This December, 2013 campus letter is part of an ongoing series of regular communications from the Chancellor to the academic community on issues of importance to the university and to our overall mission and goals. I hope this letter and other communications continues to demonstrate our shared expectation for open and engaged leadership at UIS and a commitment to shared governance that reflects the values of the University of Illinois as well as the finest traditions of our Springfield campus.
You received a letter a few days ago from UI President Bob Easter and me providing the latest update on pension legislation. As expected, the Governor has since signed the legislation. We expect to be able to provide additional information in January. As mentioned in the earlier letter, we encourage UI employees, in the meantime, to follow information provided by SURS and the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA) (http://www.suaa.org/). With talent acquisition and retention remaining one of our top three priorities at UIS, I want you to know that we are committed to maintaining a competitive retirement program and we are exploring potential options that will enable us to do so.
My sincere thanks to all who contributed to hosting the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on the UIS campus last month. A highlight of this two-day event for the board and other distinguished visitors occurred when six members of the UIS faculty gave outstanding presentations as part of the Campus Insights Program – a time for each to talk about their research and their teaching. I heard many comments after the program about its excellence and I want to recognize professors David Bertaina, Beth Ribarsky, Atul Agarwal, Meagan Cass, Dorine Brand and Frances Shen for their contributions. I was also pleased to feature our Capital Scholars Honors program in the Chancellor’s Welcome remarks at the board meeting. Honors Program Director Marc Klingshirn, along with students Vivica Futrell and Matt Dobill provided a vivid description of this “point of pride” on our campus. Two exceptional UIS student-musicians from China also performed for the Board of Trustees meeting. Shao (Christine) Yu played a Chinese traditional instrument called the Gu Zheng, and Ying Han played the Gayagum. My thanks to Professor Abigail Walsh, Coordinator of the UIS Camerata Music Program, for coordinating this outstanding performance. Finally, many thanks are due to the dozens of UIS staff members who contributed to the success of the Board of the Trustees meeting in so many ways. We can all be proud of the excellence and hospitality that Trustees and others experienced during their recent visit to the UIS campus.
It is only coincidental that two dialogues are occurring on campus presently – one about the UIS smoking policy and the other about the nickname for our athletic teams. As you may know, in order to promote a healthier living, learning, and working environment, many universities across the U.S. have implemented policies to eliminate smoking and/or tobacco use on campus. UIC, for example, implemented a tobacco-free policy on July 1, 2013 and UIUC will become smoke-free on January 1, 2014. The Smoking Policy Task Force, with the leadership of Human Resources Director Laura Alexander, has been studying the issue – examining best practices and gathering input from the campus community. I look forward to receiving their report in February.
I appreciate the robust conversation that has been taking place on campus and in the community regarding the name or our athletic teams – the Prairie Stars. With support provided by Student Affairs and Athletics, the SGA has led this discussion and many students, staff and alums have offered their views. I expect to have a report from SGA President Aaron Mulvey soon. I want to emphasize that no decision has been made about either of these issues – we have task forces, forums, and surveys in order to carefully consider options, get input from all constituents and evaluate what is best for the university. I appreciate the thoughtful dialogue that has been occurring about both issues and I expect a successful conclusion to both next semester.
You may recall that I mentioned the great need for student employment on campus in my Fall Convocation remarks. Having a job, for many students, is an essential part of paying for college and an on-campus job can improve retention. To address this need, a new student employment initiative was announced last week. Titled the “Leadership Lived Experience,” the goal of the program is to provide 25 new student jobs on campus by the beginning of next semester. Request forms have been distributed to unit heads and priority consideration is being given to applications submitted by December 20th. My thanks to Associate Provost Aaron Shures and Director of Financial Assistance Jerry Joseph for taking the lead on this important effort.
I have been reporting to you regularly on the progress of the Student Union project. As you know, the Student Union is an essential element for the recruitment and retention of students and for the growth of student life on campus. It will be a warm and welcoming destination for students, faculty, staff and visitors. My thanks to the students, faculty and staff who continue to serve on the Student Union Committee. All who have been involved in the highly interactive design process can attest to the energy and excitement that the process has created. Yesterday, a well- attended campus forum provided an opportunity for members of the campus community to “walk through” the building. If you missed the forum, you can “take a tour” at the Student Union website – www.uis.edu/studentunion/ We are planning to take the project to the Board of Trustees for approval in January. The silent phase of the fundraising campaign for the project is well underway with the leadership of Vice-Chancellor Jeff Lorber and his staff and a more visible campaign, with opportunities to participate at many different levels, will be announced in a few months.
We remain intently focused on our three strategic priorities: growth in both enrollment and reputation, the recruitment and retention of a talented and diverse faculty and staff, and providing the facilities needed to support a comprehensive student experience and that reflect the reputation of the University of Illinois.
We are building on last year’s successful launch of “Leadership lived” and are seeing a significant increase in the number of students inquiring about joining our academic community. I’ve been heartened this semester by the many examples of growing excellence that I see across our campus: the overflow crowd of people who attended an exceptional Lincoln Legacy Lecture, a wonderful Illinois Legislative Internship Hall of Fame Induction event, a capacity crowd for the 2013 UIS Alumni Gala at the Governor’s Mansion, the many students who played major roles in Theatre’s top-notch production of Clybourne Park, the UIS Fall Music Showcase just a few days ago that featured delightful performances by student soloist Xincheng Liu (voice) and Professor Abigail Walsh (flute) … and I could go on. Everywhere I go in the community I get a sense of sincere appreciation for UIS and an eagerness to support our continued growth and success.
I hope, as this Fall semester draws to a close, that you will find time to participate in the upcoming special campus events including “City of Springfield Day” in the TRAC this Saturday, December 14th at 1:00 p.m. featuring UIS Women’s and Men’s Basketball as well as a recognition of all of Springfield’s First Citizens. The annual Campus-wide Holiday Party is Friday, December 20th from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. in the Sangamon Auditorium Lobby and (if you are a faculty member) the Faculty Coffee Break is Monday, December 16th in the 3rd floor Atrium Lobby (PAC) from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Our collective participation in these and other events is important because it contributes to building a collegial and welcoming campus culture for everyone … and that’s everyone’s responsibility.
I want to close this December message with one important request. As you interact with students during these final days of the term, please ask about their plans for next semester and encourage students who have not registered for class to do so. If there is a financial issue, direct them to Student Financial Assistance or, if there is some other problem, please provide advice or a referral. We want every qualified student to remain a member of our academic community and complete their degree.
Thank you for everything you do every day to provide our students with the excellence that is so central to who we are and what we do. I wish you good times and some well-earned relaxation during the holiday season and the upcoming break. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2014.
With all best wishes,
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor