Prepared Remarks for BOT, May 2019
University of Illinois Board of Trustees Meeting
May 16, 2019
UIS Student Union
Chairman Edwards, members of the Board of Trustees, President Killeen, colleagues and guests:
Welcome to the University of Illinois at Springfield! We are pleased to host this May 2019 University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting.
Just a year ago, I welcomed the Board of Trustees for the first time to the UIS Student Union. Since the building’s opening about 16 months ago, it has become the heart of campus life at UIS and a new and valuable asset for the campus and for the Springfield community. In addition to being the hub of activity every day, the STU (as students call it) has hosted more than 1,500 events since the ribbon-cutting. The building has also won two major design awards, and we’re especially proud the Student Union is a sustainable building, a charge that was led by students.
I hope you’ve noticed, too, the latest addition of beautiful artwork to the building. Just a few weeks ago we received the piece hanging above the fireplace on the mezzanine level. The work, by prominent American artist Sanford Biggers, is titled, “A Convenient Fiction.” Biggers began working with antique quilts several years ago — drawn to them because of their association with African-American culture and the Underground Railroad. (It so happens Springfield was an important stop in the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s for fugitive slaves fleeing North.) If you look closely at the work, you’ll see it’s constructed, in part, using antique quilts.
This morning, three aluminum sculptures, titled “Obstruction, Reflection, Translation,” by another prominent American artist, Lisa Williamson, are being installed on the berm just outside this building – another inspirational contribution to the campus environment. (Lisa, by the way, grew up in Urbana.)
Like the iconic Lincoln sculpture and the Shakespeare Garden here at UIS, these artworks are gifts from the John H. Chester Endowment of the University of Illinois — designated for the acquisition of works of art to beautify the three UI campuses.
I’m pleased to report today that we’ve continued to make substantial progress at UIS this year. New leadership for enrollment management and a partnership with EAB Consulting is maximizing best practices in recruitment and having a positive impact on the No. 1 priority of this young campus – growth in visibility, reputation, enrollment and impact.
Following an increase in the size of the freshman class last fall, we currently see increases for the coming year across the freshman funnel — from inquiries to confirmations. The numbers of black, Latino and multicultural students are at the highest levels in eight years while the mean ACT score of the freshman class continues to rise.
An important achievement this year, which followed on completion of the UI System-wide Strategic Framework, is the new UIS Strategic Compass. This has been an intensive university-wide effort involving faculty, staff, students and alums that charts the course for fresh thinking, new efficiencies and new collaborations; at the same time, it will be more responsive to the dynamic environment that is higher education today. You have a summary of the Strategic Compass at each of your seats today. A new Master Plan is also underway to ensure campus infrastructure on this beautiful 750-acre campus will best support the University’s goals and priorities.
Recruiting and retaining talented faculty and staff remains both a high priority and a continuous process. In the ASAC meeting yesterday, you heard from Director of Field Stations Dr. Tom Rothfus and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Anne-Marie Hanson, both relative newcomers, who have been helping develop and implement plans this year for the Field Station at Lake Springfield – a great new educational resource just a few minutes from campus that complements our field station at Emiquon on the Illinois River. Bryan Rives, whom you met last night at the Performing Arts Center, is another talented recent addition.
You’ve also met, at a previous meeting, UI Distinguished Professor of Public Administration Dr. Ken Kriz, who is finishing his first year at UIS and who just coauthored an important IGPA report on personal income tax structures in Illinois – a study requested by Illinois Sen. Andy Manar to help inform important conversations about revenue generation for our state.
I’m also pleased to let you know we’ve recently hired our next UI Distinguished Professor – Dr. Graham Peck. Dr. Peck is a historian whose expertise focuses on the careers and leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. He will join us this summer and will be assisting with the launch of the new Center for Lincoln Studies next year.
And speaking of leadership, I’m pleased to introduce today Dr. Somnath Bhattacharya, the new Dean of the College of Business and Management at UIS. Dr. Bhattacharya brings to UIS more than 25 years of successful experience, and I’m particularly pleased that his expertise in developing entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary programs will be an asset as we continue to grow Innovate Springfield, our downtown hub of the Illinois Innovation Network. We’re in the midst of planning a capital project to house that expansion.
The “Reaching Stellar” capital campaign continues to go very well. At campaign launch in October 2017, we announced an ambitious $40 million goal (a big goal for such a young university) and, as of today, we have surpassed the $30 million mark — well ahead of projections. We have created a place here at UIS where people want to be involved, and we’re so grateful to the many alumni and friends who believe in us and who increasingly support the university with their financial gifts. The campaign, of course, will continue to be a top priority for me and our entire team in the coming year.
Our young Division II Athletics program continues to make history! Sophomore golfer Jennifer Queller is playing her third round today in the NCAA Division II National Championship in Florida – the first woman golfer in program history to advance to the national championship. Our new Track and Field program brought home two titles from the GLVC championships a few weeks ago – Blake Jones and Taryn Christy (both freshmen) won conference titles in the 10,000-meter race.
Women’s Softball, the 2018 conference champions, competed in the championship game of the NCAA Regional Tournament last weekend, and Prairie Stars Baseball is the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional. UIS is hosting the NCAA Regional starting tonight here in Springfield – game time, 7 p.m.
As proud as I am of these students’ athletic achievements, I’m even more impressed by their performance in the classroom. This year, the average GPA for UIS student-athletes is 3.3, and Women’s Tennis owns the top team GPA with an average of 3.7.
I had the pleasure of enjoying a very special moment with about 750 UIS graduates on stage at two commencement ceremonies this past Saturday – a moment when we make eye contact, shake hands, smile at each other and have that all important hand off of the well-earned diploma – well, at least the cover; the diploma actually follows by mail.
This year, our graduates included the first from new programs in Public Policy, Data Analytics and Exercise Science. We also hooded eight recipients of the Doctorate in Public Administration, this young university’s first doctoral program. As some heard last evening, we also had the pleasure of presenting an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to Karen Hasara, former Mayor of Springfield, former state legislator, and an eight-year member of this Board of Trustees.
We have a special tradition at UIS of having a student commencement speaker, and this year it was Jeff Nevins, a nontraditional-aged student who earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications – which he had started in 1995. Like a lot of students, life had gotten in the way; but Jeff eventually came back, attended classes while working full time, and is now a proud UIS graduate!
Some of the most touching Commencement moments at UIS actually happen before the official ceremony. Thanks to the leadership of many, we have several special cultural celebrations – Black graduation, Hispanic-Latinx graduation, Lavender graduation for LBGTQIA+ students, and a special ceremony to celebrate international students. Each of these pre-commencement events provides an opportunity for students to celebrate their achievements in a more personal way surrounded by friends, family and supporters. I’ve learned over the years these cultural celebrations are very important for under-represented students, and I’m honored to be part of each of them.
One of my favorite events every year is the Online Graduation Brunch the morning of Commencement. Participants come from all over the country (and sometimes from abroad), and it never fails that attendees at this special event include graduates who are making their first real (not virtual) visit to the campus, meeting their faculty face-to-face for the first time, and experiencing the physical campus – it’s wonderful.
And for the past two years we’ve had a special mini-commencement for student-athletes who missed Commencement because they were competing in post-season championship play. This year that event (Pomp and Circumstance and all) was held on Monday for 15 softball and baseball players. I hope we’ll have a reason to do that every year!
Finally, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice the full-page newspaper ad on display in the Student Union lobby today. We place the ad in the local State Journal-Register every year the day after Commencement to recognize and celebrate our graduates.
Part of the vision of UIS is to provide a “pathway to opportunity” for students. You can be confident we have fulfilled that promise for the 2019 graduates of the University of Illinois Springfield.
As the University of Illinois Springfield continues to advance, I sincerely appreciate the support and encouragement of the Board of Trustees as well as that of President Killeen and other members of the UI leadership team. Of course, I also appreciate every day the contributions of the many dedicated faculty and staff who make this a university where students are always the first priority.
Thank you and, again, welcome to UIS.