Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2012

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 23, 2012

Good afternoon!

Thank you all so much for coming to this University of Illinois Springfield Fall 2012 Convocation. It’s great to see all of you here!

I want to begin today by offering a special welcome to all of our faculty and staff who are new to the UIS community. Congratulations on your appointment! I hope you feel, as I most certainly do beginning my second year as your Chancellor, that you have made a brilliant decision in becoming part of this very fine institution.

I look forward to the many contributions you will make to our university in the coming years.

I also want to welcome some special guests who have joined us for Convocation today:

  • UIS Chancellor Emeritus and still wonderful advocate for our university, Naomi Lynn; and her husband, Bob;
  • Representing the Office of the Mayor of Springfield: Willis Logan, Mayor Houston’s Executive Assistant.
  • Our newly appointed President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Steward Sandstrom;
  • Standing in for Professor Lynn Fisher, Chair of our UIS Campus Senate is Vice Chair of the Campus Senate, Dr. Kathy Jamison;
  • Chair of the UIS Academic Professional Advisory Committee, Teresa Szabo;
  • President of the UIS Civil Service Advisory Council, Bobbie Fults;

And I’m pleased to welcome some special international guests from Japan who are here working with our faculty and staff on a partnership for science education:

  • Mr. Hiroshi Ohkawara, Mathematics Teacher, Ashikaga Boys High School;
  • Hirofumi Arai, Science Teacher, Ashikaga Boys High School;
  • Hirakoba Eri, English Teacher, Ashikaga Boys High School;
  • and Professor Masuda Shinji, Ashikaga Institute of Technology (I’m delighted you could join us today).

And I’d also like to welcome my “personal” special guest, my husband, Dennis Koch, who, though he has a busy career in agriculture, is himself a wonderful supporter and advocate for our university.

Please join me in welcoming all of these special guests to our convocation.

Preview

In my convocation speech a year ago, I told you that I would do a lot of listening during my first year as your Chancellor. I want to thank all of you who have been so willing to share your thoughts with me about our university and its future during these past 12 months.

I’ve been listening (and learning) at all levels –

  • throughout the University of Illinois organization, with my fellow Chancellors, Paula Allen-Meares in Chicago and Phyllis Wise in Urbana, with President Bob Easter (who you will meet at our Welcome Picnic next week if you have not met him already), and with our Board Chair, Chris Kennedy, and members of our Board of Trustees;
  • engaging with UIS faculty, staff and students with departmental and unit visits, student events and other campus activities;
  • I’ve gotten to know Governor Quinn, many of our Illinois legislators and members of our Illinois Congressional delegation in Washington;
  • and I’ve spent time with UIS alums, donors, friends, community leaders and others.

To say I’ve learned a lot would be an understatement, but of course, that listening and dialogue will continue this year and every year because your ideas, perspectives and criticisms are essential input to the process of shared governance that is fundamental to our success and to our future.

And speaking of our future, in our brief time together today, I’d like to look ahead with you at the future of the University of Illinois Springfield. In doing that, I want to first talk briefly about the UIS identity – who we are and what we aspire to be. Then, I’d like to talk about the priorities that must be our focus in the next few years in order for us to achieve our aspirations.

The UIS Identity

Since the first of July this past year, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about what our institution was, is, can and should be. We’re a young university (founded as I reminded you a year ago on a commitment to innovation) and we’ve had several major transitions in our 40+ years. Questions and debates about our identity are normal and healthy and are not at all surprising given our youth and the continued evolution of our institution.

So let me clarify today, from the Chancellor’s point of view, what I believe our vision and aspiration can best be, based in part on what I have heard from you, as well as on the evidence I have seen in the past year, and on what I am confident is the best possible alignment with the UI as a whole and the broader higher education landscape in our region at this particular time.

First, I am convinced that those essential elements of what this community has already declared about the UIS vision ring true even more so today and I want to enthusiastically affirm those elements:

The vision of the University of Illinois Springfield is to be a premier public university – and we are well on our way to achieving that aspiration.

Within that vision, we are focused on three areas of excellence:

  • First – a high-quality liberal arts foundation that prepares all graduates to be critical thinkers, lifelong learners and engaged citizens. To quote from the AAC&U’s “Statement on Liberal Learning,” a document I have turned to again and again to explain the importance of liberal learning: “A liberal education embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, natural and intellectual world; it prepares us to live responsible, productive and creative lives in a dramatically changing world. Liberal learning is society’s best investment in our shared future.”
  • Our second area of excellence is exceptional public affairs opportunities that take full advantage of the UIS location in the state capital of Illinois and the home of Abraham Lincoln. Teaching, scholarship and service that connect to public affairs provide a powerful example, I am convinced, of what UIS can uniquely be “best at in the world,” (to paraphrase researcher, Jim Collin’s landmark book, Good to Great) and I will continue to challenge our community to create areas of excellence that build on this unique feature of our university.
  • And finally our third area of excellence – outstanding professional preparation programs that prepare graduates for meaningful and successful careers (and I’ll say more about that later)..

A premier public university:

  • with a commitment to liberal learning,
  • with exceptional public affairs opportunities,
  • and will outstanding professional programs.

That, to me, describes pretty succinctly the identity and the aspirations of the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois!

Within the landscape of higher education in the United States, I am pleased to say that an important part of our UIS identity is being an active member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, COPLAC, an organization of 26 public colleges and universities from across the US that works to support and promote the value of high-quality, liberal arts education.

I am equally proud to say that UIS (like many other COPLAC institutions) is also an AASCU institution, a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, an association of about 420 regional public universities that serve over 4 million students each year. AASCU institutions, like the historic land-grant universities that include the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, are institutions of access and opportunity. AASCU institutions are student-centered campuses and are “stewards of place,” engaging with their communities and the regions they serve.

Being active members of both COPLAC and AASCU is part of who we are – and that’s a good thing.

And I want to remind you that, whatever you may think about US News and World Report rankings, it is no small achievement that we are ranked higher than any other regional public university in Illinois. At the same time, we are the only regional public university that is part of the world-class University of Illinois. It seems to me that that is not a coincidence.

It’s clear to me from all I’ve heard and experienced in my nearly 30 years in higher education, and from learning about our own traditions and history, that holding fast to this high aspiration, to be a premier public university, is the right direction for us at this time in our history.

With that vision always ahead of us, and recognizing the challenges we face, I’m very optimistic about our future (primarily because of the collective talents of all of you) and I hope you join me in looking ahead to the coming year with a sense of optimism and confidence.

Before I drill into what I see as our three priorities, I want to tell a brief story about one of many conversations I had with students this past year.

One of my most powerful listening experiences occurred in February when I met with four students who talked to me about their dreams and aspirations and why they were in college.

One is politically active and transferred here because he thinks UIS has the best possible location, here in the capital city, to get an education and prepare for a career in public service. Another student also transferred to UIS, but she did so because she wanted a smaller school setting than the one she had in Chicago and we were more affordable for her. Another was the President of the Black Male Collegiate Society and in May, the youngest of seven children, became the first person in his family to graduate from college (and I can tell you that shaking this young man’s hand on the stage at Commencement was a thrill for both of us!) The fourth student was from a local high school and her mother didn’t think it would be worthwhile for her to attend a college. But she came on her own anyway, a bit scared and without knowing what to expect. She plans to be an elementary teacher.

Each was a classic UIS story, to be sure; but my bigger point is this: These four students had something important in common. None of them came from families that could afford to send their children to college. All were attending UIS with the assistance of financial aid including a state of Illinois Monetary Award Program grant, commonly called a MAP grant. Without the MAP grants and other forms of financial aid, these four young people would not have been college students anywhere and I can tell you that our society, state and nation will be worse off if young people like this cannot receive a college education.

This conversation was a poignant reminder for me of the data that I see almost every day that tells me that access to a college education has become a critical issue in the United States – and a compelling challenge for families. That kind of data feels a lot more powerful to me when I come face to face with the reality encountered by our own students.

Like all of you, I see such potential and big dreams in these students. They are a perfect match for UIS where they get so much personal attention from faculty who really take the time to know them.

How crushing it will be for our state and for the larger society if we don’t find a way in the next decade to continue to make college affordable and accessible in Illinois, and then to educate these students with our full energy and our best efforts right here where our faculty and staff are so passionate about students and their education.

Priorities

This story leads me to talk about the first of three priorities that I spoke to already at the University of Illinois Board of Trustees retreat this past month.

This is not a priority that will surprise you: Our first priority is to continue to grow our enrollment.

As you know, UIS enrollment has exceeded 5,000 students in the past two years and we’ll be close to that again this year. We need to keep growing if we are to achieve our vision and serve our students effectively. The number of new first time, full time freshmen will be up this year and I am delighted that we will see increases in the numbers of Latino students, African American students and international students. But the number of returning students is down somewhat and we may also have fewer graduate students (depending on final counts). I am concerned about that.

Recruitment and retention is not only the job of our colleagues in Admissions, Financial Aid and Student Support; it is everybody’s job. We need to do everything we can to insure the success of our students at the same time we insure that our students can afford to stay in school.

Enrollment – recruiting students and then retaining them – is good not only for those students; but also for our institution because it is now enrollment (given the steep decline in state support for higher education), more than any other factor, that drives our “revenue engine.”

So how can we grow?

One of the first things we have to do in order to grow is increase our visibility. We employed a nationally known consulting firm this past year and their research demonstrated conclusively that one of our recruiting challenges is that we are just not as well known in the region as we need to be.

You may recall that the Stamats consultants spent two days on campus last year and talked with many of you as well as with students, and they followed up with a survey of our entire campus community and 10,000 alumni. I want to thank all of you who participated in that important research.

Stamats helped us understand that, for marketing purposes, we have four core strengths.

One, we are teaching-focused. It’s our heritage. Teaching comes first at UIS. We’ve been proud of that for a long time and we have high expectations for faculty in that regard.

Two, we have a supportive community. That’s what you might expect at a smaller campus but, as you know, creating a truly supportive community doesn’t happen unless you work at it. And we have.

Three, we have an abundance of opportunities for students and faculty and staff to collaborate. We’re really good at collaboration and we have an environment where innovation, inquiry, and creativity all thrive.

Four, we have a tradition of educating public servants and leaders. We have some of the best government and public service internship programs in the nation. But when I say we educate leaders, I am also referring to our strong professional programs in Business, Computer Science, Education and other areas so that we’re educating leaders in many sectors in our region and far beyond.

With these four core strengths in mind, you’re seeing, starting today, the launch of a new campaign that is designed to increase UIS’s visibility in Springfield, in the region … and beyond.

The campaign has a new tagline for UIS: “Leadership lived” and I want to share with you a very short video that talks a little more about “Leadership lived” and our four core attributes.

Leadership lived.

I hope those two words are already growing on you – as they have on me.

This new campaign will involve external and internal messaging and strategies.

As you leave today after our program concludes, staff will provide you with this packet. It contains a summary of the information I just discussed; but more importantly, it includes a copy of the new UIS viewbook that is used in recruiting new students.

I ask that you carefully review this viewbook – it is a wonderful document that really “nails”, in my view, who we are as an institution. It represents each of you and there is no better ambassador for this university than you.

I am very, very certain that the images and text in this booklet will make you proud, as I am, to be a part of the mission and vision of the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. (And by the way, after you’ve read the viewbook, I hope you will pass it along to a prospective student along with some encouragement from you to make a campus visit.)

Announcing a marketing campaign is not the purpose of my remarks today; but increasing our visibility is part of our enrollment growth priority and I want you to be not only aware of what we are doing, but also knowledgeable about this effort.

I think Leadership Lived describes us very well and you’ll be hearing and seeing more about all of this in the weeks ahead.

Increasing our visibility is one thing we need to do in order to grow.

Another priority for enrollment growth is for UIS to be to be more affordable and accessible. I alluded to this in my story about the four students.

Affordability and accessibility are more than buzzwords to UIS and to the University of Illinois. Just a few weeks ago all three UI Chancellors and President Easter signed on to a document titled “A Commitment to the Future” authored jointly by AASCU and the APLU – the Association of Public Land Grant Universities – that calls for an increase in educational attainment in the United States so that 60 percent of Americans have a post-secondary credential by the year 2025. That is a bold commitment, but is part of our responsibility to make higher education more accessible.

We’ve already made several changes in the past few months in our financial aid strategies. We’re improving the awarding of all types of aid and it is helping us to be more affordable … and competitive.

The UIS Access Illinois scholarship campaign is a very high priority for me as Chancellor (and for our Office of Development) because we need to offer more and larger scholarships. You’ll be pleased to know that the UIS Access Illinois campaign is going very well and we are well ahead of our campaign projections. I am absolutely confident that we will have many more scholarships to offer prospective students in the future.

I am deeply grateful to the almost 300 UIS employees, many of whom are in this audience, who contributed to our faculty/staff campaign this last year and I hope you will consider supporting our UIS scholarship campaign (if you are able) in the coming year.

The third essential element of our growth strategy is to strategically add new academic programs. One reason that prospective students don’t choose UIS is that we have only 24 undergraduate programs, which is not surprising given that we are a very young university. We simply don’t offer the program that some prospective students need and want and the choices of major are limited compared to options at many other campuses.

If we are going to be a premier public university, we need to be steadily assessing need and adding academic programs that fit within the framework of our three areas of excellence, starting with those in high-demand areas that will achieve robust enrollments and graduate students into professions where need exists.

I have charged our new Provost, Dr. Lynn Pardie, to work with faculty, appropriate consultants and others to identify and bring forward proposals for a small number of new academic programs that are in high demand in our part of the state and beyond; innovative programs that will be characterized by student demand and occupational viability for the foreseeable future.

Part of our enrollment growth strategy is to determine how we can help to meet important regional needs; needs in health care as well as in other areas that are of high interest to prospective students.

Another part of our growth strategy is certainly our nationally recognized expertise in online education. Online programs provide flexibility and make college more accessible and, in some cases, more affordable.

As we all know, UIS faculty have developed a high level of expertise in teaching online and we should take pride that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes UIS as a leader in online education. Gates is working aggressively with a small number of universities – Harvard, MIT, Penn State, the University of Massachusetts, a few others – AND UIS! – [Can I say that one more time just for fun?]

Gates is working aggressively with a small number of universities – Harvard, MIT, Penn State, the University of Massachusetts, a few others – AND UIS! – to test new delivery methods online. We are very pleased to be in such company.

Online education is an important part of that “revenue engine” that drives us forward. It is part of our institutional identity and a point of pride for our university. I appreciate the leadership of all of you who have been innovators and contributors in that effort.

The final critical factor that I want to mention under the priority of enrollment growth is the construction of our new Student Union. Though you may not think about this often, the fact is that when prospective students visit our campus, they constantly ask us where the student union is because they know the union is the center of campus life on any campus. They are disappointed when they hear we do not have one.

Most people would take it for granted that every university campus has a student union. But we don’t yet and we need one in order to provide our current and future students the student experience that they deserve and want.

A student union is like the campus living room, family room and study center all in one. It promotes a positive campus life, it creates community and it contributes to the intellectual climate of a university – all critical elements for both the recruitment and retention of students and for the achievement of our aspiration to be a premier public university. It is important not only for residential students, but also for commuting students who need a place to gather between classes and experience campus life.

Thanks to outstanding student leadership on this issue, our students voted overwhelmingly this past spring to impose a new fee on themselves to help build this building. At the Board of Trustees retreat in July, I showed a slide with three photographs – one of the historic Illini Union at UIUC, one of one of two student unions on the UIC campus, and the third one – well, I just had a blank square with the letters UIS underneath. Everybody got it immediately and I know I can count on the Board’s support as well as President Easter’s as we move forward with this important initiative.

We are working closely with central administration on this project and the Board will approve the site for the Student Union at the September Board meeting. We’re still several critical steps away from making it a reality—including raising private funds to defray some of the cost .

A Student Union is a top priority because it advances the larger priority of enrollment growth. It is a facility we need and we’re going to get the shovel into the ground on this project as soon as we possibly can.

All of those issues that I’ve just talked about are related to our enrollment and growth priorities. No priority is higher. Enrollment growth at UIS is about increasing our visibility, improving affordability, providing the right mix of academic programs, continuing to take advantage of our online expertise and completing the student union project to enhance student life as soon as possible.

But before I move on to talking about two other priorities I want to say one more thing about enrollment growth and it is something that connects to almost every person in this room. I spent about an hour with new freshmen and their parents yesterday during “Move In Day” and I heard it again and again.

Students choose the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois (and their parents encourage them to come to UIS) first and foremost because of the personalized, high-quality experience that we provide for students every day. What makes all the difference is your commitment to our students; whether that shows itself in the excellent teaching, advising and research opportunities that you provide for students every day, in the exemplary customer service you extend in various service areas, in the enthusiasm I see flowing between coaches and student-athletes, in assistance to students provided regularly by members of our police force, in the wonderfully maintained buildings and grounds or in the remarkably good and creative food service. YOU ARE UIS and the excellence of every employee is important for enrollment growth.

Our second priority has to do with hiring and retaining the talent we need to fulfill our vision to be a premier public university.

We have more than 700 full-time employees at UIS and many part-time employees as well. Like the two other campuses, we’ve lost a lot of talent in the past year through retirements–representing almost 5 percent of our workforce.

I recognize that one of our most compelling needs, particularly in the face of the increasing number of retirements, is to improve and streamline the hiring processes at UIS. I have asked some of our top people to look at this in collaboration with UI and UIS Human Resources and I think we’ll begin to see some significant improvements in our processes this year.

Like all universities, our reputation rests on our ability to hire and retain outstanding faculty–teacher-scholars who will contribute to our students’ and our university’s success. I had the opportunity to host our new faculty for an event this past week and I have to say, I am impressed!

I’m so pleased that we have been able to provide a package of salary increases for faculty and staff this year despite our serious budget challenges. I want to assure you that providing competitive salaries, particularly for faculty and key staff, is a high priority for me in the coming years.

Obviously, as the university grows, our faculty and staff will also grow and we need to be competitive so that we can recruit the “best and the brightest” to become part of our academic community.

We also have challenges when it comes to the diversity of our faculty and staff. We are doing much, much better with the diversity of our student body but I will repeat what I said last year at Convocation: I am not satisfied with the diversity of our faculty and staff.

All of our students need to have more opportunities to work with and learn with a diverse faculty and staff who provide models of success that they can emulate and who provide diverse experiences and perspectives.

It is a compelling priority for us to put in place the appropriate infrastructure that will enhance understanding of and appreciation for diversity on campus and that will help us to increase the diversity of faculty and staff. We are in the process of accessing additional UI resources to assist us in those efforts.

Finally, under that priority of talent acquisition, I want to mention one more issue regarding talent—and that is leadership. Time and again in my career in higher education at three universities, I have seen Jim Collin’s research on leadership (the research mentioned earlier in this presentation) prove true. That research is summarized in the axiom: “First who, then what.” It means that you have to get a great leader in place first, before you can accomplish what needs to be done. “First who, then what.” (We have wonderful examples of this truth right here on our campus.)

We have had opportunities already to fill some critically important positions with national searches: Kim Pate as Director of Athletics joined us almost exactly a year ago, and Dr. Lynn Pardie became our permanent Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs starting last month.

Kim is now building her team in UIS Athletics and we are creating a first-rate NCAA Division II athletics program with excellent student-athletes that will be particularly important in increasing our visibility and enhancing our relationship with the Springfield community.

I have full confidence that Dr. Pardie will lead our academic enterprise very successfully and she is already a strong voice for UIS in the larger UI organization and my full partner in campus leadership. We’re already demonstrating “First who, then what” and I am very pleased with the outcomes so far.

Right now we have four more national leadership searches under way. The Vice Chancellor for Development is a critical position, the leader of our development efforts, and a position shared with the University of Illinois Foundation. I am pleased to tell you that we will soon have three finalists for the position visiting campus and I am hopeful this search will be successfully concluded very soon.

Searches are also beginning for the Dean of the College of Education and Human Services, the Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration and the Director of International Student Services.

“First who, then what.”

All four of these leadership searches are important to our future and I greatly appreciate your participation as members of search committees and in meeting when finalists come to campus. I am reminded that being collaborative is one of our core strengths and I am confident that we’ll see that demonstrated in your active participation in these important search processes.

Before I leave the topic of talent, I want to remind us that with state funding continuing to challenge us, we can grow only if we are smart about how we use our resources – especially those human resources that provide so much creativity and innovation.

We are fortunate to have a strong core of tenured and tenure-earning faculty, as well as talented and dedicated instructors, clinical faculty, visiting faculty, adjuncts, Academic Professionals and Civil Service staff. But we need to be innovative in our design and delivery of curricula, services and programming to ensure that we are making the most effective use of all faculty, staff and student time and resources.

Our online and blended courses are a wonderful reflection of faculty innovation and leadership. Leadership also needs to be lived at the faculty level, because faculty leadership is vital to insure that our curricula are cutting edge and effective and to insure that shared governance is, as Larry Faulkner, President Emeritus of University of Texas Austin, said at our July Board retreat, “an indispensable arrangement.”

I’ve talked about the first two priorities of enrollment growth and talent acquisition; the last priority I want to mention today is facilities.

I’ve already mentioned the Student Union under the enrollment growth priority because it is an essential element to both recruitment and retention of students.

Another facilities priority and our top priority with state-funded facilities continues to be the renovation of Brookens Library. This project has been on the University of Illinois’s capital list for several years and we are still waiting for state funding to make it happen. As we all know, the Brookens building needs extensive renovation for it to become the kind of intellectual high-tech hub that university libraries are today and will be tomorrow. The renovation is important not only for the library but also for the academic units located in Brookens. So we’re working on it (and our patience is being sorely tested) and it’s a priority for the University of Illinois the next time the state has a major capital program.

We’re also looking down the road at other facility needs. The UIS Master Plan identifies the location for the next state-funded academic building to the south of the Health and Sciences Building on our Quad. Though funding is still some years away, we will begin planning for that building this year and we will need it as we continue to grow and expand.

I can’t end this section about facilities without mentioning the renovation of our apartments that has occurred during the past several months on the east side of campus. We’ve been planning for this much-needed upgrade for some time and I had a chance to tour the renovated buildings a few days ago.

They are very, very nice and are sure to become the preferred choice for student residents. Our housing units, our residence halls, apartments and townhouses are a major “selling point” for 21st century students (who have much higher standards than I did in college) and now we’re even better off because of the recent renovation project. I congratulate everyone who worked so hard to get this project done in time for the start of classes this Fall.

I should mention, too, that planning is well under way for the new Public Safety Building for which $4 million has already been appropriated. It will replace our police station in the old farmhouse and it is important because it will allow our Public Safety operations to meet higher standards and serve our students more effectively. We will likely break ground on that building in the fall of 2013. It will be located across the street from the TRAC parking lot at the corner of University Drive and Eliza Farnham Drive.

Conclusion

So to summarize our three priorities:

  1. We’re going to focus on growing our enrollment and we’ll do that by increasing visibility, improving affordability, studying and moving forward with the expansion of academic opportunities and building the student union to enhance student life. And we’ll continue to provide and improve the personalized, high-quality education experience so much a part of who we are.
  2. We must recruit and retain a highly qualified, talented and diverse faculty, staff and leadership team.
  3. We must provide the facilities that will insure that our students have the best university experience possible.

If we can do these things, we will be a premier public university. I want to close today with something that our new President, Bob Easter, said when he made his first public comments on July 2 of this year, his first day on the job as President of the University of Illinois.

He said that, in the face of the many challenges in public university education today, we could allow ourselves to drift to mediocrity, blaming our decline on a host of outside forces.

Or, he said, “… we can define a future that is consistent with our history and our core values”.

My challenge to you today, as we begin the 2012 academic year, is to do the latter!

Let’s define a future that is consistent with our history; that builds on the innovation mandate that drove the founders and the first faculty of our university.

Let’s define a future that is consistent with our university’s core values, which will most certainly contribute to our becoming a premier public university.

Thank you for the leadership that you live every day, whatever your role may be here at the University of Illinois Springfield. I want you to know that I appreciate your contributions and I value your input.

I look forward to working with all of you this year in implementing our priorities. Best wishes for a wonderfully successful and satisfying year.

Thank you.