National Commission on the Future of UIS
Chancellor Richard D. Ringeisen
October 31, 2003
“A Vision for All Seasons: Looking Ahead 10 Years”
Following are the prepared remarks of Chancellor Richard D. Ringeisen on October 31, 2003, for the closing ceremony of the National Commission on the Future of UIS.
Thank you for being here today. Thank you, John (Blackburn), for chairing this national commission and giving us that good overview of the 13 task forces’ vision.
Before I get into more formal remarks, I want to say a few more words of thanks:
1) Thanks again John, for reminding us from your vantage point how instructive a process like this can be. John read every one of your vision statements a month or so ago, and his feedback helped me put this presentation together. Independently, he found some of the same themes that I did, and I’ll talk a bit later about those. So thanks, John, for your insights. And, Ed, this just wouldn’t have happened without you – THANKS!
2) Thanks to the 13 task force conveners – all senior administrators at UIS who took this task seriously and recruited great people to work with them.
3) Thanks to the more than 40 faculty members who served on the task forces. I have to admit that I’ve heard “rumblings” that this was an “external” process, but I’m so pleased to see that about 25 percent of the faculty served on the various task forces. I am pleased and grateful for your participation. You have plenty else to do with rising enrollment, and I’m happy that people recognize that this kind of university service is very important, too.
4) Thanks, too, to the more than 40 staff who also served on a task force, and to more than a hundred students, alumni and friends from the community who also guided this vision. I have a quick suggestion for all of you:
To our friends from off-campus, come back often. We enjoy having you, and we’re striving to create more reasons for you to get here. And to those of you who work and teach here: remember that we have this many external friends, and many more, in fact, and it’s important to stay in touch with them. That’s a good heartwarming thing to remember, isn’t it?
To all 192 of you on the 13 task forces, 192 thanks!
This was by design a decentralized process, and when we put it all together, what we found was a vision for all seasons. A vision for ALL seasons.
Your visions inspire me. This process inspires me. Reflecting on what we might become in 10 years is so refreshing. Really, great changes occur incrementally anyway, and I ask you to remember that. Increments. Things usually don’t move as quickly as we want them to, but I think we can see 10 years down the road and realize we are indeed building “something special.” When you get your copy of the commission’s report after this session, take a close look at the two pages summarizing all 13 visions. A reading of those cannot help but inspire you! I hope the vision of this commission opens more eyes about the great possibilities for UIS.
Let me be quick to say, though, the possibilities are not only in the future. A few weeks ago, in mid-September, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees was here at UIS for its regular meeting. It was mostly a routine meeting, made all the more complete with a few people carrying signs into the room and politely enjoying their constitutional right to assemble peaceably.
Something very special happened at that meeting. Associate Professor Mike Lemke, a great biologist, gave a presentation about his research on nitrates on the Illinois River system near Beardstown. He used PowerPoint (I heard he was up all night getting it polished), he sprinkled his presentation with humor, and he described how he applies research to his classroom and his students – the teacher-scholar model in action. I can tell you this for a fact: He opened some eyes among members of the Board of Trustees and other visitors to UIS. Some of them came up to me afterward and told me how great Mike’s presentation was and how important his research is. Mike generated a lot of excitement that day, and we were all proud of the way he represented the best of UIS.
That is why I want to be clear to say, when talking about vision and greatness and excellence, that I’m not only talking about the good things to come.
Nonetheless, the existing Vision Statement for UIS has been in place for almost seven years, and it was time to revisit what it says. That’s exactly what you’ve done with your work on the task forces.
Dreaming boldly… we asked the task forces to focus on the gap between where we are now and where we aspire to be. We asked for those crisp, one-page vision statements, because in reality that’s a lot harder to do that than to write five pages. Most of you did a nice job with those one-pagers… but Nick and Chuck, where are you? What point size did you use to get that vision down to one page? Oh well, you still get full credit. You really did have too much good stuff for old-fashioned 12-point type. Nice job. Your statements a good read.
Dreaming boldly… some of you chose to be philosophical, while others chose to walk on the edge with specific ideas. Either way, I like your enthusiasm. Where is Dean Ron McNeil? Ron? You know we assumed that in 10 years UIS is going to have 6,000 students on the Springfield campus, in addition to the Peoria Center students and the online students. Have you told the other deans yet that you envision having 2,000 of those students as well as 70 to 90 faculty in your college? I’ll leave it to the Division of Academic Affairs to work that out during our formal strategic planning process, but I have to say a vision of growth and expansion inspires me and should inspire us all.
Dreaming boldly… the task forces described dozens of ways that we will move from where we are to where we aspire to be. You provided many specifics, and they are all in the report, but I want to mention here just three broader ways that many of you picture us 10 years from now:
1) We will be a regional and national leader: Many of you said in your statements that UIS will be more widely known in this region and in the United States, and UIS will be the “school of choice” for many students and faculty. Using slightly different words, I see that UIS will become a nationally recognized regional leader in higher education. That sounds very good to me.
2) The second overarching vision involves diversity: Most of you said we will have a more diverse faculty of teacher-scholars and a more diverse student body with all the student life that goes with supporting a vibrant campus. I could tell that diversity was very much on your minds during your deliberations, and I commend you for that.
3) The third big area is technology: I know some people were disappointed we did not have a separate technology committee, and maybe we should have. The good news is that all of you see a future in which we’re on the leading edge of technology, as a university should be. So we’ll keep going high-tech in teaching, communicating, and providing safety and services.
Technologically savvy in every way.
That, my friends and coworkers, is a wonderful vision – a vision not only for today, or this year, but a vision for all seasons. Apply those three concepts to your own area of interest or activity – national leadership, diversity and technology – and then multiply your area by 13, and I hope you get the idea, as I have as a mathematician, about how UIS faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends will transform this institution in the decade to come. Multiple ideas times 13 give us hundreds of ways to push forward, boldly and creatively.
Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons in this part of the country, especially on this campus. It’s also a metaphorical time to take stock of what we have accomplished so far this year, before the winter sets in. I am reminded of what Abraham Lincoln said in 1858 at the Republican State Convention, in a speech delivered in the Old State Capitol downtown: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.”
We are building on our foundations and traditions so that we can better judge what to do next and how to do it.
Fall is so beautiful that is tempting to say every year that we wish that winter would not come. But it always does, and we can learn from that. There may be no better metaphor for what public higher education in Illinois is now experiencing than winter. These are tough times, and I am reminded of what Coach Lou Holtz once said: When you’ve got problems, 80% of the people don’t care and the other 20% are glad you do. It’s especially in winter when we can feel so alone. But it’s especially in down cycles that we must remember that better times lie ahead. They always do. So we have to be ready, and we’re getting ready by envisioning what we will become and what we aspire to be.
The good news, always, is that spring and summer follow winter. They always do. I could cite dozens of ways from your own statements how we expect to see new life develop at UIS in the next decade. It will be exciting to watch it happen. It will be exciting to nurture it.
I am reminded of what Bob Spencer said on this campus more than 30 years ago. Who was Bob Spencer? some of you might ask. He was the founding president of Sangamon State University, who came here to launch the university, hire new faculty and welcome the first group of students in the fall of 1970. In his State of the University Address in December 1971, he said, “One year ago we opened with 800 full-time students, and now we have twice that many. This year we have expanded the faculty to 90 or so full- and part-time positions.” That was a very exciting time – just two weeks away from the ceremony at which SSU awarded the first degrees to our students. He described how they got there, and he added, “All of these achievements were won by the hard work and the creative energies of many people, and, despite occasional growing pains, we can truly say that [the university] is firmly launched.”
Today I want to build on our past by paraphrasing Spencer’s observation. UIS now has more than 22,000 alumni scattered throughout the world. Ten years from now, I want people to look back on the vision we’re discussing today and echo Spencer’s words: that the next round of growth will have occurred by the hard work and the creative energies of many people, and, despite occasional growing pains, they will say with some awe that UIS was remarkably re-launched just after the turn of the century.
I know I mentioned three overarching themes that showed up many times in your vision statements, and I want to add two more.
Numbers four and five are two more issues that emerged from this process. The fourth issue is tied to the third, which is that we will be a high-tech leader. The key word in this fourth issue is online. We are already a national leader in providing online courses and online degrees. That trend will continue as more faculty and students use the Internet to teach and learn online, and as other critical areas like Admissions and Campus Relations receive and deliver information the way people want it – electronically. By online, I do not mean only teaching courses online the way we do now. I anticipate even more creative uses of online technologies. Remember that 10 years ago, there was no Internet Explorer or Netscape. So who can predict for sure what tools we’ll be using 10 years from now? What we do know is that the ease of electronic communication will continue to change our lives, and UIS will be on the leading edge of those technological changes.
The fifth issue, besides being a higher education leader,
Having a more diverse student body, faculty and staff
Being technologically savvy
And providing great online experiences…
… came directly from our Leadership Roundtable discussion a year ago, when I discussed this National Commission with 19 distinguished alumni. These successful alumni, most of whom no longer live in Springfield, talked about Abraham Lincoln and how important he is to Springfield and how important he could be for UIS. They said Lincoln could be our niche, a big selling point for UIS. I mentioned this to you in the spring – the Roundtable’s idea of having every degree-seeking student at UIS taking a class on Lincoln and Leadership. It’s an intriguing idea to think of every UIS student knowing that in some way, he or she walked where Lincoln walked. The idea is under discussion now in Academic Affairs, so let’s keep this one on the table as our discussions proceed. I know that our public policy center has just endured some trauma in having “Lincoln” removed from its name. But that won’t stop the center from having important Lincoln programs. It doesn’t stop UIS from having a wonderful Distinguished Chair of Lincoln Studies, and it will not stop us from embracing Lincoln’s legacy throughout our institution – which we shall do! I hope you believe, as I do, that Lincoln will always be instructive for us as we march boldly into the future with malice toward none and charity for all.
So as we move on, I want to remind you what I believe we can do: I believe we can make UIS one of the best small public universities in the region, if not the nation, with an emphasis on liberal arts & sciences, public affairs and professional programs. They all work together.
Today, as promised, I am formally announcing the first steps of a strategic planning process for UIS. We have just engaged in a visioning process in a decentralized way, but we don’t have a new UIS vision statement yet. It’s too early for that. I had said earlier that I would follow this visioning process with a formal strategic planning process. I have already asked 11 people to serve on an ad hoc committee to decide what the next steps should be in launching the strategic planning process. That is, they are to define the process. Some are faculty, some are leaders of our consultative groups. All are campus leaders. They are in the front row here today. Would you please stand and be recognized?
I have asked them to make the work of the National Commission on the Future of UIS their launching pad. Let’s do this the right way. Let’s get moving and let’s get it going. I expect that all of you will be hearing before the end of the semester specifically how the strategic planning process will evolve.
Today we release a new vision for all seasons. It sounds just a bit odd to consider that this is what we might be in the year 2013 – an unremarkable number, an unremarkable year – but it sounds more exciting, doesn’t it, to say this is what we aspire to be in 10 years? Now that’s remarkable.
So as we end this visioning exercise and move into a strategic planning process, I want to thank you again for dreaming boldly yet realistically. Now I ask only one thing of you: to make a renewed effort to do all that we do, together, lest we lose heart. Do not lose heart, because we have a great vision in front of us. When you need a little pick-me-up, pick this up! I am personally inspired by your efforts, I see where you want to go, and I will do my best to work toward this vision with you.
Now I will be happy to listen to any questions or comments.