Remarks by Chancellor Richard Ringeisen
University of Illinois at Springfield

Convocation 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008

 

Building toward strategic goals

Welcome. It is great to be back, isn't it?

It's good to see so many familiar faces, and to welcome those of you who have arrived or who just started here.

I'd like to start by telling you a story about something new on our campus and, well, kind of a surprise to me at least, but in a good way.

I told you last year about an idea my wife, Carolyn, had about having a fountain in the pond. Now, you may have noticed, or I should say, how could you miss noticing that her idea has become a reality.

It's kind of funny how this turned out - you see, I envisioned the fountain something like this, with water softly rising and falling, creating gentle ripples on the pond.

But Carolyn and Joan Buckles had a much grander vision - I think they may have had Old Faithful in mind - of a fountain that can be seen from almost anywhere on campus and one that makes a big statement on the landscape -- I've heard by the grapevine that some of you are calling it the "Ring-Guyser." I laughed when I heard that, but I think it's pretty appropriate since the fountain is capable of shooting 90 feet high when the winds are calm. It actually has two other heights - 60 feet and 30 feet high - determined by a wind meter similar to the one that controls the colonnade fountain.

Whatever we call it, this is my way of introducing my wife Carolyn, partner in everything we do here.

The southwest side of the pond is where the UIS Women's Center has an annual gathering and awards ceremony at the beautiful place we call Women's Peace and Friendship Garden, which extends along the west side. Carolyn hopes that the new fountain will attract even more students and others to this whole area of the campus - for other social events and relaxation as well.

It's one of those "third spaces" we talk about the importance of developing in our Strategic Plan.

Another great example of an external gathering or "third space" is our colonnade. I don't think it will surprise you that it has become the most photographed spot on campus, the backdrop for just about everything you can think of -- group photos, graduation shots, marketing campaigns, engagement and wedding photos, and on and on. You see, it has no bad side. And it has become a popular place for students to hang out.

I learned this past year that of the 750 acres on which this university is located, 370 of those acres are landscaped. Imagine taking care of 370 acres -- and the number keeps growing! That's what our grounds crew does under the excellent leadership of Joan Buckles. Joan and her crew know how important first impressions are. And they make us very proud of our surroundings by creating and maintaining this diverse and beautiful campus. As do the "inside" staff who maintain our buildings - what a very hard-working bunch of people!

I want to mention other projects outside that Joan has been instrumental in creating. If you haven't seen it, please take a look at our new Japanese Garden located around the southwest corner of this building. During a celebration and dedication of the garden in May, we honored Eileen Ensel, who gave the garden to UIS as a living tribute to her late husband. Eileen, who is one of my favorite people and a great friend of this university, chose the spot for the garden because of its proximity to both Sangamon Auditorium and student housing.

Oh, and another space that I am very excited about is the courtyard between Lincoln Residence Hall and the newly constructed Founders Hall. Wow! Our students will really enjoy stepping out of their residence halls right into this wonderful space that will serve multiple social and fun purposes. We look forward to seeing the courtyard full of students.

By telling you about these spaces, I guess what I'm trying to say is that we're really making strides in turning the outside campus into an interesting, inviting and personally enriching place for our students, faculty and staff, not to mention the thousands of people who visit UIS each year.

I like to take an assessment at this time every year about where we are and where we're going in the coming year, as best that can be known. Here's what I see now -- we have reached a critical point in time when some very big pieces of our plan to be one of the top five small public liberal arts universities in the country are in place. That is, we are physically and academically ready to make a major move toward that aspiration.

Some big developments last year brought us closer to reaching our goal.

Without a doubt, reaccreditation by the Higher Learning Commission for a full 10 years, was the most significant accomplishment. That's the best rating a university can receive, and it was without qualifications, a first for UIS. Many people guided us through that process. I especially want to thank Karen Kirkendall and her team for their superb leadership. And the Provost, too, by the way!

In the fall, we received the highest award in the nation for institution-wide online teaching and learning from the Sloan Consortium. That means we are the best anywhere at institution-wide online education. Our online guru, Ray Schroeder, and his team, and Burks Oakley, are the leaders, and many, many people made it happen. UIS is now a top distance learning provider, and Ray and Burks are the national, indeed, international "go-to" experts on the subject.

In fact, several representatives from other universities from around the country came to UIS this summer to learn from our folks about online learning. The Provost will mention this later.

That's an important step on our way to being recognized among the top five small publics. Here's another one:

This spring, Dr. Karl McDermott was named the first Ameren Endowed Professor in Business and Government at UIS, a professorship established through a $500,000 gift from the Ameren Corporation. Ameren shares our focus on the future, and professorships like this one strengthen the academic fiber of this university.

Academic Excellence in action - one of our primary strategic goals.

A formal investiture ceremony for Dr. McDermott will be held on September 25. You'll be hearing more about that.

I want to tell you about one day last spring that particularly stands out in my mind. It was the day we dedicated our new Emiquon Field Station and celebrated a remarkable partnership among UIS, The Nature Conservancy and Dickson Mounds Museum. We have so much passion about this station and for our involvement in one of the most incredible floodplain restoration projects in the world.

As that passion was being expressed by our own Biology Professor Mike Lemke, the station's director, and others, Mother Nature decided to show her interest in our project with a downpour and heavy winds that rattled the flaps and shook the tent we were in. It was a fitting drama - right out there in the middle of the Emiquon Preserve near Havana - a timely reminder of the power of nature and her dominance over us all. But that didn't drown out the message: It was very clear -- we're here and we're going to make a difference.

The impact that the station will have on current and future generations of students interested in hands-on field experience in restoration ecology and conservation biology will be immense.

This illustrates what UIS is all about: opportunities for students and opportunities for faculty involvement in the world's biggest issues, demonstrating two of our primary strategic goals -- Enriching Individual Lives and Making a Difference in the World.

Academic Excellence, Enriching Individual Lives and Making a Difference in the World. Those primary strategic goals are the foundation for our actions in everything we do.

Here's more evidence of our commitment to those goals:

* Today we will welcome 27 new fulltime faculty members. That's on top of the 24 new faculty last year, 41 two years ago and 39 three years ago. In total, that's 131 new faculty in four years. Talk about acting for academic excellence! And continuing support for faculty scholarship is a priority. The trend is clear. UIS is putting a high priority on hiring high-quality faculty wherever we need them.

* And the students are coming. We will have the largest class of freshmen this fall - exceeding our goal with nearly 300 students. And the total number of all students enrolled this fall should near 5,000. The word is spreading that UIS is a place where students come because we are small and we are excellent, and our professors know students' names, starting right away, with their first semester here.

* And our campus is growing physically as well. Our brand new residence hall -- Founders Hall -- symbolizes the growth of our residential campus. We have watched it take shape all winter long and now it's, well, nearly finished....... We named it Founders Hall to honor the university's founders in a special way while some of them are still living. We'll be planning some kind of ceremony for them and the campus community this coming year, so watch for that.

* And we will continue to develop opportunities for faculty to become even better teacher-scholars. In place now, for example, are the distinguished visitors series, summer research grants, and increased faculty development funds, e.g. our academic initiative grants, scholarly presentations support and collaborative seed funding.

* Look at these slides: That's part of the new green roof being lifted up and put into place on Founders Hall. What spectacular evidence of our efforts to conserve energy and be earth friendly. The roof is made of sedums, hardy plants that have water-storing leaves. The decision to have a green roof is a major commitment to environmental sustainability. That's a subject we're taking very seriously -- I'll tell you more about that a little later.

* Speaking of Making a Difference in the World, our Global Experience Program has really taken off, so to speak, in preparing students for local and global challenges and responsibilities. We now offer programs in Japan, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Botswana, Australia, Poland, Greece, Germany, Canada, Romania, and the United Kingdom. I was approached by someone I didn't know recently - everybody knows the chancellor - and he told me about how much his nephew, a UIS junior from Peoria, is enjoying his Australia experience!

* UIS offers conversation-based language instruction in French, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese and Chinese. Here's an amazing statistic: Roughly 35% of the faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were either born in another country and bring that perspective to UIS, or they have studied another culture and have significant academic expertise. This year a particularly significant hire is the college's first full-time tenure track Director of Modern Languages, Dr. Mayra Bonet. (Dean Duley will introduce her later.) Dr. Bonet will lead planning for our first modern languages major/minor in Spanish.

What great examples of how we enrich students' lives and prepare them to make a difference.

And there's more: Next fall we'll expand our current international studies minor to offer a bachelor's degree in Global Studies. It is already approved and will allow students "to explore global issues and look at the world from a more global perspective," according to Professor Hillary Frost-Kumpf, who will teach courses in that major.

And, I'm really excited about a very special series that starts this fall. It's a revival of the Ambassadors Series that will bring to Springfield several U.S. ambassadors from foreign countries Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, and the Vatican, are already scheduled. UIS will host this series of world dignitaries, who will share business, economic, and political insights at six lunch meetings beginning in September at the Dove Conference Center at The Prairie Heart Institute. Our College of Public Affairs and Administration and Development Office are making this happen. Look for more on that.

UIS connecting with the community to bring world leaders to Springfield.

There are lots of other exciting plans in the works for the coming year. Before I tell you about more of them, I'm going to change gears a bit now and talk frankly about a couple of challenges that we face as an institution.

It seems like I always must talk about the budget at this convocation. Due to the uncertainty of state support and our being a young institution needing to make investments, the budget remains a difficult issue. It's been many years since higher education regularly received significant increases from state government here in Illinois. It hasn't happened since I got here in 2001, in fact.

And we're still below our 2002 level of state funding caused by earlier cuts.

This academic year promises to be another difficult budget year. We have increased tuition more than we would like to, as have all the other public institutions in Illinois. But, we are grateful that the state did provide an operating increase for this year - a welcome addition indeed.

There are three reasons the budget is so tough. One is that we still haven't made up for past years' decreases in state funding. A second is that last year, while we reached our enrollment goals, we did not reach what we had budgeted for FTE enrollment and we did not retain students - transfer and grad mostly - at our normal rate from fall to spring, and so we had a downturn in revenue last year that we weren't expecting. The third reason is increasing energy and utility costs - heating, cooling and water.

All of this is so sobering because we must continue to press forward with our vision and strategic goals even in difficult economic times. We must and we shall! You know, when a ship encounters stormy water is NOT the time to shut the engines down: And we won't!

Which leads me to a very important point: Retention.

We will focus on retention of students as never before. As I mentioned, we are seeing a slip in the percentage of students returning to UIS - and this is at all levels. Much of that likely has to do with the economy and we can't help that, but this single fact accounts for most of our financial shortage. And we're responding. We have taken two very important steps to help with retention. One is to launch the Center for First-Year Students under the direction of Dr. Marcellus Leonard. Another is to hire Clarice Ford to run our new Diversity Center. Clarice has considerable experience in helping students to succeed in college. So you're going to see greater collaboration this year between our staff in Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to work on retention. I want all of us, whether we're in a classroom, in an office or in housing or elsewhere, to think retention - smile! You know, a friendly smile and a 'Can I help you?' is something we all can contribute. We must be focused on retention and doing more to help our students succeed in and out of the classroom.

But it's not only the students we need to retain. We need to retain good faculty and staff, too. One way we're doing that with faculty is to provide a pool of money for equity adjustments in salary every year. We know our good faculty have choices, and we want them to choose to stay here.

And the staff, too, who make UIS run. More than 100 of our staff and faculty drive more than 20 miles to work everyday, and the price they're paying at the pump just to get here has gotten very high. I know the Civil Service Advisory Council and the Academic Professional Advisory Committee have been talking over the summer about what we can do - beyond monetary compensation - to improve their working conditions. And I am asking our Human Resources department to begin a formal dialogue with the staff to brainstorm about what we can do to help - and still provide all the services we must provide to our students and faculty. And those of you in bargaining units, bring these ideas to the table. I think you'll find we're open to innovative ideas. Let's get creative and talking as a community about these important issues. You can work through APAC, CSAC and Human Resources to promote some good ideas, and I will look forward to hearing them.

As I look at the years ahead - all in all, though, I am optimistic. In fact, I'm downright excited! We're all looking toward our 40th anniversary in two years, for example.

You know, I have a great view of the new fountain in the pond from my office window and, particularly when it's at full height, it kind of reminds me of how we are always reaching higher and higher for excellence, to be the best at what we do no matter what the stresses are that we face.

That has come to define the character of this campus community -- a group of good people who keep striving, who look up - always up, always asking, what can we advance next!

As we look ahead to this year, I would summarize the major opportunities and challenges like this: First retention. Then sustainability, diversity, security, and private fund-raising, not necessarily in that order. There's more to be sure, but those subjects will require a lot of our attention in new and creative ways.

Sustainability: It's one of those words that we hear a lot. In striving for a "Green Campus," we have already set institutional milestones for achieving environmental sustainability. It's part of our Strategic Plan. We have established an Office of Sustainability, an umbrella office for what we are already doing and what we'll do in the future. Dave Barrows, our Associate Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, will oversee that office. Saving energy is no longer just an option. We are raising building temperatures or lowering them depending on the time of year and have replaced 98% of older light bulbs in every building with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs, lamps, and ballasts. Windows in Brookens Library are being replaced with double-pane glass to save on both cooling and heating costs. A new Bike to Work Program will help reduce gasoline costs for those employees who choose to use it. The UIS Energy Task Force, chaired by assistant professor of Environmental Studies, Tih-Fen Ting, has submitted a draft UIS Energy Use report. Input from the campus community about the report will be sought this semester. And campus recycling has increased, thanks to assistance from students and various campus departments such as Food Service. I talked about the green roof on Founders Hall earlier, but I also want to mention that Founders and TRAC are both designed to meet, even exceed in some cases, U.S. Green Building Council standards.

And our student group SAGE - Students Allied for a Greener Earth - will hold several events and activities this year and, I am told, will have a "green float" in this year's UIS Homecoming Parade. We look forward to that!

Diversity: Something we've been working on for a long time. Now, as I just mentioned, we've established a new Diversity Center and hired a director, Clarice Ford, who will lead our efforts to create a better environment for our diverse student body. In keeping with our strategic goal, more students from a wide variety of backgrounds are enrolling at UIS. We want them to have the best possible experience here. The Diversity Center will be a place where they can feel safe and comfortable, explore different cultural perspectives, and take advantage of programs, seminars, cultural festivals and much more. We are also now well positioned to begin searching for a coordinator of our LGBTQ efforts in that Center. The Center will promote achievement of two strategic goals: Enriching Individual Lives and Enrollment and Retention.

Also and importantly, we have hired a new, full-time director of the Office of Access and Equal Opportunity, Deanie Brown. We decided to make that position fulltime to improve and expand access and equal opportunity efforts. The primary goal in doing so is to enroll, retain, and graduate a larger and more diverse student body, and to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff.

And we'll be conducting a national search for a new vice chancellor for student affairs. This is an extremely important position. And I know the committee, including co-chairs Karen Kirkendall and Ed Wojcicki would welcome your help - especially in finding good candidates.

Security: This subject has become one that has increasingly occupied our time and attention. That will continue to be true this year and into the future.

In January, we launched a new Emergency Notification System and encouraged our students, faculty and staff to sign up to receive text message "alerts" generated by the system in case of an emergency. That program is going well, but many more need to sign up, including new students and others each semester. It's the quickest way to be notified when an emergency happens. Here's the website to register: https://emergency.uis.edu

And we're going to augment our security measures this year by installing a new Public Address System on campus. Also, our Police Department has special training in Active Shooter and other situations that could potentially threaten the safety of the campus. During this year, we will be showing the video, "Shots Fired," to faculty, staff and students. It deals with how best to react individually to such a situation. You'll hear more. But each of us is responsible for staying alert and reporting any unusual activity to the police.

And for individual safety, nothing beats vigilance and cooperation with our police officers.

A safe campus is everybody's business. I repeat - everybody's business.

Fund-raising: Let me briefly touch on our push for private gifts to UIS. As you know, the campaign goal is large for us -- $28 million. Well...I'm proud to announce that because of all you all do, friends and alumni are responding... We have over $19 million - that's 68% of our goal, and we've only used 60% of our campaign time. We have 3 years to go! Let me give an example of how important what we do everyday is.

There is this wonderful couple - friends in the community, not alums - who a few years ago pledged an estate gift of one quarter million dollars to UIS. Then last year, based on what they see here, they doubled it. Nice, huh? That's not the end of the story - recently they doubled it again! A million!

And what's ahead? A goal of $4 million for this year alone! More professorships.

I also want to mention that we've made progress in reaching NCAA Division II status by moving from "Year One Exploratory" to "Year Two Exploratory." And not every school under consideration did. I congratulate the Athletic staff, AD Rodger Jehlicka, coaches, the FAR, Marcel Yoder, and others for reaching this goal. It has taken a lot of hard work. The academic and integrity standards demanded by Division II are impressive. We're only one year away from competing in the high level Great Lakes Valley Conference!

As I said at the beginning, we have now reached a milestone where the big pieces are in place academically and physically. The buildings we need are here - except a student union. A wonderful faculty is in place. We are ready.

So, puff your chests out. Hold your chins high and get ready. Oh, and, to paraphrase Hill Street Blues, 'Have fun out there.' Catch a student play, or concert, or a show. Or take the family to a Prairie Stars games. Enjoy!

And remember, this is the year where we are able to say we're well on our way to being the best small public liberal arts university anywhere!

Thank you and have a great semester!

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