U of I Cuts $75k/Student Arts Program

8 students scheduled to participate in $600,000 Washington, D.C.-based arts program this year

Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009  |  Updated 1:30 PM CDT
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The University of Illinois will drop an arts program based in Washington, D.C., after deciding that it's far too expensive.

Interim Chancellor Robert Easter, the top administrator at the Urbana-Champaign campus, decided Tuesday to cut the $600,000-a-year program at the Phillips Collection modern art museum after a committee examining the expense recommended the move.

The program has sent about 45 students to study at the Washington museum since 2006 and has eight signed up for next semester.

(The math:  $600,000 / 8 = $75,000)

"The program, in a time of severe budget cuts, was just no longer viable," Robert Graves, the dean of the arts college, told the Chicago Tribune. "As much good as it had done for the students who could participate, the cost was more than what we could devote to it."

Supporters said the program gave undergraduate and graduate students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the country's first modern art museum. The committee's report acknowledged that some participants described it as "the richest component of their academic lives at Illinois."

Former Chancellor Richard Herman backed the program and paid for it through a fund he controlled. Herman resigned in October following news reports about and a state examination of the influence of political connections on admissions at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Herman planned for the program to eventually support itself through donations and tuition paid by people in the Washington area who also take the classes. That hasn't happened, the committee found.

Much of the program's cost covered director Jonathan Fineberg's salary, Washington housing and travel between Champaign and Washington, according to the university. Fineberg, an Illinois art history professor, is paid about $198,000 a year and the program's travel budget this year is $60,800.

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