UIS LogoChancellor Ringeisen's Remarks
Founders Dinner

June 7, 2006

 

It is great to be here tonight. I am impressed that so many are here, and it's fun to see so many familiar faces.

Not many colleges or universities are only 36 years old. It's awesome and humbling to be in the same room with some of the people who built this university, academically and physically.

Those of us who have been here only a few years are very much aware that we are standing on your shoulders.

This is a night for reminiscing and celebrating.

So the first thing I want to do is to ask for a show of hands: How many of you had something to do with Sangamon State University in the 1960s or 1970s?

Let's give them a great round of applause!

Now, how many of you had something to do with SSU in the 1980s, or SSU or UIS in the 1990s? Raise your hands - I know it will be some of the same people.

Again, let's give them a round of applause!

And how many have been a part of the university since the dawning of this new century? You deserve applause, too!

This is a night for congratulating yourselves for all you have done.

This is not a night for long speeches, but in these brief remarks I want to remind us of our origins and then tell you what we envision UIS will be when we celebrate our 50th anniversary 14 years from now.

I want to tell you about two documents I saw as we planned for this event.

One was a picture, an aerial picture of some farm fields. There was a lake to the east of these fields. The picture shows ordinary Illinois farm fields, but in another sense it was a blank canvas.

You are in the midst of those fields now, the canvas that became SSU in 1970, when the first temporary buildings were finished.

The aerial picture shows this land before there were any university buildings.

It's the kind of picture that made me stop.

Stop and ponder. Stop in awesome wonder. Stop and think about all the changes made to these 746 acres. Stop to imagine how people dreamed about these fields. Looking at the blank canvas, I was able to visualize that we have indeed built something quite special.

The second document builds on the first. It's a 113-page report prepared by Dick Williams, our great retired physical plant director who oversaw the development of the campus for 25 years. He is with us tonight. His report, published in 1995, describes in careful detail a campus of 42 buildings with a combined 765,000 gross square feet of space.

Since then we've added Lincoln Residence Hall, many townhouses and University Hall. Now we have more than a million gross square feet of space in our buildings. From zero to more than a million. Not bad, not bad.

On top of that, construction of our new $15 million rec center just began last month.

Have you had a chance to experience the campus outside lately? What a sight to see the quad and the colonnade to the east of University Hall. It's beautiful!

But the buildings that rose from these fields only begin to tell our story.

Much more important are the educational opportunities provided in the past 36 years to our students. Equally important are the benefits to the community - with SSU and UIS providing cultural, recreational and educational opportunities that only a university can bring to a city.

UIS has more than 22,000 alumni living in almost every state and in many other nations - making a difference in the world. We have more than 40 degree programs and recognized excellence in many of them.

These educational opportunities, these benefits to the community, this attraction for faculty to move to Springfield and prosper as teachers and scholars, is possible only because you dreamed boldly and built this university with great energy and creativity.

Now we are still dreaming boldly. 

You probably have heard that we just completed a new strategic plan for UIS. ... No, no, no. Don't let your eyes glaze over. It is a bold plan for the 21st century. We are creatively building on your dreams and your successes. You have a copy of the executive summary.

Here is our vision: To be a premier small public liberal arts university with high-quality professional programs and public affairs activities. And we set high goals - three overarching goals:

1. Academic excellence.

2. Enriching individual lives.

3. Making a difference in the world.

We know that universities become great first by being great locally, in their own backyards. The College of Charleston knew that by making its mission to serve the "low country" of South Carolina with unprecedented excellence. It has done just that and is now recognized nationally as a premier university.

At UIS, let me give you just two recent examples of how I think this will work for us:

One, we are doing biological research on the Illinois River reclamation project near Havana. That is an important project about the Illinois water supply. But what we learn there is expected to have an impact on how scientists and environmentalists deal with the Amazon River in South America and the Yangtze River in China. Awesome, isn't it?

Second, our work in online education expanded our outreach to non-traditional students, making high-quality education more and more accessible. How we're providing online education is getting attention literally around the world - at major national and international conferences and in publications such as the Wall Street Journal.

Think of those examples: local excellence, global impact. It's a pattern that works.

As I wrap up these remarks, I am thinking about the current national debate about Red States and Blue States. Red states are Republican and Blue States are Democratic.

The tragedy is that the red state-blue state debate is shorthand for how divided the American people supposedly are. Some say we are hopelessly divided. I hope they are wrong.

Instead of talking about division, I prefer the promising rhetoric of an emerging American leader, our own Senator Barack Obama. He mentioned red states and blue states in the 2004 campaign. This is what he said:

"There are those who are preparing to divide us. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States. ... But I've got news for them. ...  We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes."

That same Barack Obama was on this stage in Sangamon Auditorium just 18 days ago giving a commencement address. He challenged the graduates of the SIU School of Medicine to use their new roles as doctors to make health care more readily available to more Americans who cannot afford it.

Why did he say that?

Because, he said, "Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential."

Why do I bring that up tonight in a much different kind of setting?

First, because I know you're the people who hitched your wagon in these farm fields to something larger than yourself.The second reason is that sometimes I get the impression that whether we're talking about UIS or Sangamon State, some people try to conjure up a divisive image like the red states and blue states. It's like planting weeds on this great soil. Why they want to sow discord, I do not know.

But I've got news for them:  The pioneers - you pioneers! - who staked your credentials on this land had a wonderful dream. Then, President Naomi Lynn and her team did a superb job directing the transformation from SSU to the University of Illinois at Springfield. And now we have a vision that will continue to blaze a new trail in higher education. It took a great team effort and community effort to make it succeed, and it will take an equally dynamic community effort to pursue and achieve the vision of being recognized as one of the best in the nation.

So as we hitch our wagons to the vision in our new strategic plan, we'll still be hitching our wagons to something greater than ourselves - for the benefit of our students and certainly for the benefit of this community.

When a Chicago Tribune reporter was here last week, one of our deans told her that UIS is on an upward trajectory now. I like that language: an upward trajectory, leading to something wonderful all over again.

I could probably never thank you enough, or thank this community enough, for supporting what has been an institution in transition for its entire existence. Now we have a mission and vision that gives us all the energy we need to unite us: Academic excellence, enriching individual lives and making a difference in the world.

Let us continue to be bold and continue to build something wonderful. We must continue to do it together. Let's get at it, together!

Thank you.

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