End-of-year Message, May 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

As we approach commencement just a few days away, this end-of-year message continues an ongoing series of regular communications from the Chancellor to the UIS community on issues of importance to the university and to our overall mission and goals. At the end of this my fourth year serving as your Chancellor, I continue to be inspired by and thankful for the commitment I see demonstrated daily by UIS faculty, staff and students. Despite the reality of budget threats, the positive momentum we have created together continues to move us toward achieving our vision to be a premier public university. I am deeply grateful for all of your contributions.

As many of you know, we hosted the University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting on campus this past week, welcoming two new Trustees, Ramon Cepeda and Jill Smart, to the UIS campus for the first time. I am sincerely grateful to all who contributed to making the Board meeting and associated events such a success.

This particular BOT meeting was the last for President Bob Easter, who has been a strong advocate for UIS throughout his presidency. Dr. Tim Killeen will assume the system presidential role at the end of the UIS commencement on May 16th. I hope you will join President Killeen and all three UI Chancellors for a Town Hall meeting and reception on Friday, May 22, from 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. in the Sangamon Auditorium Lobby.

You may also be interested to know that UIS played a central role in the recent Lincoln Funeral Coalition Commemorative Events in Springfield, marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. With the leadership of UIS Lincoln Scholar Michael Burlingame and our Center for State Policy and Leadership, we hosted an academic symposium titled: Mourning Father Abraham that was attended by more than 650 people. We also hosted a capacity crowd of nearly 2,000 in the Sangamon Auditorium Performing Arts Center for a special Illinois Symphony Orchestra performance titled “The Lincoln Train.” Ralph Shank, whose “day job” is in the UIS Office of Web Services, was a featured vocalist for the symphony event and his was truly an exceptional performance. These events and others throughout the year continue to demonstrate in a very visible way the great economic, social and cultural value that our campus brings to the community and to the region.

As I reflect back on the 2014 -15 academic calendar, I am appreciative of the regular meetings and many important consultations with campus leaders this past year. My sincere thanks to Senate Chair Jorge Villegas and Bill Klein, John Transue, and Holly Thompson who served on the Senate Executive Committee. Thanks also to Teresa Szabo who again led the APAC so ably and to Bobbi Fults who continues as an exceptional leader of CSAC. You’ve heard me say before that shared governance works at UIS because we work at it and it has been particularly true this year given the various challenges we continue to face.

UIS student leaders play an important role in informing and advocating for student interests and concerns, which is so critical to our continued growth in both reputation and enrollment.

  • My thanks to Joe McGee for serving as SGA President;
  • Student trustee Hannah Cave received the Donovan Pepper Award for Outstanding Student Leadership this past weekend and I am grateful to Hannah for representing UIS and our students exceptionally well on the UI Board of Trustees.

It has been a pleasure to share in celebrating the contributions of several exceptional UIS staff members this year.

  • Jim Korte, Dean of Students, was recognized with the CAPE Award for outstanding performance by an Academic Professional;
  • Cliff Edwards, grounds services, has received the CARE Award for excellence in Civil Service; and
  • Danny Lau, food service, is our UIS Employee of the Year.

Faculty honors awarded this year included:

  • Dr. David Bertaina (History) – University Scholar
  • Dr. Nathan Steele (Business) – Pearson Award for Outstanding Teaching,
  • Dr. Dennis Ruez (Environmental Studies) – Spencer Award for Exemplary Service, and
  • Dr. Roxanne Kurtz (Philosophy) – Oakley Distinguished Online Teaching Award and
  • Dr. Ann Strahle (Communication) – 2015 China Faculty Exchange Scholar. (She will spend the summer as Scholar in Residence at Heilongjaing University.

My congratulations and sincere thanks to each of our award winners for all that you contribute to our campus and to the larger community. You exemplify “Leadership lived” and provide inspiration for our campus community every day.

As you know, our forward momentum continues to be centered on three strategic priorities: growth in both enrollment and reputation, talent acquisition and retention of both faculty and staff, and facilities that will best provide our students with a comprehensive university experience. We’ve remained focused on several strategies to advance these priorities and, thanks to the efforts of many, they are yielding real results.

You already know that our Fall enrollment saw a significant increase. The Spring 2015 enrollment has also been robust. I greatly appreciate the leadership of Fernando Planas, Director of Admissions, and other Admissions staff who have done such a terrific job this year of communicating the UIS story to prospective students and their parents. I observed Fernando’s expertise firsthand this year when I accompanied him on a visit to two of our target high schools in Chicago – Gary Comer College Prep and the Perspectives Leadership Academy. It was heartening to experience the positive reception that UIS receives from teachers and administrators at these two excellent schools.

Faculty and staff in the departments of Computer Science and Management Information Systems have made extraordinary efforts to accommodate significant increases in enrollment in their programs this year at the same time that staff in the Office of International Student Services and the Intensive English Program have worked very hard to accommodate the increasing number of international students on campus. They deserve our thanks and appreciation.

The earlier work of the Academic Programs Task Force is now yielding results and several new academic programs including Healthcare Informatics and Sports Management concentrations in Business, a Biochemistry major, and online versions of the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Political Science will be launched in Fall, 2015.

We’ve had over 100 applications for the new BSN program in Nursing that is being implemented in partnership with the UIC College of Nursing and Memorial Health Systems. The pre-nursing curriculum will start this Fall and several talented UIS first year students will receive $10,000 scholarships funded through a $2 million gift from Memorial.

We’ve also added a Cross Country and Distance Track program, a sport that will bring new students (both men and women) to campus and that is a terrific addition to our Division II sports program. All of these additions will help us grow both on campus and online and will enhance our relevance and reputation in the region.

Though a necessarily incomplete list, here are several other examples of the great work of your colleagues – faculty, staff and students – this past year:

  • The UIS Illinois Innocence Project achieved two exonerations this year involving 15 UIS students who worked tirelessly on behalf of their innocent clients;
  • The National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA) has named the UIS website one of the top-ranked college and university websites for engaging prospective students. UIS ranks 8th nationally in recognition of its excellent interface functionality and use of social media.
  • In addition to the hundreds of courses delivered on ground and online, UIS faculty also published 46 journal articles, 9 books/monographs and 17 book chapters. Faculty also produced 23 creative works including visual arts, music and theatre.
  • UIS Springfest, one of the most popular traditions in student life, had the largest participation ever this year;
  • Cash gift support (to date) for the campus totals more than $3.6 million this fiscal year and we will soon surpass last year’s record year of $3.7 million;
  • More than 75,000 people have visited campus to attend at least one performing arts event in either Sangamon Auditorium or the Studio Theatre;
  • Participation in the faculty/staff fund-raising campaign topped more than 49% for 2013-14 and we expect an equally positive outcome when the current campaign wraps up on June 30.
  • The UIS Center for Volunteer and Civic Engagement has involved hundreds of students in more than 66,000 hours of volunteer service this past year;
  • An Economic Impact Study published in January, 2015 demonstrated that the UIS campus contributes about $176.8 million to the local economy every year;
  • Thanks to the contributions of faculty in the Fine Arts as UIS continues to grow and provide cultural assets to the campus and the community with theatre productions, musical performances, and art exhibitions on campus hosting hundreds of appreciative participants;
  • UIS now offers a variety of services to veterans and active duty military personnel, enhancing their ability to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree;
  • The campus is collaborating with a private developer on a downtown housing project for UIS graduate students and SIU medical students;
  • The design/development phase for the UIS Student Union was completed this year and, though budget pressures have slowed progress, the project continues as a major building priority for the campus;
  • The fund-raising campaign for the Student Union kicked off in September with a celebration on the Quad that included more than 800 people; to date more than $3 million in gifts have been committed to the project;
  • UIS student-athletes broke more than 30 school records this year at the same time that 114 student athletes made the Athletics Academic Honor Roll and 8 earned a perfect 4.0 GPA;
  • The UIS Prairie Stars athletics booster club has nearly 500 members in only the third year of the initiative;
  • WUIS celebrated its 40th anniversary of delivering high-quality public radio  programming this year;
  • UIS launched the Prairie Star Athletics Hall of Fame and celebrated the first class of inductees with approximately 300 proud alums, former coaches, and longstanding friends of the University;
  • A few weeks ago, two UIS alums won the Pulitzer Prize: Kathy Best (PAR) at the Seattle Times for “Breaking News” and Mitch Pugh (English) for “Public Service”;
  • Most importantly, the UIS campus continues to grow in visibility, reputation and enrollment.

As we discussed at the March 25 Campus Budget Forum, the budget environment for the state and the university remains challenging and uncertain to say the least. Governor Rauner’s February budget address included a recommendation for a 31.5% reduction in the state’s allocation to Illinois’s public universities. Such a reduction would mean a loss of approximately $6 million for UIS and, if implemented, would most certainly have a very negative impact on the entire campus. Our Board of Trustees voted in January not to increase tuition for undergraduate, in-state students, realizing that continued increases in tuition cannot continue to offset losses in state support if we are to remain competitive.

The UI governmental relations staff are working with campus leadership and legislative leaders discussing alternatives to the proposed reduction and it seems likely at this point that debates and negotiations regarding the entire state budget may extend into the summer. In the meantime, we will continue careful planning and, if a major budget reduction becomes a reality during the next several weeks, we will reach out to faculty and staff leadership for further consultation.

This Saturday, May 16th, it will be my privilege to shake the hands of 965 new graduates of the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. (That’s 225 more than a year ago.) We anticipate a capacity commencement crowd that will include, among others, the parents of Computer Science graduate Swetha Vallamreddy, who are traveling over 8,000 miles from southern India to attend commencement. Our ceremony includes an address by distinguished Public Affairs Reporting program alum Thom Serafin. It will be a wonderful day!

As we close another academic year, thank you for all that you’ve done to make this past year such a great year at UIS.

Have a great summer, everyone!

With all best wishes,

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor

Chancellor Susan J. Koch