Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2013

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 22, 2013

Good afternoon!

Thank you all so much for coming to this University of Illinois at Springfield Fall 2013 Convocation. It’s great to see all of you here!

I want to begin today by offering a special welcome to all of our faculty and staff who are new to the UIS community this Fall.

Congratulations on your appointment!

I hope you feel, as I most certainly do, that it is a privilege to be part of one of the finest educational institutions in the country, the University of Illinois, and that being a part of this Springfield campus – a young, but growing, academic institution – is an opportunity filled with possibilities and opportunities.

Whether you are new to our academic community …. or seasoned …. I look forward to our work together this year. This is my 28th Fall on a college campus (not counting my student years) and I am looking forward to this fall 2013 semester with the same positive anticipation that I felt in my first year as an assistant professor.

I want to offer a warm welcome to some special guests who have joined us for Convocation today (please stand when I introduce you and I promise you we’ll provide a rousing round of applause after everyone has been introduced):

  • Chancellor Emeritus and still wonderful advocate for our University, Dr. Naomi Lynn; and her husband, Bob;
  • Dr. Harry Berman, longtime UIS leader and now Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and his wife, Deborah;
  • Trustee of the University of Illinois and former Mayor of Springfield, Karen Hasara;
  • University of Illinois Student Trustee and UIS Senior in Computer Science, Jamaal Hollins;
  • President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Steward Sandstrom;
  • Professor Lynn Fisher, Chair of our UIS Campus Senate;
  • Chair of the UIS Academic Professional Advisory Committee, Teresa Szabo;
  • President of the UIS Civil Service Advisory Council, Bobbie Fults;
  • Aaron Mulvey is President of the Student Government Association for this year but is unable to be with us today.

Ms. Wendy Tao, President of Bluestone Consulting, and Mr. Gary Yang, President of the Lincoln Council, both of whom are great partners with UIS in the continuing development of our relationships in China.

And I’d also like to welcome my “personal” special guest, my husband, Dennis Koch, who, though he has a busy career in agriculture, is himself a wonderful supporter and advocate for our university.

Please join me in welcoming all of these special guests to our convocation.


Well, as you all know, the Chancellor isn’t new any more.

The honeymoon, as they say, is over.

This is my third year serving as your Chancellor and I’ve got those one-way streets in downtown Springfield all figured out. Like many of our students, I’ve become a regular on the Lincoln Express Amtrak Service to and from Chicago.

I’ve found one other White Sox fan on campus – student, Mihai Smarandescu. We have formed a support group.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve eaten my fill of that Springfield classic, the horseshoe, and (like so many in this audience) I’ve become a fan of the MUNI, the wonderful Springfield summer opera company – that featured our own Joan Sestak this summer …. she had seven costume changes!

And I have my own personal favorite Mel-O-Cream donut — the glazed raised (just like my friend Kelly Grant, whose father bought the original donut shop in 1932 … for $500).

I’m very pleased that in the past two years plus we’ve gotten to know each other.

We’ve established a variety of consistent and effective communication channels – regular meetings with faculty, staff and student leadership, lunch meetings and department meetings with faculty, regular letters to the campus from the Chancellor, campus forums, the Chancellor’s blog, the “MyIdea” email address, and, of course, for students – the late-night gatherings (well after the Chancellor’s bedtime) that seem to reflect our fondness for alliteration as well as for foods that start with the letter “C”. (We’ve had chocolate, chili, chimichangas and cheesecake; and they tell me the next one is “Chicken with the Chancellor.” I’m looking forward to it.)

We’re in constant contact, in large part, because we are committed to shared governance, the shared responsibility that goes with it, and the communication that supports it.

This matters:

– because every member of this community, regardless of what you do, has a stake in the present and future of this university:
– because I’m quite certain from my own nearly three decades of experience in higher education, that our collective wisdom is far better that the wisdom of one,
– and because it is only by working together as colleagues who respect and value each other that we can deliver the highest level of excellence on the promise that we make to our students here at UIS – that they will experience an intellectually rich and collaborative learning environment at the same time that we, as a university, serve our communities from local to global – which happens to be our institutional mission.

I thank everyone here who has been part of so many conversations, communications, and even a few rather heated discussions for the past two years. Be assured that my efforts to be present with you, to listen to you and to work collaboratively with you will continue in the coming year and beyond.

I want to assure you, as well, that I will continue to be the strongest advocate possible for our campus, in my role as a member of the leadership team of the University of Illinois; and a positive spokesperson for our campus, continuing to build productive relationships with alumni, friends and supporters in the Springfield community and beyond.

So – I’d like to take a few minutes today to do two things. I’d like to reflect back briefly on this past year and, most importantly, to take a look with you at the days ahead:

Looking back:

Dr. Pardie already mentioned several significant achievements of the UIS campus since the 2006 strategic plan was adopted and I certainly agree with her that this campus has driven, of its own volition, transformational and positive change.

If I were to compose a highlights video of just this past year, these are a few of the memories that I would feature:

  • The tour of our Emiquon research facility on the Illinois River provided last fall for Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy, Trustee Ed McMillian, UI President Easter, myself and others that featured the research and teaching of Professor Mike Lemke and other UIS faculty;
  • The day last December when we celebrated with our friend, Dr. Richard Moy, and his two sons a $250,000 gift to UIS in memory of Dick’s wife, Caryl, a much-loved former UIS professor. The gift will be used to fund research opportunities for UIS faculty in collaboration with faculty at SIU School of Medicine. Dick passed away just a few weeks after our celebration knowing that his wife’s memory would live on in such a positive way with this gift.
  • The Campus Insights program presented during the Board of Trustees meeting that we hosted on campus, featuring the research and teaching of several exceptional UIS faculty – Lan Dong, Karen Swan, Matthew Holden, Charlie Wheeler, Lynn Fisher, Chris Mooney and Michael Burlingame. It was a highly effective way to educate our Board (and many others) about the quality of teaching and research that occurs on UI’s Springfield campus … and we’re going to do it again this year!
  • The dedication of the Polly Roesch Music rehearsal hall last year, a renovation supported by a gift from Springfield philanthropist, Polly Roesch. We accelerated and completed the project in record time, thanks to our talented folks in facilities, in hopes that 101-year-old Polly would be able to attend. She did (and she even gave a speech), it was a delightful celebration, and the new Music space is contributing to the growth of our Music program every day.
  • The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Emancipation Proclamation taught so successfully this past year by UIS Distinguished Professor, Matthew Holden and Assistant Professor, Gwen Jordan. The MOOC attracted some 700 participants from across the country and internationally, ranging from high school students to senior professors and well-known American historians. It is just one example of many from this past year that illustrates the exceptional leadership that UIS continues provide at the national and international levels in the area of online education.
  • The day this past Spring when UIS golfer Abby Vorreyer earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Regional Tournament, the first in history for a UIS golfer. A few weeks later, after a record-setting senior year, Abby graduated with honors from UIS just shy of a 4.0 grade point average. She is now a golf coach at Illinois College.
  • The positive response that our new “Leadership lived” campaign has received on campus, in the community and across the region. It is working and raising our visibility across the region, because it is true, consistent, and distinctive ….. and I’ll say more later about how well it’s working. Our communications team is continuing with the implementation of the “Leadership lived” this year, focusing especially on the four attributes that describe so well who we are as an institution – a teaching-focused university with an abundance of opportunities for collaboration; a supportive academic community, and a campus with a tradition of educating public servants and leaders.
  • And speaking of that highlights video, mine would certainly conclude with our 2013 UIS Commencement, a glorious day when we celebrated with about 800 graduates and nearly 8,000 of their closest family members and friends, listening to an inspirational commencement address by UIS graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner Kathy Best who, you may recall, instructed our graduates to “make sure that, when the curtain comes down [on your life], you are exhausted.”

Of course, we can’t look back without acknowledging that many aspects of our work together here at UIS continue to be very, very challenging – they are all familiar to you (and they are certainly familiar to me) and I won’t belabor them today. But to update you on just one; the overall budget crisis in Illinois, including the pension crisis, did not go away while you were on vacation this summer (and I’ll continue to keep you informed of developments this year).

As the Springfield campus, like other public campuses in Illinois, continues to become more private than public and as enrollment increasingly drives the revenue engine of the university, the need for us as members of this academic community to be, as you’ve heard me say before, “masters of our own fate” and focused and united in our efforts is stronger than ever.

And I want to say one more thing that fits under the “looking back” heading: The deeper I’ve sunk my roots on this campus and in the Springfield community, the more grateful I have become for the faculty, staff and friends of this university who came before us, particularly the founders and the founding faculty of our university, some of whom I now know personally.

We’ve come a long way since the doors of this institution opened in a downtown church in the fall of 1970. We’re not Sangamon State University any more; but we are (in those famous words of Isaac Newton) “standing on the shoulders of giants” (the giants being the folks who served and supported this institution with great dedication in the past four decades).

I believe we are as committed today to the university’s founding mandate to be an innovative institution as we were when this institution was created and I am confident that, working together, we will continue to reinvent that original mandate.

Looking ahead:

So – looking ahead – what do we need to be focused on in the coming year … and years?

As Provost Pardie has already indicated, the UIS strategic plan that was completed in 2006 has provided a strong foundation and actions, when taken in accordance with the plan, have advanced our campus significantly.

That document, including our vision to be a premier public university with a deep commitment to liberal learning, exceptional public affairs opportunities that take full advantage of our location in the state capital of Illinois, and outstanding professional programs that serve the community and the region, continues to have relevance and we should all be proud of the progress we’ve made.

But given the rapidly changing landscape of higher education in the US (and around the world for that matter) and the increasing budgetary challenges public institutions are facing in our state, we must be even more focused and strategic in our planning and in our actions.

Through a series of campus discussions involving many in this audience, as well as conversations and consultations with our Board of Trustees and UI President, Bob Easter, three compelling priorities are clear for the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois.

At this point, I suspect most people in this audience can recite them:

  1. We need to grow our campus;
  2. We need to recruit and retain a highly qualified, talented and diverse faculty, staff and leadership team;
  3. And we must provide the facilities needed to support a comprehensive student experience (for both undergraduate and graduate students) that reflects the expectations and the standards of the University of Illinois.

Growth, talent acquisition and retention, and facilities – those are our priorities.

So, I’m going to take a few minutes here to talk a bit more about each of these; and then I want to close these remarks by sharing with you a very thoughtful comment made at our Board of Trustees meeting this past month.

Priority #1: Growth

As you’ve heard me say again and again, we must understand what drives the revenue engine of the campus if we’re going to thrive in this new environment of diminished state support. If we’re going to be “masters of our own fate,” we’re going to need to be a larger institution – that means more students; but it also means more faculty and staff. (And may I say this statement is music to the ears our Chamber of Commerce president.)

We have the capacity for growth and I am confident that we can do that thoughtfully and strategically, while still maintaining the teaching-focused academic experience that is a core attribute of the UIS experience.

An important part of our growth strategy is also to create an increasingly diverse academic community, one that reflects the changing demographics of our state at the same time it provides opportunities for students from all backgrounds to grow in their abilities to live and work in diverse settings and to more deeply understand cultures and customs different from their own.

All you need do is look around to see our progress in that regard.

As you know, we’ve already implemented several strategies that are showing positive results in this priority area:

  • With the Leadership lived campaign, we have become much more visible in the region. Increasing our visibility to prospective students, both undergraduate and graduate, is an essential element for growth. (It certainly helps that we are one of three campuses of the University of Illinois and that we are the top-ranked regional public university in the state. Thanks to your efforts, we’re also growing in reputation and nothing speaks louder than that to prospective students.)
  • With the cost of higher education becoming more and more challenging for Illinois families, we must be as affordable as possible.  In a major speech this morning at the University of Buffalo on College Affordability, President Obama challenged colleges and universities to adopt promising practices that offer break-throughs on cost while maintaining quality; part of an proposed ambitious agenda the make college affordable for American families. We’ve improved our financial aid for both 4-year students and transfer students and are raising more scholarship funds through our development efforts. Fundraising for student support and other institutional priorities is becoming more and more important and it is tremendously heartening to me that nearly 50% of UIS faculty and staff this past year contributed to our faculty/staff campaign.
  • We must be relevant in the region, providing undergraduate and graduate programs that are in high demand. As a young institution, our undergraduate offerings, in particular, are far too limited. In fact, because we’re young, we have fewer undergraduate majors than any other public university in the state. I’m very grateful for the good work this past year of the New Academic Programs Task Force under the leadership of Provost Lynn Pardie; and with the leadership provided by several academic departments and our Campus Senate, we’ll be adding several new, high-demand academic programs in the next three years.
  • We must also make the UI degree accessible to an increasing number of students; and here is where our strength in online education is vital to our continued growth. Did you know that we have about 1500 students who are purely online majors? We are the envy of other institutions when it comes to online education, thanks to the leadership of UIS faculty and staff who are not only teaching and providing support for online programs, but who are also constantly innovating; developing best practices and new ideas in this ever expanding segment of higher education.

And here is the good news:

  • Though counts are unofficial at this point and will surely fluctuate before final census, I can say with confidence that we will have the largest freshman class in university history when we start classes on Monday. Granted, at about 325 students, that is still a relatively small freshman class, but it is a very, very positive number for our campus at this particular moment in our history.
  • We will also have a strong honors class – with 116 students – and it’s a class with outstanding academic credentials.
  • The number of international students enrolled as of yesterday is above 330, another very impressive number – and just over two-thirds of them are graduate students.
  • As of this morning (and unofficially) we are 30 students and 800 credit hours above last year.

I want to thank our outstanding Admissions staff for all of their hard work this year in recruiting. My sincere thanks also to all faculty, staff and administrators who have played significant roles in recruitment this past year.

However, one area of significant concern continues to be retention. Within the growth priority, our ability to retain students once they’ve enrolled continues to present challenges. We all know that students leave for a variety of reasons – some are academic, some are related to what students perceive as a lack of student life on campus, some are financial. We’re going to need to redouble our efforts this year to recruit students who have a strong likelihood of success, to provide academic support that will improve retention, particularly for students with risk factors, to work with students in their financial planning, and continue to improve campus life.

And let me mention here one new initiative that will be implemented this year. I’ve asked Associate Provost for Budget (Aaron Shures) and Director of Financial Assistance (Jerry Joseph) to take the lead on developing a new student employment initiative for the campus. Student employment, as many of you know, is a very important element of financial aid for many students. I’ve been concerned for the past two years that we have so few jobs for students on campus compared to other campuses; especially when research shows that students who have an on-campus job tend to be more successful academically than students who do not work or who work off campus. Our goal is to create one hundred new part-time jobs and internships on campus for students and I am confident that this effort will help some students stay in school.

Priority #2: Talent Acquisition and Retention

Our second priority is to recruit and retain a highly qualified, talented and diverse faculty, staff and leadership team;
Those who know me well know that I am very, very fond of talking about the bus. Research on successful organizations, including universities, confirms again and again that “you have to get the right people on the bus and you have to get them in the right seats” in order to achieve success.

If you’ve been part of this campus or any other organization for any length of time, you have seen this proved true; in fact you’ve seen it proved true for both good and ill. Sometimes you have to get someone off the bus or in a different seat.

The adage “First who, then what” is also exquisitely true. First you have to hire the right person and it’s only after you do that, that you can do the “what,” whatever that might be.

I’m very pleased that, at the leadership level, and thanks to the participation of many of you on important search committees, we’ve made some very, very good hires in the past several months. Among them are two new deans who we welcomed this summer to our campus: Dr. Mark Wrighton is Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration and Dr. Hanfu Mi is the new Dean of the College of Education and Human Services.

With every leadership position, we’ve added talented individuals who bring valuable experience and a strong record of achievement to their new assignment.

Dennis and I had an opportunity to welcome new faculty in our home earlier this week (for our version of the Illinois State Fair) and I’m impressed not only with their credentials, but also with their curiosity and enthusiasm. If you served on a faculty search committee this past year – well done!

We are getting the right people on the bus!

Within this priority, we must increase our success with hiring not only talented faculty and staff, but hiring a more diverse faculty and staff. We’ve been very successful, as you know, in recruiting a more diverse student body, but that same diversity is not reflected in our faculty and staff. With the help of UI Human Resources, we expect to have a detailed affirmative action plan by midyear that will better guide our collective efforts. If you are asked to serve on a search committee in the coming year, please do so and understand that your contribution to “getting the right person on the bus” for UIS is very, very important work.

I’m extremely pleased that we were able to provide a salary program this year for the second year in a row. (Has anyone noticed that the raises started immediately after my arrival? – I just want you to know that I am taking full credit! – that’s a joke)

Hiring talented people is not enough. We also need to retain them; and appropriate and competitive compensation is a very important part of retention efforts. I want to assure you today that I am aware of the compensation levels throughout our organization. I understand the importance of competitive salaries and I believe exceptional performance should be rewarded.

Compensation in any area where we are not competitive will continue to be a high priority on our campus in the coming year and beyond.

And finally, under that heading of “talent acquisition and retention,” I want to acknowledge that we often decide to continue our employment with an organization for factors other than money. One of the six goals in our 2006 strategic plan is to strengthen campus culture.

I don’t know about you, but I want to work on a campus with a vibrant intellectual environment, where colleagues support and respect each other including when they disagree, and where there is a collective focus on excellence. I want to look forward to coming to work every day – even on Monday. (I think you do, too.)

We’ve made progress in strengthening campus culture; but there is lots more to do and we all have responsibility to create the culture that we want for ourselves and for our students. So my question for you is: what will you do to strengthen our campus culture this year?

Priority #3: Facilities

Finally, as we continue grow this very young institution, we must provide the facilities needed to support a comprehensive student experience (for both undergraduate and graduate students) – facilities that reflect the expectations and the standards of the University of Illinois.

We have a really beautiful campus, thanks to the dedicated efforts of our grounds-keeping staff, and we have some nice facilities that are serving our campus and the community well.

But more than any other facility right now, we need a student union. It is an absolute necessity for this campus.

First, it is critically important for enrollment growth for all types of students, full time and part time, residential and commuter, freshman and transfers, undergraduate and graduate.

When I met with our admissions staff this past week, I asked them, “What is the single most important thing we need to do to increase your recruitment success?” They answered with one voice – create a more vibrant campus life.

The student union will be the heart of that “vibrant campus life” for all of us – students, faculty, and staff – just like the Illini Union is in Urbana. The UIS Student Union will also be a vibrant intersection between the campus and the larger community, a destination for events of all kinds for students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, visitors and members of the Springfield community.

I am delighted to tell you today that we are making excellent progress!

If you haven’t seen the sign that was erected on the building site a few days ago (thank you Chuck Coderko), please go take a look … at both sides … stand at the site and imagine for a moment what this campus will be like when the UIS Student Union has been completed! It will be a transformative building.

Some of you have been involved for the past six months in the exciting conceptual design and programming process – creating the architectural and functional narrative that will become a reality during the next couple of years.

Architects Jan van den Kieboom from Workshop Architects and Tom Seymour from Dewberry are leading a talented and creative architectural design team and have been working with our Student Union Committee and, for the first time this week, we’re unveiling the conceptual drawings – they’re right over there – I hope you’ll  take a look.

Our students, as you know, have already approved a student fee to support the Student Union. Our fundraising campaign, with the leadership of Vice Chancellor Jeff Lorber and his staff, is now under way and President Easter and our Board of Trustees are enthusiastic and supportive. You’ll hear a lot more details in the coming months.

There are other important facilities priorities on our agenda as well. Our number one capital project remains the renovation of the Brookens Library building, even though the state has not provided any new funding for capital projects for the past three years. We’ll start construction on a small, but important, Public Safety Building this year with funds that have already been secured.

We’ll also continue to steadily renovate and improve various spaces on campus that will improve our functionality, enhance safety and improve the quality of the student experience – and our facilities professionals do such a great job with that work. Finally, we’re going to need to start preliminary planning for the next academic building – because we’re going to need it before too long.

So to summarize our three priorities one last time:

  1. We need to grow our campus;
  2. We need to recruit and retain a highly qualified, talented and diverse faculty, staff and leadership team;
  3. And we must provide the facilities needed to support a comprehensive and high-quality student experience.

We’re making progress with all three of these priorities and I am confident that, as long as we stay focused and united in our efforts, we’ll continue to progress.

Let me close these thoughts by going back to the beginning of my comments and to that concept of shared governance. I want to leave you with something that our colleague, UIUC Professor Nick Burbules, said when he addressed our Board of Trustees a few weeks ago. Nick, as many of you know, is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the Urbana campus and a longtime faculty leader both on the UIUC campus and within the University-wide Senates Conference. Nick is a highly respected member of our academic community.

This is what he had to say about shared governance:

“Shared governance is, at heart, a matter of relationships; relationships based on mutual respect, trust, and a presumption of shared commitment to the well-being of the institution.”

My request to each of you today is to share in that commitment to the well-being of our institution, the University of Illinois at Springfield.

I’m asking you to make a personal commitment to build stronger relationships in your department or unit and across the campus; relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

I’m asking you be committed to a future for our campus that is consistent with our history; that builds on the innovation mandate that drove the founders and the first faculty and staff of this institution; and that is worthy of a campus of the University of Illinois.

Thank you for the leadership that you live every day, whatever your role may be here at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. I want you to know that I am proud to be part of this community and I appreciate your contributions.

Best wishes for a successful and satisfying year.

Thank you.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch