Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2014

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 21, 2014

Good afternoon!

Thank you all so much for coming to this University of Illinois at Springfield Fall 2014 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 academic community this year.

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 working with students and on behalf of students at this Springfield campus – whatever your role might be here – is important and meaningful.

Whether you are new to our academic community …. or seasoned …. I look forward to our work together this year.

As many of you know, this is my fourth year serving as your Chancellor…. in fact, I will be the senior Chancellor within the University of Illinois enterprise in a few months…. so I guess you could say that I’m also in that “seasoned” category.

This is also my 34th Fall on a college campus and I am looking forward to this fall 2014 semester with even more anticipation than I felt in my first year as an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

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):

  • Michael Houston, Mayor of the City of Springfield;
  • Trustee of the University of Illinois, former Mayor of Springfield and strong supporter of our campus, Karen Hasara;
  • UIS Chancellor Emeritus and still wonderful advocate for our University, Dr. Naomi Lynn; and her husband, Bob;
  • Longtime UIS academic leader and also great friend of UIS, Dr. Harry Berman and his wife, Deborah;
  • Dr. James Applegate, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education;
  • Ms. Jennifer Gill, Superintendent of Springfield Public School District 186;
  • Victoria Ringer, Executive Director, Downtown Springfield, Inc.
  • University of Illinois Student Trustee and UIS Senior in Global Studies and Secondary Education, Hannah Cave;
  • Professor Bill Kline, Vice-Chair of the Senate Executive Committee, who is here to represent the Campus Senate today;
  • Chair of the UIS Academic Professional Advisory Committee, Teresa Szabo;
  • President of the UIS Civil Service Advisory Council, Bobbie Fults;
  • Joe McGee, President of the UIS Student Government Association and a Senior in Political Science;
  • Ms. Wendy Tao, President of Bluestone Consulting, and a great partner 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 his own 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.

Last year in my convocation remarks, I spent time with you reflecting back at some length on the previous year before turning our attention to the days ahead.

Today, if you’d like to look back, I refer you to the Chancellor’s “End-of-year” message from just a few months ago – which you can find on the Chancellor’s Office website.

That message details, as you may recall, the exciting and productive year we had together this past year – a year that was intently focused on our three strategic priorities:

  • growth in both reputation and enrollment,
  • the acquisition and retention of talented faculty and staff,
  • and providing the facilities needed to support a comprehensive student learning and living experience.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together … in a very challenging time here in Illinois…. and I am deeply appreciative of all of you who have worked so hard to put students first and create those accomplishments.

I’m also grateful that we have created together an open, accountable, and transparent environment where shared governance is truly lived; particularly in terms of decisions that affect our students, our faculty and staff, and the future of university.

That’s no accident and I want to assure you that my efforts (and the efforts of other members of our leadership team) to be present with you, listen to you and live our commitment to shared governance, accountability and transparency each day will continue in the coming year and beyond.

But today, rather than spending any of this brief time looking back, I’m going to focus on the future – here at the beginning of our 45th year.

I’ll do so first by naming some of the challenges that will affect us in the immediate future and then, more importantly, I’ll describe how we are addressing those challenges to best position the Springfield campus for continued success.

Challenges ahead:

So let’s start with a somewhat sobering list of challenges – a list that is by no means all inclusive:

You won’t be surprised to hear that the funding of public higher education in Illinois is at the top of the list. (I’ll say more about that in a moment.)

Closely related to the funding challenge is the issue of affordability – although UIS tuition is affordable, comparatively speaking, we’re increasingly at risk in our state, as Dr. Applegate has said many times this past year, of pricing qualified students out of postsecondary education (an issue of vital interest to our Board of Trustees).

Competition from an increasingly wide array of educational providers, including for-profit providers, is another challenge;

… as are new and emerging technologies that are changing the way faculty teach and the way students learn; and that have major budget implications for every educational institution.

The need for us to be respectful, inclusive and responsive to an increasingly diverse student body is another challenge.

UIS Strategies:

So – what are we doing to address these challenges?

Well first, let me remind you that we have a foundation that continues to hold firm.

We are one of three campuses of the world-class University of Illinois, an institution whose mission to “transform lives and serve society” extends back almost 150 years and whose reputation for excellence is recognized around the world.

This campus was founded in 1970 by a group of visionary leaders, faculty and citizens with a commitment to innovation and, thanks to the contributions of many, actions taken in accord with the campus 2006 Strategic Plan have advanced UIS significantly.

The series of dialogues, forums and conversations held across campus and in the community 3 years ago (in my first year as Chancellor) affirmed the validity of our foundations and the directions set in the 2006 plan.  The Strategic Planning Update completed last summer detailed a consensus around our three strategic priorities:

  • growth,
  • talent,
  • facilities.

What are we doing about the funding/budget issues?  We are not alone!  We are partners with the larger University of Illinois enterprise, our Board of Trustees, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, our Illinois Connections Alumni Network and friends of higher education across our state in advocating for investments in higher education.

We managed to do pretty well this past year, at the state level, with essentially flat funding, but we are also realistic. We are keenly aware of the economic outlook in our state and the likelihood, given the ongoing pension crisis and other factors, that state funding for higher education in the next several years is anything but secure.

We are being exceedingly careful and strategic with every budget decision. We will continue to follow those guiding budget principles that we discussed in the budget forum this past April and we will be responsible and accountable in the management of our resources at every level. At the same time, we will continue to make strategic investments that support our three priorities.

The Campus Planning and Budget Committee, led so ably by Professor Beverly Bunch, will continue to play a central role in planning and decision-making in the future.

As you all know, our growth priority is central to budget stability because, as you have heard me say so often, it is tuition that drives the revenue engine of the university more than any other factor.

In part because of our youth, we have the smallest number of undergraduate majors of any public campus in the state. The new academic programs in high demand areas, as well as innovations that will increase enrollment within existing majors that many of you are working on, are critically important and urgently needed.

Our new and targeted recruitment strategies, including the Leadership lived promise, continue to be deployed and are making us more visible throughout the state.  Creating awareness of the Springfield campus of the UI and the high quality educational experience that we provide is an ongoing effort. Strategic marketing and recruitment are essential if we are to compete effectively for highly-qualified students and increase access to the University of Illinois degree.

Our faculty, through their research, continue to make important contributions across many disciplines, creating new knowledge and putting that knowledge to work.  I want to acknowledge that the outcomes of faculty research – the publications, presentations and creative activities – also enhance the visibility and the reputation of our university.

Our ranking as the #1 regional public campus in Illinois is a direct reflection of the excellence of the educational experience that our faculty and staff provide for students and one of the best recruiting tools we have in our tool box.

Recent restructuring of financial aid and a very significant increase in fund-raising success for scholarships is helping us to substantially impact the affordability issue.  The new student employment initiative that we implemented last year (and that is being expanded further this semester) is paying off – providing more on-campus jobs for students and assisting them to pay college costs.

How many of you know what a UIS Freshman will be charged this year for tuition and fees?

That amount is $9,376.80; which puts us just below the middle of the public higher education institutions in Illinois.

However, only about 1/3 of our students pay that full “sticker price,” thanks to effective financial aid deployment and increasing scholarship support.

We are competitive in price and the most affordable UI campus – and we are increasingly so because of our efforts to address the affordability issue proactively.

I mentioned competition from an increasingly wide array of educational providers as another of our challenges a few minutes ago.

Do you know how many higher education institutions we have in Illinois – just in Illinois?

Well, according to the IBHE, there are 192 – including 48 community colleges, 12 public campuses, 97 private colleges and 35 for-profits.

You might be interested to hear that the three University of Illinois campuses were the only public campuses in Illinois that grew in enrollment this past year.  The good news is that our enrollment numbers look strong for this fall as well – with the official count due on September 8.

A concern, however, as Bobbi Fults, Administrative Associate in the Department of Computer Science, knows better than anyone, is that our current growth is skewed toward a few high-demand areas, while several other areas of enrollment are declining or are stagnant.

Clearly prospective students have many choices and they make those choices based on a wide variety of factors.  I’ve already mentioned the need for more academic options, especially at the undergraduate level; but another critically important factor in a prospective student’s decision is campus facilities.

That’s why we have placed such a high priority right now on the Student Union – a facility that we currently lack.

Students today expect (and I think deserve) the facilities necessary to support a comprehensive university experience. I’m delighted to tell you that the design-development phase of the Student Union project was completed last month.  The vision that our student union committee created – what our architect’s refer to as a “thick space,” that will bring the campus and our larger community together – is now a reality.  We’re right on schedule and plan to break ground next spring or early summer.

I look forward to celebrating a ribbon-cutting at the entrance to the Student Union in a couple of years from now with everyone in this room and many more alumni, donors, and friends!

Let me briefly mention two other challenges that we are addressing and then I’ll close these remarks with a very short story:

The challenge of new and emerging technologies that are changing the way faculty teach and the way students learn is a reality … and one that many in this room know better than I do.  The leadership and innovation of talented faculty and staff has positioned us well in this regard; but we must always be pushing innovation forward.

Just this week, for example, I had the opportunity to learn from UIS Chemistry professor Layne Morsch and Associate Provost for Information Technology Farokh Eslahi about the iPad pilot program that faculty in the sciences are implementing this year.  This is truly innovation on the cutting-edge … and it is improving students’ engagement in their learning.

We will continue to support and enable in every way possible the flow of creativity that comes from faculty and staff who are collaborating so successfully in the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service and, at the same time, encourage technology innovation in other areas.

Though many people on our campus are engaged in that technology innovation, I want to offer my sincere appreciation today to two members of our academic community who are usually unheralded and whose leadership and dedication is vital on this campus at literally every moment.

I’m talking about Farokh Eslahi, our CIO, and Munindra Khaund, Director of UIS Web Services.

A big thank you to both of you and your teams of talented professionals who provide the expertise, services and resources that enable so much of our success!

The final challenge that I want to address today is one that I have been thinking about for the past two weeks more than any other.  That challenge is the imperative for us to be inclusive and responsive to the demographics of our student body.

We all know that our student body is increasingly diverse.  In fact, we will very likely have the most diverse student body in history on our campus this year, including a record number of international students.

What an incredible opportunity this presents for us to truly and fully enact Goal Four of our Strategic Plan:

to establish an atmosphere that contributes to the intellectual, cultural, social and personal enrichment of all members of our campus community; to be a community that is infused with an appreciation of diverse cultural perspectives and to provide a learning environment that is inclusive and safe for every individual regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic background or any other dimension of diversity.

I think you will agree with me that we’ve made progress in some areas related to diversity; but we have a long way to go.

You’re probably tired of hearing me say that the diversity of our student body is not adequately reflected in our faculty and staff.

Believe me, I’m tired of saying it and I’m frustrated that we’ve not made more progress.

I’m extremely pleased that concerted and sustained efforts led to the hiring of two highly qualified African Americans to join our campus Police Department this past spring. But despite that success, the hiring and retention of a talented and diverse faculty and staff – and I would argue fully achieving the fourth goal in our strategic plan– has remained an elusive goal.

Some of you will remember that Kerry Poynter, Director of the UIS LBGTQ Resource Center, called me out on this point last Spring at the campus forum and essentially asked me:  “When are you going to stop talking about it and do something!”

(Thanks for that, Kerry.)

I’m announcing today that I am forming a Chancellor’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. We will invest in this effort, seeking outside expertise to assist us. I will charge this special task force early in the semester to examine best practices and present recommendations for action within the year.

In the meantime, I am asking each of you today to do everything you can do, whatever your role on the campus, to be welcoming, inclusive and supportive of all of our students, whatever their backgrounds, and to seek opportunities to learn about and better understand the wonderful asset that diversity really is for our campus, for the student experience and for the larger Springfield community.

(One of those opportunities, by the way, is being offered the evening of September 4th here in Springfield at Southeast High School when UIS alum Teresa Haley, President of the local NAACP, will convene a community meeting to talk about race relations in Springfield in the wake of the Ferguson shooting.  I plan to participate along with UIS Diversity Center staff member Justin Rose and SGA President Joe McGee.  I hope you will consider joining us.)

Let me close with a brief student story:

Many in this room know Dexter Burns, who graduated this past Spring.  Dexter spent four years at UIS, majored in Global Studies, studied abroad in both Mexico and Peru, became a fluent Spanish speaker and is, at this very moment, in Urbana, where he has received a fully-funded opportunity to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American Studies. Dexter plans a career in international diplomacy.

But what you probably don’t know is that Dexter was admitted to UIS in the Fall of 2010 with three classmates who graduated together from Chicago’s inner-city South Shore High School.  They all had similar backgrounds – academically qualified “on paper” but, in reality, seriously under-prepared for college.  Each was also a first generation African American college student with little understanding of the challenges they would face as they attempted to achieve their dream of becoming the first college graduate in the family.

Like the many members of Dexter’s family who I met at our Commencement this past May, I am exceedingly proud of Dexter and his achievements.

But the point of my story is really not Dexter. The point of my story is Dexter’s three classmates. You see, Dexter is the only one of the four of those students who made it to Commencement.

The other three young men are part of what the Illinois Board of Higher Education calls the “leaky student pipeline.”

To be sure, a major factor may simply have been grit.  Dexter tells me that they all knew they were “in over their heads” within the first few days of class; but Dexter just would not give up.

(He also told me he was terrified to go home and have to face his Aunt who had so much faith in him.)

Dexter accepted criticism and tried to learn from it, he listened, he worked harder when harder work was necessary.

But, most importantly, (and, according to Dexter, this was the critical difference between his experience and that of his three high school friends) – several UIS staff and faculty helped Dexter to get connected.  Dr. Clarice Ford got him involved in Diversity Center programs; Professor Hilary Frost and other UIS faculty recognized his potential and provided encouragement at the same time they set high expectations; Dr. GoldbergBelle, Director of International Programs, helped make studying abroad possible.

I don’t think we can know exactly what went wrong with Dexter’s high school classmates; but I’m asking you to join me this year in making a personal commitment to “plug some of those leaks” in our student pipeline.

I’m asking you to “keep an eye out” for students like Dexter’s former classmates – whether they are first-year students, transfer students, returning students or even graduate students.

I’m asking you be more vigilant for students who don’t seem to be connecting.

I’m asking you to do something extra to enable at least one more student to be successful.

If every one of our 1,100 faculty and staff made that effort this year – imagine the impact it would have on retention and student success!

So the bottom line, as I see it, is this:

Yes, there are challenges ahead; but thanks to who we are as an academic community, and as long as we all work together as colleagues to achieve our priorities, I am confident that we will continue to provide that intellectually-rich student experience that lies at the heart of our mission and that has prepared almost 35,000 SSU and UIS graduates to make a difference in Illinois and in the world.

UIS is a place where leadership is lived every day.

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 very much.

Best wishes for a successful and satisfying year.

Thank you.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch