches board membership properly, it is a good learning experience. I suppose as an educator I have to see that as a plus probably the only plus.

Q: You have advocated a progressive income tax in Illinois to fund higher education. Do you still hold that view?
A: That statement has been almost as popular with the general populace as my tuition statements are with the students. In other states where I have lived the one mechanism which helps a state keep some of its tax money at home is a progressive income tax. I'm not an economic expert, but if you are going to revise our tax system and I think we probably should at least consider that a consideration of getting some increased income tax from those with increased ability to pay, coupled with the ability to deduct that from federal income tax obligations, is something that needs to be considered and appears to be one source of revenue for Illinois.

Q: Gov. Thompson during the campaign urged passage of a bill for collective bargaining for public employees. How do you stand on that?
A: I'm not strongly in favor of or opposed to a state public collective bargaining bill. I think it may well be that some sort of statutory umbrella at the state level would be helpful. I find myself opposed, philosophically and from experience, to faculty collective bargaining. I certainly find it difficult to understand Gov. Thompson's statements because they imply that if you had collective bargaining, in some way that would enable you to print or create money. There would be very little purpose to collective bargaining arguing how you are going to distribute two-and-a-half per cent salary increases among the people. I was very interested in the statement that Gov. Thompson made because the problem is a lack of funds. I don't find the public employee unions as they now exist in Illinois to have very much better luck with the General Assembly than do the unorganized public employees. So, I did find that statement very difficult to understand.

Q; Were you in accord with the decision to fire football coach Bob Blackman?
A: Well, I find that decision gets mixed up with my whole view of intercollegiate athletics. I think it really is unfortunate that over a time a whole host of circumstances have led to intercollegiate athletics being a very expensive business, and on almost every campus where there is a major program there is also a major financial obligation. This means that gate receipts have obviously assumed much greater importance than they should. If you reluctantly accept that fact, then you do have to accept the probability that either winning or losing in some spectacular fashion that draws in the gate receipts is unfortunately essential. My own wish would be that we could go back to the days when students came to a university for an education and, incidentally, to participate in intercollegiate athletics, that coaches didn't have to spend half their lives in what I think must be kind of a demeaning role recruiting students to come and play football or basketball, or what have you and that the number of people who paid to get in was only a minor and incidental factor. People tell me that they'd like to see the corner grocery store come back too, but neither of those things is going to happen.

8 / March 1977 / Illinois Issues

|Home| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois Issues 1977|