Remarks at Faculty Scholarship Luncheon

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
October 13, 2011

I’m delighted to make some opening remarks for this University of Illinois Springfield Faculty Scholarship Recognition Luncheon.

This is the event where we present the University of Illinois’s highest honor for scholarship, the University Scholar Award and I want to be among the many today who congratulates Dr. John Martin, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Physics on receiving this prestigious honor.

John, congratulations! I’m looking forward to learning more about your work today.

I think of this event, also, as an opportunity for us to celebrate the importance of scholarship in our academic community and I’d like to take just a few minutes with these opening remarks to do that.

Anticipating this event for the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my own academic career and the careers of so many outstanding teacher-scholars whom I have know over nearly three decades. And oddly enough, the image that has come to mind for me again and again is the image of braids.

Specifically, the image is a painting titled “The Hair is Being Braided,” by Norwegian artist Christian Krohg. My older daughter sent this image to me years ago after she visited the National Gallery in Norway because it reminded her of the countless times I had French braided her hair when she was a little girl. I still have a copy of this beautiful painting sitting on a bookshelf at home.

Have any of you French braided anyone’s hair?

If you have you know that you have three strands and as you very carefully braid, you have to balance each strand, hold all three in your fingers and weave them evenly and tightly to the head all the way from beginning to end. It’s hard to do! You have to be very focused! It takes practice! There are lots of failures along the way. And the result when you get good at it is really a thing of beauty.

What does this have to do with scholarship in our lives as faculty members? Well when I think of the many wonderful teacher-scholars I have known, what I see in them is this practiced ability to carefully braid together the strands of their careers – outstanding teaching based on their genuine interest in students, a scholarly agenda based on their training and intellectual passion, and a commitment to being contributing member of their academic community and their discipline. It’s hard to do! It takes practice! There are failures along the way. And the result when you get good at it is really a thing of beauty.

For these outstanding faculty members, and we all know them, there is no bright line separating or dividing teaching, scholarship and service; they interweave these endeavors into one beautiful braid … and that is what success looks like in our world of academia. It’s what we do. It’s what we love.

When I met with our new faculty several weeks ago, I told them about an outstanding faculty member at Northern Iowa that I long admired. A well-known Economist, winner of the College Outstanding Teaching Award and a widely published scholar, she explained to each of her classes at the beginning of the semester what a “professor” is. She told them about her teaching, she explained her research and the impact it was having on her field, and she talked about her role as a member of the university community.

For students, many of whom were fresh out of high school and whose only context of education was their high school teacher, Dr. Rives understood it was important for students to understand that she and they were part of a university; a place that not only provides knowledge, but a place that creates it. She wanted them to understand that, though teaching was exceedingly important to her and central to her work as a professor, scholarship and service were also part of her responsibilities and part of her passion for her work.

As your new Chancellor, I was attracted to UIS, in part, because of it’s mission:

We promise that we will provide an intellectually rich, collaborative, and intimate learning environment for our students and for ourselves.

Every member of our UIS community helps deliver on that promise every day; but the role of the faculty, as teachers and scholars, is central to the mission of this Springfield campus of the University of Illinois.

It is the faculty who do the teaching and research that makes us who we are.

As I perused the list of faculty achievements that has been prepared for this event, it is obvious that we are very much engaged in what Boyer referred to as the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of application, the scholarship of teaching and the scholarship of integration.

All of these forms of scholarship, including creative activity like art, music and theatre, contribute to providing that intellectually rich environment for our students.

Scholarship is important. As your Chancellor, I what you to know that I appreciate and respect your scholarly contributions and I look forward to learning much more in the coming weeks about the scholarship of our faculty.

… and if anyone wants your hair braided, please see me after lunch today.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch