End-of-year Message, May 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dear Colleagues:

As we approach commencement just a few days away, the purpose of this letter is to share some reflections on the past year and provide a look ahead to the next few months. At the end of my second year serving as UIS Chancellor, I am pleased with our positive momentum and with the progress we continue to make toward achieving our vision to be a premier public university.

Vice Chancellor for Development Jeff Lorber, who joined us in October, has moved quickly and effectively to become familiar with the campus and the community; assessing capabilities, challenges and opportunities. I’m pleased to announce that, in April, we surpassed the million-dollar mark for the Access Illinois Scholarship campaign, with more than 1,000 donors contributing new funds to support our students!

Laura Alexander, Senior Director of Human Resources, joined UIS this semester and we’re already appreciating the expertise she brings to her important leadership role. Congratulations to Provost Lynn Pardie and the Colleges of Education and Human Services and Public Affairs and Administration for the successful completion of two very important dean searches. Dr. Hanfu Mi and Dr. Mark Wrighton, both of whom bring strong records of success to their appointments, will be joining our campus community this summer. I have set high expectations for all of the members of our leadership team to work proactively and strategically with faculty and staff colleagues to contribute in positive ways to our university priorities.

As we discussed at the March 28 Campus Forum, the budget environment for the state and the university continues to be challenging. In the coming weeks, we will continue careful planning, utilizing input from the Campus Planning and Budget Committee. As you know, enrollment, with its associated tuition, is now the most important element of the UIS budget. I’m pleased that freshmen enrollment estimates for fall, 2013 are promising; but retention continues to be a concern. I ask that all members of the campus community contribute to assisting and encouraging students to continue their education at UIS. I am confident that with our careful planning and budgeting and with continuing focus on our priorities, we will continue to move forward. Despite the challenges ahead, we are well positioned for success and we must not stop our forward momentum.

As you know, that forward momentum is centered on three priorities: growth (in both enrollment and reputation), talent acquisition (both faculty and staff), and facilities (that will best serve our students). We’re engaged in several strategies that focus on those priorities and I’ve been particularly appreciative of the success of two of those strategies this year. First, the concept of “Leadership lived” resonates exceedingly well with our community and with prospective students and their parents and has greatly increased the visibility of UIS in the region and beyond. Second, the Academic Programs Task Force has worked hard to identify several new academic programs that will help us grow both on campus and online and that will enhance our relevance in the region. These and other efforts will keep us focused on our priorities in the coming year and I appreciate the ongoing contributions of so many members of our campus community in these efforts.

You have received periodic communications about the ongoing pension debates and we’ve been informed that the next steps on pension reform are likely to unfold rapidly during the next few weeks. To the extent possible, the UI governmental relations staff is continuing to work with key Illinois legislators and government leaders to contribute to a reasonable resolution to the pension crisis at the same time we seek the most favorable outcome possible for our current employees, retirees and the university. We will keep you informed of all relevant legislation.

On a brighter note, it has been a pleasure to share in celebrating the contributions of several exceptional staff members this year.

  • Sheryl Murray (PAA) was recognized with the CARE Award for excellence in Civil Service,
  • Emily Boles (COLRS) has received the CAPE Award for outstanding performance by an Academic Professional and
  • Randy Williams (Food Service) was named UIS Employee of the Year.

At the Faculty Honors Reception this past week:

  • Dr. Donald Morris (Accountancy) received the Faculty Excellence Award,
  • Dr. Carrie Switzer (Psychology) was announced as winner of the Pearson Award for outstanding teaching,
  • Dr. Marcel Yoder (Psychology) received the Spencer Award for exemplary service, and
  • Dr. Denise Sommers (Human Services) was honored with the Oakley Distinguished Online Teaching Award.
  • Professor Mike Miller (Visual Arts) was recognized as the China Faculty Exchange Scholar for 2013 and will be getting a stamp in his passport this summer as Scholar in Residence at Heilongjaing University.

My congratulations and sincere thanks to each of our award winners for all that you contribute to our campus.

Professor Miller is not the only member of our campus community who will be using his passport this summer. We will have nearly 40 students using their passports, too, with study abroad destinations including Italy, Japan, The Gambia, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, China and Korea.

Speaking of passports, I traveled to China over Spring Break this year and visited several universities, advancing existing partnerships and discussing new ones. The growth of university campuses in China is impressive and every Chinese university is eager to establish mutually beneficial relationships with U.S. universities. The long-standing and exceptional reputation that the University of Illinois enjoys in China is a decided advantage for us and I am confident that with careful planning we can significantly increase the enrollment of highly qualified students from China during the next two years. My thanks to CBM Dean Ron McNeil and several other knowledgeable faculty and staff who are contributing to growing our international connections – so essential to providing a global education for our students.

UIS student leaders played a central role this year in advocating for our campus and in developing a more vibrant community, which is so critical to our continued growth in both reputation and enrollment.

  • SGA President, Ryan Bouray, received the Donovan Pepper Award for Outstanding Student Leadership this past weekend and he has earned it!
  • Student trustee, John Tienken, will graduate this Saturday. I am grateful to John for representing the university and our students exceptionally well on the Board of Trustees, on campus and in the community these past two years.
  • Jamaal Hollins, a UIS Computer Science major, has been elected student trustee and will join the Board this summer.

There were so many exceptional student leaders this year and I am especially grateful to Ashley Scott (Black Student Union), Jaime Cruz (OLAS) and Zehra Ozkan Shahidi (International Students Organization) who each led their student organization with great skill and commitment. That’s what I call Leadership lived!

Thanks in part to the Student Government Association’s strong leadership, plans for the new UIS Student Union are well underway. We are thrilled to have selected the team of Dewberry Architects (from Peoria, Illinois) and Workshop Architects (from Milwaukee, Wisconsin) from among 28 proposals to design and build this very important campus building. The architects spent this past week working with students, faculty and staff to begin the design process. Design work will continue through the summer and architectural drawings will be completed by early fall. The student union will be the central gathering place for our campus – a “thick space” as the architects say – that will create a warm and welcoming destination for students, faculty, staff and visitors. It will also be an architectural landmark that the entire Springfield community will appreciate.

On a personal note, after meeting UIS Public Affairs Reporting program alum Nina Burleigh, when she was inducted into our PAR Hall of Fame in January, I have greatly enjoyed reading her terrific non-fiction books: NYT bestseller The Fatal Gift of Beauty (a thoughtful accounting of the Amanda Knox trial), Unholy Business (an investigation of the forgery of religious artifacts in Israel) and Mirage (the story of Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt). I’m hoping to meet her for a coffee in New York City next week before I launch into her next book as part of my summer reading.

This Saturday, May 11th, it will be my privilege to shake the hands of 777 new graduates of the University of Illinois at Springfield. Our commencement ceremony includes an address by distinguished alum Kathy Best, Pulitzer Prize winner and Managing Editor of The Seattle Times. To our students both on ground and online who are graduating, I send you all my best wishes for a future bright with possibilities. We are proud to call you our alumni. You are our legacy and we look forward to your continuing participation in the life of your university.

Have a great summer, everyone!

With all best wishes,

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor