Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2017

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 24, 2017

Good Afternoon and welcome to this Fall, 2017 Convocation!

Thanks so much for being here today!

As you know, convocation is, in part, a time for us to meet new colleagues at UIS; but it’s also a time to get together and get reacquainted with long-time colleagues after summer breaks and to look ahead to the new academic year.

So whether you’re new or not-so-new, welcome to the 2017-18 academic year at the University of Illinois at Springfield!

I’d like to offer an especially warm welcome to some special guests who are with us today: (please stand when I introduce you and I promise a rousing round of applause after everyone has been named):

  •  Juan Huerte, representing Jim Langfelder, Mayor of the City of Springfield;
  • Dr. Jennifer Gill, UIS alum and Superintendent of Springfield Public School District 186;
  • Katie Davison, Executive Director of Innovate Springfield;
  • Dr. Candace Mueller, Associate Director for External Relations for the Illinois Board of Higher Education;
  • Karen Hasara, another prominent alum, former Mayor of Springfield and former member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees;
  • Dr. Naomi Lynn, Chancellor Emeritus of UIS and her husband, Bob.
  • Former UIS Interim Chancellor, longtime Provost and Faculty Emeritus, Dr. Harry Berman and his wife, Deborah;
  • Dr. Lynn Pardie, former Provost and Faculty Emeritus at UIS.
  • Professor Betsy Goulet, Vice Chair of the Campus Senate;
  • Clayton Bellot, Chair of the Academic Professional Advisory Committee;
  • Jo Barnard, Chair of the Civil Service Advisory Council;
  • Edwin Robles, University of Illinois Student Trustee;
  • Garret Nimmo, President of the UIS Student Government Association;
  • And last but not least, a personal guest and great UIS supporter, my husband, Dennis Koch.

[Please join me in welcoming these special guests: APPLAUSE.]

Speaking of special attendees today, I also want to offer a warm welcome to faculty and staff who are new to UIS this year.

We’ll hear more about the new folks later in this Convocation.

As most of you know, I am not new.

I’m now in my seventh year serving as your Chancellor and here we are at another convocation looking ahead to a year that will include among other exciting moments, the opening of our new Student Union ….

… and by the way, that opening is just 134 days from today!

As almost everyone here knows, in the time that has passed since I began my tenure as Chancellor at UIS, we’ve been extraordinarily committed to three strategic priorities:

  • growth in visibility, reputation and enrollment;
  • the recruitment and retention of talented faculty and staff, and
  • providing the outstanding facilities that our students, faculty and staff need and deserve.

GROWTH – TALENT – FACILITIES

I’m not going to spend much time looking back today except to say, I am deeply grateful to all of you who have helped in so many ways to advance those priorities.

It has been a remarkable team effort!

GROWTH:

Since 2011, we’ve created steady growth in student enrollment at UIS (and at all three UI campuses) despite the state budget crisis and despite the trend going severely in the other direction at other public institutions across the state!

Positioning ourselves for strategic growth at this very young campus continues to be an essential priority and requires a long-term, sustained strategic effort.

Earlier this week I listened to several enthusiastic members of the Student Orientation Team introducing themselves at a session for new students and parents – introductions included a student who said she is majoring in Exercise Science, another studying Sport Management,  and another majoring in Nursing –

None of those academic programs existed three years ago at UIS …

Thanks to the dedicated work of faculty and staff, we’ve added 12 new academic programs in the last five years.

(I’m really looking forward to meeting a Theatre major for the first time in the next few days …. Eric, Missy, Dathan – I hope you can help me on that one.)

There is no doubt the University of Illinois brand provides us a unique advantage in recruitment across the state and beyond!

The UI brand plus…

  • the high-quality personalized experience that our talented faculty and staff provide for our students,
  • the robust financial aid we offer;
  • the flexibility of exceptional online learning opportunities;
  • and the continued addition of innovative new majors, programs, internship opportunities, and student life activities  that are relevant to students and that will enhance the student experience will continue to be a winning combination in the future.

Along with new programs, we must continue to recruit top-notch talent – faculty, staff and administrative leaders -to our campus.

Several people mentioned to me last year after convocation that they were amazed to hear me state the number of new employees who had joined our academic community since July 1, 2011 – so let me update those numbers for you.

The number of UIS employees who have joined our academic community since July 1, 2011 and who have been with us for six years or less as of Monday of this week is 637, including:

  • 244 faculty,
  • 188 Academic Professionals and
  • 205 Civil Service employees.

That’s more than half of our total employees.

Of course we continue to greatly appreciate the many contributions of longtime employees at UIS; but at the same time the talent and expertise those 637 newer arrivals have brought to us is substantial!

Regardless of the length of your tenure at UIS, we’re all on the same ship and hopefully we’re all rowing in the same direction.

To all of you who serve with such dedication on search committees each year to recruit the talent we need, thank you so very much.

And of course when it comes to facilities, the new Student Union is most certainly central to campus improvements this year.

I’m delighted to report to you today the Student Union is about 85% complete and it is exceeding expectations in so many ways.

  • We’ve had tremendous involvement from students, faculty and staff who worked directly with Dewberry and Workshop Architects and others to design a truly inspiring, functional and welcoming building. (It is also a sustainable green building and we expect to earn the LEAD Gold designation.)
  • I want to thank Geoff Evans and the members of our culinary team who offered their expertise and experience working closely with the architects and designers for many months to design the kitchen areas, servery and dining facilities for the new Student Union. They are functional, innovative and beautiful spaces thanks to you!
  • Another group led by Mike Miller, Department Chair in Art, Music and Theatre, is at work with an art consultant selecting the artist who will be commissioned to produce a significant work of art for the Student Union. That addition is made possible by a $250,000 private gift we successfully sought this past year.
  • Dr. Ford and her team have successfully recruited an outstanding new Director for the UIS Student Union. Ann, I so enjoyed meeting with you this week and I already appreciate the leadership, expertise and enthusiasm that you bring to your new assignment.
  • And I want to give a special shout out to Chuck Coderko, former Director of Construction and now Associate Chancellor for Facilities and Services, who has been working so closely on a daily basis with Dewberry Architects and Williams Brothers Construction Company to ensure the project stays on budget and on schedule. Thank you, Chuck! You are doing an outstanding job!
  • I also want to report that fund-raising for the Student Union continues to progress very well.  Thanks to the leadership of Jeff Lorber, Vice Chancellor for Advancement and his team and thanks to the generosity of our many friends and supporters, we’re now past the $6 million mark and moving steadily toward our $8 million goal. I am very confident we’ll get there!

And by the way, speaking of generous donors, Dr. Lorber mentioned to me just a few days ago that our own faculty/staff campaign this past year resulted in a 50.5% participation rate! That means over half of our employees made a contribution to the University this past year – that’s a very high participation rate and the highest its ever been at UIS.

For those who participated in the UIS faculty/staff campaign this past year, thank you so much.

…. And, by the way, there is still time for you to participate as a donor in the Student Union campaign.

Of course, even in lean times, we’re making needed facility improvements and enhancements that align with our strategic goals and I’ll just mention three others in addition to the Student Union today:

  • I’ll be doing a walk-through tomorrow of the newly renovated academic spaces in one of our original campus buildings for the new Exercise Science, Athletic Training and Nursing programs – projects that have been completed this summer in time for the opening of classes next week;
  • The purchase of the former FOP Lake Club on Lake Springfield continues to progress. I appeared before the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission last week and, thanks in part to the strong support of Mayor Langfelder, the group voted unanimously to approve our request for a variance. The request now moves on to the September City Council meeting. If all goes well, we anticipate completing the purchase and taking possession by the end of September.

The lakeshore property includes about 3 acres and 440 feet of lakeshore, a 3,000 square foot building and a dock system. It will be known as the UIS Field Station at Lake Springfield – a multi-use facility providing direct access to the lake for educational use for Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Studies faculty and other academic programs. It will also be available for use by our Recreation programs.

Best of all, the new field station is only a few minutes walk from campus.

And finally I want to mention in terms of facilities that, thanks to successful private fundraising by Athletics, our baseball program saw the addition of new artificial turf to its facility this summer. The turf greatly increases the safety of the facility for our student/athletes, allows us to host more home competitions, and also enables the program to do more outreach to high school teams and other programs.

As long as I am mentioning our Division II Athletics program, I should also mention the Prairie Stars had an all-time high 113 student athletes earning GLVC Conference Academic All Conference Honors this past Spring. My congratulations to those student/athletes who did so well in the classroom and to all who encourage and support them!

So let’s spend a few minutes looking ahead to the coming year and beyond:

The big news, of course, is that on July 6th we got a budget (including full support for the Monetary Assistance Program – MAP) after more than 2 years of stalemate in state government!

(I never thought I would be celebrating a 10% budget cut, which is what we got, but a 10% cut is a lot better than a 100% cut!)

I want to publicly recognize State Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, a UIS alum, for her support to end the budget crisis. In addition to Sara, area legislators including Senator Andy Manar and Representative Sue Scherer acted in the best interests of Illinois higher education (and our students) to end the impasse.

There is no doubt damage from the budget stalemate has been done and it will take time for us to recover; but I’m proud we managed through it effectively without losing our forward momentum. The new FY 2018 budget gives us a clear picture, for the first time in more than two years, of the portion of our budget that comes from state support. This is a welcome relief as we begin the academic year.

Lots of people think the most important activity happening on our campus this year is the completion and opening of the new Student Union; but Associate Vice Chancellor Cecilia Cornell and retired Provost Lynn Pardie could tell you there is actually something far more important that will occur this year and I want to remind you of it in case you aren’t aware.

We are now moving into the final months of the reaffirmation of the University’s institutional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. This exceedingly important work has been going on for many months and has involved the entire campus. The reaffirmation process requires us to demonstrate compliance with reaccreditation standards and our ongoing efforts at continuous improvement. Later this fall we will conclude our Assurance Argument and complete our Evidence File, the central pieces of our application. We will then host external peer reviewers representing the HLC for a campus visit on February 19-20.

Much remains to be done and you’ll be asked to attend a campus forum this Fall so that you will be more informed about the roles faculty, staff and students will play in the accreditation visit. My sincere thanks to Cecilia, Cathy Gunn, and the many others who have been supporting this very important effort.

Another event coming this year that has been in the planning stages for many months is the University of Illinois Comprehensive Capital Campaign. UIS will be launching its campaign (within that system-wide effort), with a special campus celebration on October 10. With two prominent UIS supporters chairing our campaign, Hy Bunn, President and CEO of Bunn-O-Matic Corporation and Saul Morse, from Brown, Hay and Stephens law firm, the UIS Campaign will raise funds to provide funding for vital campus priorities including scholarships, faculty support  and facilities.

There is one more additional issue I want to mention today as we look ahead to the coming academic year:

Let me start by pointing out that we are poised at a unique and interesting confluence of circumstances at UIS – right now.

What do I mean?

  • First of course, we have a budget after more than two years of stalemate in the legislature;
  • We’ve succeeded in hiring an outstanding new Provost, Dr. Dennis Papini, after a year-long national search.
  • The UI Strategic Framework was approved by our Board of Trustees a little over a year ago and provides numerous opportunities for innovation and strategic advancement for our campus;
  • At the same time the Framework was completed, our own updated UIS Strategic Plan, which has guided decision-making for the past four years, is now past its “expiration date”;
  • After almost two years of negotiations (and good faith bargaining by both faculty and administration), we settled our first faculty union contract this past May. As we move forward now to implement this four-year contract, I am confident we have set the stage for an enhanced partnership between faculty and administration that will serve both faculty and students well.
  • And finally, thanks to the efforts of many in this room, we have created positive momentum at UIS – represented by the new Student Union, new academic programs, new opportunities in student life, and I would be remiss if I did not mention, an absolutely beautiful campus environment.

At the same time all those circumstances present themselves, we know these will continue to be challenging times in higher education in our state and across the country.

We all know Illinois’s budget problems have not been solved, paying for college continues to be a major challenge for current  students and prospective students, and the outflow of qualified high school graduates from Illinois to other states for college continues.

At the national level, political events and associated uncertainties have had a negative impact on international student enrollments across the U.S., leading to a decline in both enrollment and its associated tuition revenue for UIS this past year and this coming year.

Internally here at UIS, some members of our community question who we are as an institution, what we can best aspire to be within the framework of the University of Illinois System, how we can best establish long term fiscal viability and how we can best be relevant in the Springfield community, across our state and beyond.

Those are exceedingly healthy questions for us to be asking and I’m hoping we can address those questions and many others this year.

So: we are currently in the process of engaging a consultant who will help guide a planning process throughout the coming year – a process that will provide opportunities for every member of our community (along with alums and local participants) to express their views about the future of UIS.

Dr. Papini mentioned in his earlier remarks that the process of creating a shared plan is powerful. I’m confident this activity in the coming year will be powerful and important …. And that it will lead to a consensus and a strategic direction that will guide our university forward for the next several years.

This effort will only be successful if we have wide participation from as many members of our community as possible and my request to you today is that you fully participate in that process.

The process will benefit from your wisdom and experience.

In closing (and on a more personal note) you all received a message from me last week reflecting on the current political climate in our country in the wake of the recent violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. I have received many messages, most of which expressed sincere support and appreciation for that message.

I am grateful for your feedback and I want to take this opportunity to say again we must stand together as a united academic community to reject hatred in any form, to embrace our mission as an educational institution, and to live up to our promise of “Leadership Lived” in everything that we do.

The work we do, educating future citizens of our state and our nation, has never been more important. In fact, it’s critical to the future of our democracy.

Thank you for what you do every day to educate those future citizens and leaders and to make this University better than it was the day before, the week before, the month before, the year before.

Let’s make this academic year the best year we’ve ever had at UIS.

Thank you.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch