Remarks by Chancellor Richard Ringeisen
University of Illinois Springfield

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remarks to Faculty and Staff
Convocation 2009

Good afternoon!

We have had a great week already.

I am delighted to be here today to welcome everybody to the opening of another academic year.

But first I want to tell a story about Danny Weber. He is from the small town of Kincaid just a little south and east of Springfield. He's a young military veteran. A few years ago he became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and then he went on to college. He just graduated from UIS three months ago with his bachelor's in communications. Now he's in Florida - Jacksonville, Florida - having the time of his life as the assignment editor at a television station. If you got a chance to talk to him, he would tell you he couldn't be where he is without UIS. He would go on and on about it. In fact, I talked to him a couple of days ago, and he's thrilled with what UIS did for him.

It's the kind of opportunity we provide here - a chance for people to achieve.

I'm very proud of Danny.

I've been saying ever since I got here that a university's reputation is built largely on the shoulders of its graduates. He is but one example.

You know where else some of our 2009 alumni are?

The Penn State law school, and a few other law schools.

Two different medical schools.

The Peace Corps.

State Farm, Archer-Daniels-Midland and Illinois state government.

Also, many graduate schools around the country, from Purdue to South Carolina to Loyola and Colorado, among others.

I mention those points of pride early because, let's face it, some things happened over the summer that tempt us to feel a bit gloomy and negative.

One is the Chicago Tribune series about admissions practices at our sister school at Urbana-Champaign. Related to that is the call of Governor Quinn's commission for all U of I trustees to resign. Seven trustees have now resigned, including the chair and the past chair.

 I don't want to dwell on this today, except to say that transitions at the highest levels of the university system surely touch us, too. Last week, President White asked all the campuses to take a new look at their admissions policies, and that's what we'll do. I don't expect much will have to change in UIS admissions practices. But I do want to mention that we talked to our admissions staff here right away when the articles came out, and I can assure you we don't have anything resembling a clout list here or ways for influential people to circumvent our admissions process. Together with the Campus Senate and faculty leaders, we'll look at everything and see how it all plays out in the bigger picture.

In the meantime, we have many other things to do here at UIS, and that's what I want to talk about today as we begin a new year.

It occurs to me we always have a choice about how we're going to approach any year.

I choose optimism, while being realistic.

I choose gratitude for the resources we have, instead of anxiety about what we still want.

I choose to be hopeful about the future, and I think we have good reason to be.

In my eight-plus years at UIS, I have always encouraged you to seize the opportunities in front of us.

In this convocation address I customarily spend a lot of time reviewing the last year. I'm going to change that just a bit this year, because we surpassed some MAJOR mileposts last year. Together, they should remind us how far we've come in our strategic intent to become one of the nation's top five small public liberal arts universities.

I think of two famous lines in a Robert Burns poem:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

[The translation]
O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!

I want to take a little time reminding you how others have seen us lately. It's worth stepping back just a few steps, for a few moments, to mention what seven different national groups are saying about us. That is significant, because with this kind of national attention, we are on our way to being recognized as one of the top five small public liberal arts universities in the nation. Here's how:

1) One: U.S. News and World Report. Because we just started admitting freshmen in 2001, U.S. News included UIS in its rankings for the first time in its 2009 report, which was released about a year ago. We came out very very well - 4th best public in the entire Midwest, and the best public master's level university in Illinois.

And here is some news for you. The news about new rankings for 2010 was just released at noon today that AGAIN -- we were ranked 4th best in the Midwest and Illinois' best again.  That establishes us as a top flight public university!

2) Two. As a result of the strategic plan we adopted in 2006, we pursued membership in a very select group of universities - the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, commonly called COPLAC. Illinois didn't have a university in COPLAC, but now it does: UIS was unanimously invited by other members to join this prestigious group. This is an important marker on our journey, one that we specifically aimed for.

You may have seen the COPLAC announcement - but what you didn't hear was the evaluators say to the provost and me that UIS might be the most exciting university in the nation right now, because of everything we're doing and where we're heading.

It's why I'm so optimistic and choose to look ahead today.

3) NCAA. We are no longer an NAIA college. That ended last year. We are now officially in our provisional year in the NCAA, which means we're a Division II university. And the conference we're in - the Great Lakes Valley Conference, has one of the highest academic records of all Division II university conferences in the country. Our student-athletes are students first, and I'm proud to say they set a UIS record in the spring for the highest average GPA for our student-athletes - 3.16. That's an amazing achievement.

Here's what's really important: When the NCAA site visit team came here in the spring, they were very impressed by all the steps we've taken to make sure we're not only compliant, but doing what's best for our student-athletes.

4) Four. UIS has been designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAEIAE). That places us among the few universities charged by the federal government with having programs that will teach graduates how to reduce the threat of cyberterrorism.

5)Five. UIS was placed on the 2008 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service efforts to the local community. The Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement. We have always been known for outreach and community service here, and we're just getting better and better, and reaching out farther. We achieved the highest federal recognition, and I expect we'll stay at that level forever.

6) Six: The Higher Learning Commission conducted a thorough review of UIS for our 10-year reaccreditation about two years ago. But it's so critical to UIS that it belongs on this list. Not only did we get reaccredited, remember, but it was the first time in our history that the national accrediting body said it didn't have to come back for any kind of follow up or review. They liked what they saw, and we were rewarded for it.

7) Seven. I often talk about online education when I'm in my bragging mode, but this year the category is broader than just online education: I'll call it "New Communications." We're talking blogs, social media, Facebook, Twitter, and online. Here at UIS, we're especially great at providing online education.

Did you the see that announcement that was just made Tuesday? UIS content is available on iTunes, which means more than 200 million iTunes users can now download UIS content to play on their iPods.  That puts us in some very good company.

And we're recognized from west to east for our online efforts as our online enrollments continue to grow. In the past year, the California-based Society for New Communications Research recognized our efforts to market our online offerings, and the Boston-based Sloan Consortium gave UIS the singular recognition among more than 1,500 member institutions for exemplary quality and leadership in the field. 

So that's two awards in online education - and recognition from eight national groups in all, just in the past year. 

So, ladies and gentlemen of the UIS community, it certainly is worthwhile today to pause, to see ourselves as others see us.

We're on the rise. We're on the journey. I am tempted to declare that we have arrived, three years after finalizing our strategic plan with a bold vision and lofty goals.

In many ways we have arrived - when you see us as others see us.

But it's probably never a good idea to say we have arrived. We'll let others say it for us.

I would say this: Recognition from eight national groups is something in which we all should take pride.

Let's not forget that all external recognition emanates from the work that we do right here, every day. For the past three years, we have been boldly implementing our top three goals from the 2006 strategic plan. 

For the rest of these remarks, I will talk about how we're going to continue on this journey in this year. Mostly I will do that by talking about our top three goals: academic excellence, enriching individual lives, and making a difference in the world.

But I think it's time today to begin focusing more formally on our fourth goal: strengthening our campus culture.

But before I talk about these four goals, there is another serious issue I want to address head-on.

That's the budget. Two aspects of this year's budget are of particular concern to me.

The most important is that this year, the state of Illinois has significantly reduced financial aid for our students - not only our students, but those in all other Illinois colleges and universities. There is a program called MAP - which stands for the Monetary Award Program, a grant program for our most financially needy students - one of the best programs of its kind in the nation, a source of pride for Illinois. The state funded this program at only 50 percent of the recommended level this year. So as of now, about 700 of our students receiving a MAP grant this fall won't get one in the second semester. That means an average reduction of $1,700 in state aid for these students. We will be working with them on alternatives, but there is no way for us to know at this time how many can afford to come back next semester. This is a very serious matter for these students and their families. We are hopeful the state will do something to restore these grants, and we are urging them to do so, but we cannot count on it.

The state budget hits us really hard in another way this year. This takes some explaining. State law requires us to waive tuition for veterans. We're happy that a lot of returning veterans attend UIS. We welcome them, and they enjoy it here. Danny Weber, who I talked about at the beginning of these remarks, was one of them. The trouble is that this year, the state has eliminated the funding that we should receive for giving these tuition waivers. So we get the students and we have to figure out how to pay for them. We don't have an exact figure yet, but it could mean a loss of $1 million in our revenue. If it's not fixed, it will be a big blow to our budget. That means budget cuts or reallocations of that amount, and it's not a pleasant thought.

I have given some bad budget news in previous years, but I don't think we've had a year this decade with the uncertainties and potential negative budgetary consequences of the state's reductions in MAP grants and the loss in funding for veterans grants. Every other Illinois college and university must address these issues, too, so we'll keep you apprised of what happens. But! It's a time to remember my favorite analogy: When a ship is in a storm at sea, you don't shut the engines down.

I know one topic on your mind is whether there will be any raises this year. Well, you probably saw the memo that went out to campus - trying to protect our academic mission as much as possible, we looked at this very carefully, and we just don't have the money to allocate for raises this year.

One other thing: you're probably wondering whether we'll have furlough days this year. The truth is, we don't know. We hope not, and as of now, there are no plans for furlough days. There is language in new contracts that would allow us to call for furlough days; it's there if we need it. I have already promised campus leaders, and I'll say it again today, that we won't do this without consulting leaders such as the APAC, CSAC and Campus Senate executive committees. Not only that, but calling for furloughs would be the second-to-last thing we would do to our budget, with layoffs being the last.

Now I want to move on.

I do want to spend some time focusing on our three major goals and what we're doing to implement them more fully this year. First, let me mention that the three main goals are printed on the backs on your business cards. At least, I hope they still are! Anyway...

Academic excellence

In pursuit of this goal, we are offering one new bachelor's degree this year: Global Studies. How appropriate! Plus, we are seeking approval for a new MIS undergraduate degree. I am very pleased to see this. A university can never stand pat with its degree offerings; we must respond to what students want and continually look at new degree opportunities with the resources we have.

It's just incredible to me that we are able to talk about so many major new faculty hires this year. We have recruited some remarkable, talented teachers and scholars. You'll meet them as part of this program -- I know you will be as impressed as I am, so I don't need to go into the details here. And, as we've done in recent years, you have their bios to take with you at the end of this program so you get to know them better.

Plus, we are having two investiture programs this year:
-- One for the Naomi Lynn Chair in Lincoln Studies: Dr. Michael Burlingame.
-- The other for our new three named professors: Dr. Matthew Holden, Dr. Karen Swan and Dr. Keith Miller.

UIS now has six named faculty appointments, and I would challenge you to find another institution of our size with that kind of distinction.

That reminds me of something else faculty will be doing this year. A number of them, led by Karen Swan, will be applying the Community of Inquiry survey in their online classes as we examine ways in which social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence interact to enhance the quality of learning.  Several research studies are under way here, including one that will also examine the Quality Matters rubric for the design of online classes. 

Another thing we're doing to help everybody this year is to create what is called a "portal." This is YOUR individual portal. It is a one-stop, personalized, customizable website that will allow you to access UIS resources with a single sign-on. In other words, you will be able to log in using your UIS ID and password just once, to the portal, and then be able to access Blackboard, DARS Web, a Class list summary, Banner applications, Business applications - whatever you use most frequently.

We are initiating midterm grades for 100- and 200-level courses, with optional participation for 300- and 400-level courses, so undergraduates are better able to monitor and improve their academic performance.  I see it as a crucial step forward in our progress towards having a full four-year baccalaureate education at UIS and essential to our retention efforts.

Enriching individual lives

I think it's going to be a great year in Student Affairs. We have a new vice chancellor, Dr. Tim Barnett, who was the search committee's unanimous choice. He brings a wealth of experience in student development, admissions and retention, and I believe he will raise the bar in so many ways for the benefit of our students.

You know what one of his major observations is about UIS?
We need a Student Center. He is right.

A Student Center is indeed on our master plan. It's the one building we still need to be the kind of university we want to be. It will be costly, and we will have to generate the revenue to build it because we can't use state funds. So it's not likely to happen in the short term. But it's clearly on our radar screen and that's exciting!

We have identified some new ways to help our students:

Center for First-Year Students. It opened last year and will be even more robust this year. A search committee is getting closer to hiring a new director. This center will be essential for the retention of our students. Its offices are in the Brookens Library building.

Diversity Center. Clarice Ford had a terrific year last year in her first year. The Black Student Union is flourishing, for example. She shows up at everything, and her energy and bright smile are contagious! Her fresh look at UIS is already helping us: one of her major concerns in the spring was that we had not hired our LGBTQ coordinator yet. Well, we're working on that right now.

I assure you today, as I have in the past, that we value diversity in every way here at UIS. Some people say we should tolerate diversity. I disagree. I think we should celebrate it, and that's where we're heading every day under Dr. Ford's leadership.

Last year we talked about retention of students as a critical issue for us. Dr. Ford has identified what she believes is among the most critical changes we can make to retain students: have more Friday classes, so that residential students get a full week here, have shorter weekends and more opportunities for a total student experience. So we'll continue to work on adding Friday classes as we put our schedules together in the future.

The final thing I want to say about "enriching individual lives" is a small but great document put together over the summer by our Counseling Center. It's called:

"Student Emergency and Referral Procedures"

It's a small brochure about how to handle various kinds of emergencies or behavioral situations you may encounter. Few of us have the expertise to provide the individual intervention that students, staff or visitors need if they are acting out in some way. But this document gives you great advice on what your initial reaction should be if you're not sure how to respond to students or other people who you believe might be a threat to themselves, yourself or others. So keep this brochure with you.

A piece of great news about campus life this year:  we were able to confirm yesterday that for the first time in our history, we have more than 1,100 students living on campus.  Last year we broke the 1,000 mark. 

Making a difference in the world

Our third goal is making a difference in the world.

I am announcing today that one year from now, we will begin a five-month celebration of our 40th anniversary! We first taught students in the fall of 1970, and we've made such a difference to this community and to the world ever since. We have a couple of major events planned, and all of you will have opportunities to create your own ways to add to the celebration. We will roll out some plans this fall, and you'll be hearing more about it soon.

"UIS Around the World" photos. This is fun. I frankly lose track of the many ways that we offer global experiences. So one thing we created over the summer was a web site called UIS Around the World. All we want people to do is to submit photographs of themselves or others emblazoned with UIS clothing in various parts of the world. We've already started.

That's a picture of Carol Esarey at the South Pole!

So submit your photos and enjoy! Send the photos to

4th Goal: Strengthen Campus Culture

When we created our strategic plan, we recognized a need to build a stronger community here. Great institutions have strong communities, so we're going to do some special things this year:

First I mention safety. Twenty years ago we probably took safety on campuses for granted. Times have changed.

That's why the Counseling Center put together that brochure.

Emergency notification signup. I want to remind you that we have an emergency notification system, where you can get brief text messages on your cell phones or email inboxes. Please sign up for this. The more people do this, the safer we'll all be if an emergency arises.

Go to our Emergencies web page and click on the UIS-Alert Emergency Notification System link to sign up.

While I'm talking about this, I want to say we are pleased the state put $4 million in the capital budget for us to build a new Public Safety Building. This is a very safe campus, but that old farmhouse is no longer serving adequately as the police headquarters. We're still a ways off from beginning the design and construction, but it's coming.

What's next after that building? It's not a safety issue, but it is our next major building project...

... the renovation of Brookens Library.

Provost Berman, Dean Treadwell and a small group have been making great plans, and someday we'll build what we can afford. The library needs an overhaul. We all know it, and it's next on our list as we push for more state capital funding.

Another way we are going to improve the campus climate this year is to have a campus dialogue about our common values. As an academic community, we will identify principles of behavior and service here. How do we treat one another and talk to one another? Most of the time, civilly and respectfully. But not all of the time. So we're going to build on a survey administered by Human Resources last year and work together to strengthen our campus culture.

Speaking of surveys, I have not forgotten about the call for a general climate survey here at UIS. This is something I've talked to Vice Chancellor Barnett and Provost Berman about. They work together on this, so you'll be hearing more about this, too.

So that's the plan for this year: to deepen our commitment to academic excellence, enriching lives, making a difference in the world, and strengthening our campus community.

I commend you for all of your work that has led to the recognition we are now receiving.

We don't do what we do for the recognition, of course. We do it for our students, so that they will have the best possible educational experience.

But if you see UIS as others see us, you know this is an institution on the rise.

So I am calling on you, and counting on you, to continue to build something really special for our students, for our community, for our state, indeed, for the world. It's what you've been doing in recent years.

People who are new to UIS may not know that Barack Obama was in this building, on the Sangamon Auditorium stage, just three years ago, inviting everybody to hitch their wagons to something larger than themselves. That's exactly what you do when you join an academic community. You become something larger than yourself.

Speaking of wagons and hitching yourselves, let me finish with a....

Song! With apologies to Green Acres, Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor and others, here it is...

Keep it up and have a great year.

« Back to Remarks page