Message from the Chancellor, December 2015

Dear Colleagues:

As we bring the Fall, 2015 semester to a close this week and look ahead to a new calendar year and a new semester, this message is intended to provide several updates on matters of shared significance to our campus family.

You undoubtedly have been following the news (or lack thereof) about the ongoing state budget stalemate, which continues to have a negative impact on higher education in Illinois. At UIS, we have nearly 1000 students who depend on state scholarship funds to make college more affordable. The MAP scholarship program remains in jeopardy, but I am hopeful that state officials will resolve their differences and fund this critically important program. In the meantime, I have communicated with UIS MAP-eligible students and encouraged them to enroll for Spring classes with the understanding that, despite budget constraints, UIS will cover their MAP costs during the Spring semester while we continue to await the MAP funding.

Of course, in addition to the individual student impact, the lack of a state budget threatens the regular operational budget of our campus – affecting our ability to maintain progress in strategic priority areas. We have been implementing the budget reductions that we discussed in detail with leadership groups earlier this semester, following the budget principles that we have discussed in previous budget forums, and are continuing to closely monitor all expenditures and budget-related decisions. The University of Illinois Government Relations team is leading our advocacy efforts in the State Capitol and we will continue to make our voices heard with elected officials in the coming months to ensure that campus and university priorities are given the attention and resources they deserve. I will continue to schedule individual visits with local legislators and others who are in a position to advocate for higher education and for UIS.

As you know, UI President Killeen is leading a system-wide strategic planning effort that we anticipate will chart our institution’s path to the future and build on our rich legacy of service to students and to the public good. UIS hosted the first of the campus-level strategic planning sessions last month, with President Killeen and consultants with the AKA Strategy Group guiding listening sessions and several focus group discussions to inform their work. Similar sessions at UIUC and UIC have now been completed and we anticipate that a draft of the plan will be available for our review and feedback early in the Spring semester. A final draft will then be presented to the UI Board of Trustees. My sincere thanks go to all who have participated thus far in this important process – contributing their ideas, candor and enthusiasm for strengthening our campus and the UI system as a whole. (Offer more ideas or learn more about the strategic planning effort)

UIS has a wider footprint in central Illinois and in Springfield than it has ever had before and we are making significant strides to become more visible and relevant throughout the region thanks to the many productive efforts of talented and creative faculty, staff and alums. A first-of-its-kind (for Springfield) business incubator, known as Innovate Springfield (iSPI) has just opened with the leadership of Bruce Sommer from UIS’s College of Business and Management. The incubator will support start-up businesses and non-profit organizations in a building across from the Old State Capitol. iSPI was featured in my SJR column this past Sunday.

Beyond this development, a long-awaited new student housing project, with 72 apartment units, broke ground this week in downtown Springfield and, when completed, will make living, learning and working in Springfield even more convenient and enjoyable for current and future generations of UIS students. We have strongly advocated for this project, which will assuredly provide new opportunities for students and alums and deepen the impact of UIS in the Springfield business and civic arenas. I am especially grateful to Vice Chancellor Clarice Ford and Assistant Vice Chancellor Van Vieregge for their efforts in bringing the downtown housing initiative to fruition.

This past summer with the leadership of Vice Chancellor for Advancement Jeff Lorber, we integrated alumni relations into the development office, renaming the unit the Office of Advancement – a best practice that I have wanted to implement since my arrival at UIS in 2011. This reorganization has already increased our effectiveness in both alumni relations and development and, thanks to the outstanding efforts of our advancement team, fundraising success continues to grow. We have set cash giving records the past two years and are on pace to have another outstanding year.

Fund-raising for the Student Union has been particularly successful this semester, with a $1.5 million gift from a distinguished UIS alum as well as several six-figure gifts being confirmed. At this point, we have over $5 million in commitments made toward our $8 million fund-raising goal. As I have visited with so many donors and prospective donors during the past several months to discuss the Student Union project and request their support, I have been heartened by their belief in our campus and the important work that we do and I am deeply grateful for the confidence in us that is represented by each and every gift.

More than 40 construction company representatives attended a Student Union bidders conference held on campus earlier this term, demonstrating wide interest in work on the project. The final bid opening took place yesterday and the project continues to move steadily forward. Special thanks are owed to UIS Director of Construction Chuck Coderko who is leading the “nuts and bolts” requirements of this major building initiative. I invite everyone to learn more about this exciting project.

Continued increases in student enrollment will depend in part on the availability of academic programs that fit the interests and career goals of our student population. Diligent work by many faculty and staff has led to the launch this semester of undergraduate programs in Nursing (in collaboration with UIC and Memorial Health Systems) and Elementary Education and will soon lead to new majors in Athletic Training and Exercise Science. Other new academic programs are in the approval pipeline. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and coordination to add a new undergraduate or graduate program and I greatly appreciate the curriculum committees, department chairs, deans, Provost Pardie, the Campus Senate and all who have contributed to expanding our academic offerings.

New programs are, as you know, an essential element of the larger need to grow our enrollment and we have been making good progress in that regard. The recruitment and retention of qualified students is a responsibility that we all share and we will need to continue to focus our collective efforts in these areas in the coming months.

On that note, I can’t leave out mention of a few important elements of student life that have been particularly notable this semester. Our UIS Theatre program, featuring several talented student-actors, offered a delightful performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a true American classic. Our growing UIS Music program provided several excellent concerts. Though I greatly appreciate opportunities to attend every UIS Music performance on campus, I think my favorite this term was the private “holiday concert” that our students (conducted by Professor Sharon Graf) provided for UIS Music lover and donor Polly Roesch at St. Joseph’s home this past week. Polly is 105 years old and she (and I) so enjoyed our choir’s musical performance … delivered with loving enthusiasm at her bedside.

My congratulations to new UIS cross-country coach Mike De Witt and our student-athletes on the completion of their first season in a highly competitive sport that attracts some of the most disciplined, hard-working students in collegiate athletics. With our new school mascot, Orion, on the sidelines, I continue to appreciate the opportunities (and enjoyment) that our Division II sports programs provide for students and for the campus community at large.

It is so important that we all remain aware that UIS does not exist in a vacuum. World and national events that take place in Paris, San Bernadino and Chicago have an impact on each of us and on our students. We owe it to our students – and to each other – to educate ourselves about these events at the same time we recognize our responsibilities as members of the community and look out for one another. I was proud to see so many UIS faculty, staff and students at the interfaith prayer vigil held at the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield mosque this past Sunday evening. I hope that every member of our campus community is mindful that we are a welcoming, inclusive and courteous place where people from different backgrounds can pursue their educational goals in an atmosphere of tolerance and safety.

I have great appreciation and respect for our campus police, who are eager to be partners in maintaining a safe learning environment for everyone. The best advice to ensure our collective security on campus is always: “If you see something, say something.” Campus police are available 24/7 by phone at 217-206-6690.

Finally, I would love to see you at the annual campus-wide Employee Holiday Party this Friday, December 18th, from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. in the PAC Lobby. Please consider this my personal challenge to wear your most celebratory holiday attire. I plan to do so and bragging rights will go to the most interesting fashion statement of the day. Live music by one of our favorite local musicians is an added inducement for your participation.

In closing, thank you for everything you do every day to provide our students with the excellence that is so central to who we are and what we do at the University of Illinois Springfield. I wish you good times and some well-earned relaxation during the upcoming break.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor

Chancellor Susan J. Koch