UI leadership program now faces revision

The political science department and the College of LAS have eliminated the master’s education portion of the civic leadership program, a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree program for students interested in public leadership, because of a lack of funding.

As the program now stands, the University selects 10 students per year in their undergraduate junior year, and they then take a residency or internship in their second semester of their undergraduate senior year. Students come back to campus in the fall to complete a one-year master’s degree by working on a group project about public policy.

William Bernhard, department head for political science, said the program is funded by external donors and foundations. The University also provided a $100,000 commitment per year for five years and tuition waivers for the about 70 graduates that have completed the program in the last seven years.

After reaching the five-year deadline in 2010, the University extended its commitment by two more years.

The department launched a review of the program, bracing for a loss of University funds.

Bernhard said the department has three goals for the revised program: maintain the overall objective, expand participation and better integrate the program within the political science department, all while being mindful of the new budgetary constraints. He said the department has discussed making the program into a concentration or minor where students would still have internship opportunities and the chance to take courses in areas such as leadership and networking.

The director position for the program will be terminated at the end of the school year.

He said he wants to preserve the essentials of this program, while making it more cost-effective and available for more students on campus.

“This is the direction we’re moving in, and I’m pretty excited about the possibilities,” he said.

He said the program has not been closed by the Urbana-Champaign Senate because “it would be premature of us to take those steps to formally close the master’s program.”

“We’re not shutting it down entirely,” he said. “We’re just kind of taking the master’s degree portion of it, and we are putting it on the shelf.”

But Max Ellithorpe, current program fellow, and many other fellows fear for the future of the program.

“There is really not much like this in the United States; this is one of the only programs that has this model,” Ellithorpe said. “There’s already a minor in leadership, and we see the central value in this program as the master’s degree in combination with the other stuff.”

He said he would not be happy with an undergraduate-only program, hoping that current fellows will be given more of a chance to restructure the program with administrators.

“I think the fellows are ready to collaborate with the University, but we hope they’re ready to work with us, not to just tell us what their decisions are,” he said.

Esteban Gast, senior in LAS, and other program fellows spoke at last Wednesday’s Illinois Student Senate meeting in defense of the program.

“This program is more than something students want to pad their resumes – there is no selfish ambition for every student currently fighting for the program (who) has already enjoyed its benefits,” he said.

Bernhard said no concrete plans for the revised program have been drafted. At this point in past years, fellows would already be recruiting undergraduate students to apply for the program. Without a set plan, this is not yet possible. He said this doesn’t concern him too much, as recruitment can be picked up in the spring instead of the fall, and the program can simply operate on a different cycle.

None of the changes will affect current students, he said.

“(There are) resource constraints now that (the University) didn’t have even 10 or 20 years ago,” Bernhard said. “We’re doing our best to be mindful of that and maintain those really important opportunities that current civic leadership program students have identified.”

Tyler can be reached tadavis2@dailyillini.com.