Message from the Chancellor, March 2012

Statement by Chancellor Susan J. Koch
March 8, 2012

As we move toward the midpoint of the Spring semester and a welcome Spring Break for many in our UIS community, this letter continues a series of regular communications to the campus community on issues of importance to the University and to our overall goals and mission.

Though budget challenges in our state continue to affect the university, I was gratified that Governor Quinn called for increased funding for the Monetary Award Program in his recent budget address.  At UIS, more than 800 students receive MAP funding. I met with several of them recently and each described personal circumstances that make it very clear that the MAP grants are an essential element of our financial aid funding.  Under the Governor’s proposed budget, higher education funding would be essentially level. Our governmental relations staff is closely monitoring budget developments as the budget process moves forward in the legislature.

With budgetary reductions in mind should they be necessary, each of the University of Illinois campuses is preparing plans for reductions at the 3% and 6% levels. I have engaged the senior leadership in preparing these plans in consultation with faculty and staff at the unit level.   Your contributions to these discussions are important and appreciated. I will be working with our executive team to prepare campus level plans building on that input.  Please be assured that we will work to protect the core academic functions and operations of the campus and we will continue to focus on our vision to be a premier public university.

Speaking of politics, you are probably also aware that a bill has recently been introduced in the Illinois legislature that would eliminate the 50% tuition benefit currently provided to children of public university employees.  The families of many UIS employees have benefitted greatly from this waiver over the years and it is an important aspect of our ability to recruit and retain excellent staff and faculty. I want you to know that I fully support the continuation of the tuition benefit. Just yesterday the University of Illinois formally registered its opposition to this proposed legislation and the University is working vigorously to retain this important benefit for our employees.

Of course, enrollment is an essential part of our planning for the future and we continue to focus on achieving our goal of 6,000 students.  A competitive level of financial aid is an essential element and, with that in mind, I authorized Student Affairs to work this year with a consulting firm to review our current financial aid policies and use of scholarship dollars. Some changes have already been made based on the consultants’ campus visit and, when their final report is available, Dr. Barnett will provide the university with a summary of the results.  We have also been working with consultants to refresh our UIS brand and develop more effective messaging for use in student recruitment, positioning and image building.  We are about to enter a testing phase for that messaging that will involve a survey of UIS faculty, staff, students and alums. Your input will be very valuable in this exercise and I hope you will participate.

I have heard continuously from UIS students this year that building a Student Union is important to them.  The Student Government Association has made this a top priority.  The SGA has completed an online survey to assess student needs and expects to hold a referendum in mid-April seeking student support.  Keep in mind that the funding model for a union differs from that of most other university buildings in that state funds cannot be used. I very much appreciate the leadership of our SGA in this effort and, knowing the value that this important facility would bring to campus life for all members of our university community, I support their efforts.

Many of us are occupied with important searches at this time of year and that is certainly true for the Chancellor’s Office! We have a robust pool of candidates for the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost position.  The search committee, under the very able leadership of Professor Mike Miller, will soon be conducting “airport interviews” in St. Louis and I am anticipating that finalists will be on campus in April, at which time your feedback will be very important.  Hiring the right people to join our academic community, whether they are faculty or staff, is one of the most important things that we do and I deeply appreciate the investment of time and energy that so many of you make in this exceedingly important task.

I’m continuing meetings throughout the Spring semester with various groups of faculty at the college and departmental levels and am appreciating the opportunity to learn more about individual teaching and research assignments, interests and achievements.   It is heartening to me, as your Chancellor, to hear consistent themes in each of those meetings – a passionate commitment to our students and their educational experience, an intellectual curiosity that fuels high-quality scholarship and an understanding that each of us contributes every day to the reputation of our academic community.  Thank you to all those who have so generously participated in those meetings and I look forward to many more during the next several weeks.

There are so many great things happening on our campus, it is a challenge for anyone to keep up with all of them; but a few that have caught my attention this semester have been:

  • Ann Strahle, UIS assistant professor of communications, took 22 students from her Introduction to Public Relations course to Indianapolis in January for a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for Super Bowl XLVI.   Thanks to Ann’s Indianapolis connections, students met with the Indianapolis Super Bowl Committee that spent the past four years preparing their city for this massive event.  What an excellent bridge between the classroom and real life!
  • The wonderful new book, Abraham Lincoln Traveled This Way — The America Lincoln Knew, a collaboration between our renowned Lincoln historian, Michael Burlingame, and  acclaimed landscape photographer Robert Shaw.  In this fascinating book, Burlingame’s writing and Shaw’s photographs are artfully woven together with Lincoln’s own words to tell Lincoln’s life story.   I’ve shared the book with many visiting dignitaries and friends of the university as a terrific example of our faculty scholarship.
  • The UIS Sangamon Auditorium, along with the Chancellor’s Office and our friends at the State Journal Register, hosted a capacity crowd for a free performance this past weekend of the United States Army Field Band and Chorus.   It was a wonderful performance and a great opportunity for us to reach out to the community and the region in a way that brought many people to our campus who might not otherwise visit.   It was especially satisfying to see several or our own UIS Music students perform with these professionals.  Bob Vaughn gets all the credit for this idea and I hope we can make it an annual event!

I want to close this letter with a brief story about our community that I think you will appreciate.  UIS hosted a group of prospective students from China on campus several weeks ago.  One of the visiting students lost a wallet, the contents of which included $4,000 in U.S. currency.  You can imagine this student’s panic. The wallet was found by several UIS students on a classroom floor and one student took it directly to the UIS Parking Operations Office.   Student and wallet (including the $4,000) were reunited the next day.  This incident says something pretty special about our students and our community, don’t you agree?

Whatever your role at UIS, thank you for all that you do to provide our students with the excellence that is so central to what we do.  I appreciate working with you.

With all best wishes,

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor

P.S. Sneak preview: We have heard lots of interest in a mobile web site for people with smartphones. Web Services has developed one and is testing it;  it should be available for widespread use by summer.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch