Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2015

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 20, 2015

Good afternoon! Thank you all so much for participating in this University of Illinois at Springfield Fall 2015 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. Congratulations on your appointment!

Whether you are new to the University of Illinois …. or “seasoned” …. I look forward to our work together in the coming year.

I want to also 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):

  • Mayor Jim Langfelder, two-time UIS alum and Mayor of the City of Springfield;
  • Trustee of the University of Illinois, former Mayor of Springfield, UIS alum 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;
  • Former UIS Interim Chancellor, longtime Provost, and also great friend of UIS, Dr. Harry Berman and his wife, Deborah;
  • Jennifer Gill, UIS alum and Superintendent of Springfield Public School District 186;
  • Victoria Ringer, another two-time UIS alum and Executive Director, Downtown Springfield, Inc.
  • Jennifer Creasey, also a UIS alum and University of Illinois Interim Director for State Relations;
  • Kathy Novak, Associate Professor of Communications and Chair, Campus Senate;
  • Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, Vice-Chair of the Campus Senate;
  • Maureen Hoover, representing the leadership of the UIS Academic Professional Advisory Committee today;
  • President of the UIS Civil Service Advisory Council, Bobbie Fults;
  • Gary Yang, UIS alum and UIS representative for Chinese student recruitment;
  • University of Illinois Student Trustee and major in Communications, Dominique Wilson;
  • Josh Lawson, President of the UIS Student Government Association and a Senior in Political Science;
  • And I’d also like to welcome my “personal” special guest, my husband, Dennis Koch.

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

I’m not going to take much time to reflect backwards today -except to remind you that, despite the ongoing economic challenges in our state, the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois had a very productive past year … thanks to many of the dedicated faculty and staff in this room:

  • Our Fall, 2014 enrollment was the largest in campus history;
  • Our Spring graduating class was the largest in history (by about 300!) and we had nearly 1,000 graduates participate in commencement this past May (my congratulations to Brian Clevenger and Joan Sestak for pulling off that wonderful celebration!);
  • In addition to hundreds of courses delivered both on campus and online, out faculty produced a wide variety of scholarly contributions and creative works last year;
  • More than 75,000 people visited our campus last year to attend at least one performing arts event in either Sangamon Auditorium or the Studio Theatre;
  • Our fund-raising success continued to grow this past year and we set a new cash giving record of over $3.95 million;
  • An Economic Impact Study published in January demonstrated the annual $176.8 million impact of UIS on our local community – and that number does not even include the economic and social value of the 66,000 volunteer hours that our students, staff and faculty contributed to the community;
  • Our UIS student-athletes broke more than 30 school records at the same time that more than half of those students were on the Athletics Academic Honor Roll;
  • The UIS Illinois Innocence Project achieved two exonerations – the freeing of Christopher Abernathy and Angel Gonzalez who had been imprisoned for 30 and 21 years respectively for crimes they did not commit; these efforts involved 15 UIS students who worked tirelessly on behalf of their innocent clients;
  • And let’s not forget Food Service Worker Danny Lau who was named Employee of the Year this past year. Like so many other members of our community, Danny makes a difference in the lives of students every single day.

I am so proud of what we have accomplished together and I am deeply appreciative of all of you who have worked so hard to put students first and create those accomplishments.

We are doing well (when many other campuses are not) because we have remained collectively and 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.

This approach is paying off for our campus and for our students.

As I look ahead to this fifth year serving as your Chancellor, I remain grateful to many who haves served in important campus leadership roles; people like:

  • Jorge Villegas, Kathy Novak, Bobbi Fults and Teresa Szabo;
  • Provost Lynn Pardie, Vice Chancellor for Advancement Jeff Lorber, our campus CFO, Jerry Joseph, and Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Clarice Ford, to name just a few.

They and others have helped to create an open, accountable, and transparent environment where shared governance is lived. I want to assure you that my efforts (and the efforts of other members of our leadership team) will continue in the coming year and beyond.

Well, let’s turn our attention now to the future – and as we did a year ago, I want to put a name to some of the challenges that will affect our work this year and then, cover how we are addressing them to best position the Springfield campus for continued success.

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary as one of three campuses of the University of Illinois, this year also happens to be the 201st anniversary of something relevant to my comments today:

I’m sure you will be fascinated to know that 201 years ago, in 1814, a poet named Ivan Krylov published a fable titled “The Inquisitive Man,” which tells the story of a man who goes to a museum and notices lots of tiny things, but fails to notice something much bigger and more important: a live elephant. Thus came to life the now-famous idiomatic expression – “the elephant in the room.”

So with a nod and a smile to Ivan and his important contribution to metaphorical idiom, let’s take a close look one of our biggest challenges – our Illinois “elephant in the room” today: the budget.

  • There is continued stalemate at the state level – an impasse.
  • Nobody appears to know when this will be resolved – but probably well into September (at least); I’ve even heard the word December mentioned.
  • President Killeen and our government relations team are very engaged on our behalf with our local, state, and federal elected officials.
  • At the start of the higher ed funding discussions in February, you may recall, was the 31.5% reduction in the state appropriation for public higher ed proposed by the Governor.
  • House Bill 4147 later in the spring included an 8.5% reduction in our state allocation. This was passed by legislature, but vetoed by the Governor along with all but one of the other budget bills.
  • In the meantime, there is no capital bill (again) and no agreement on increasing revenues for the state.
  • The Monetary Award Program (MAP grants), need-based state funding that about 27% of UIS students depend on, has not yet been authorized for this year. We’ve seen some movement on that this week but, in the meantime, we are including estimates of MAP support in students’ financial aid packages to ensure they will be able to continue progress toward their degrees this fall.
  • We’ve seen the temporary suspension of several needed capital projects that were previously funded, including the UIS Public Safety Building.
  • We have a pause in various other UI construction projects including the UIS Student Union because of overall budget concerns.
  • A hiring freeze at UA was made effective July 1, 2015.
  • The UI salary program is on hold until further notice. I remain exceedingly committed to a salary program for this year because it is part of our #2 priority – talent acquisition and retention.
  • Funding for our graduate internship programs (GPSI, ILSIP), which comes from various state agencies, appears to be stable at this point.
  • We’ve been planning for several months for various budget reduction scenarios – some more severe than others.
  • Compared to the other regional publics in Illinois; we’re relatively well positioned to maintain operations, thanks to the multiple strategies we have successfully implemented in the past few years.
  • We will continue to focus on our priorities and make strategic decisions that will support our three priorities – growth in excellence and enrollment, talent acquisition and retention, and providing the facilities that our students need and deserve.
  • We will be ready for whatever comes and we will communicate and seek input on budget decisions (as we’ve done for the past four years) as soon as we have more information.

The issue of affordability (the cost of college in Illinois) remains a significant challenge for many prospective and current students. We’re at risk in our state of pricing qualified students out of postsecondary education.

As most of you know, this is an issue of vital interest to our Board of Trustees, which voted this year to hold in-state undergraduate tuition as the same rate as last year.

Competition for qualified students from an increasingly wide array of educational providers in Illinois including for-profit providers, is another continuing challenge, as is the related issue of visibility. Making our young campus known and felt in the wider community, throughout the region and beyond requires strategic and smart collaboration among a variety of campus units including Marketing, Admissions, Public Relations, Alumni Relations, Athletics, and various campus outreach and service endeavors, and as well as with academic colleges and departments. Leaders in our community, like Mayor Langfelder and Superintendent Gill, are eager to work with us to increase awareness of and appreciation for our campus in the local community and we look forward to new collaborations with our community partners that will be mutually beneficial.

The need for us to be respectful, inclusive and responsive to an increasingly diverse student body is another challenge. We’re very proud of the success we have created the past few years in recruiting African American and Latino students as well as international students, veterans and students with disabilities. But to accompany that success we need to ensure we have high-quality educational experiences and services available to them and to all students to ensure they will succeed and graduate.

An ongoing challenge (and opportunity) continues to be the new and emerging technologies that are changing the way faculty teach and the way students learn; and that has major implications for every educational institution including ours. Many of our faculty are national leaders in technology innovation including: Management Professor Dr. Laurel Newman, who founded the UIS Community of Practice in E-Learning; collaborating with her colleagues in exploring new and emerging effective practices in online learning and sharing those practices at the national level. As a result of this work, Dr. Neuman along with COLRS staff members Emily Bowles and Carrie Levin received a national award this year for Effectiveness in E-Learning. Another is Dr. Layne Morsch in Chemistry who was named an Apple Distinguished Educator this May, joining an elite international group of educators recognized for doing innovative work with technology.

Finally, to return to our “elephant idiom,” I want to acknowledge a new relationship before us this year that comes with the notification received in January from the Illinois Federation of Teachers that tenure-earning faculty at UIS have voted to be represented by the IFT.

This brings to nine the number of labor unions on campus and I want to assure you that, as we move into the collective bargaining process with this new group, we will follow best practices and bargain in good faith.

I am grateful for the productive and respectful relationship we have developed during the past several years between faculty and administration and I am confident that with the best interests of our university represented on both sides of the bargaining table, we will achieve a satisfactory agreement.

So – what are we doing to address the challenges before us?

First, let me remind you, especially for the benefit of those who are new to our academic community this fall, that we have a foundation that continues to hold firm. We are part of a world-class university that was created with the signature of Abraham Lincoln; an institution whose mission to “transform lives and serve society” and whose reputation for excellence is recognized across our state and around the world.

This campus was founded in 1970 by a group of visionary leaders, faculty and citizens with a commitment to innovation. Thanks to the contributions of many, actions taken in accord — first, with the campus 2006 Strategic Plan and, more recently, in accord with the three priorities affirmed in our 2013 Strategic Planning Update — have advanced UIS significantly.

Where the budget is concerned, we will continue to be strategic with every budget decision.

While the political stalemate remains and when we eventually have a budget we will continue to follow those guiding budget principles that I’ve mentioned repeatedly in our campus budget forums and we will be responsible and accountable in the management of our resources at every level. At the same time, we will not stand still. We have to make strategic investments that support our three priorities.

Of course, the Campus Planning and Budget Committee will continue to play a central role in planning and decision-making in the future.

Our growth priority remains central to budget stability because, as you have heard me say so often, tuition drives the revenue engine of the university more than any other factor.

Enrollment growth, however, (as our Deans and Department Chairs know very well) does not come without challenges. The growth at UIS that is the envy of very other regional and private college campus in Illinois is not (to put it mildly) evenly distributed across the curriculum. While Computer Science and MIS are burgeoning with students, several other departments continue to experience flat or declining enrollment.

Increasing the number of undergraduates across the curriculum and scheduling courses and faculty assignments appropriately to meet shifting needs is going to require flexibility, innovation and cooperation. The new academic programs in high demand areas, as well as innovations that will increase enrollment within existing majors, are critically important.

One of the best examples this fall is our new BSN Nursing program – a partnership with Memorial Health Systems and the UIC College of Nursing. Thirty-two new students are now enrolled in pre-nursing courses. I appreciate the continued efforts of faculty leaders and others who are studying trends and opportunities and moving strategic new programs through the approval process.

You may have noticed in media reports yesterday and today that our new UI system President, Dr. Tim Killeen, is “testing the waters” with an idea to increase enrollment across the UI system to 100,000. He was quoted in one news story this morning as saying this, “would not be done willy-nilly and it would have to be done very carefully.”

This is something that we will discuss in the coming year as part of the UI strategic planning process. I’m looking forward to our being active participants in that discussion!

I mentioned the challenge of visibility and creating awareness of the Springfield campus of the UI and the high quality educational experiences that we provide. Strategic marketing and recruitment remains essential if we are to compete effectively for highly-qualified students. With the outstanding leadership of Michelle Green, Director of Marketing and Fernando Planas, Director of Admissions, we continue to implement our plan.

The 10 counties in Central Illinois remain our #1 market priority; but at the same time this fall, we’ll be implementing a new recruitment strategy in Metro East St. Louis – an area that is highly populated with college-going students. The new strategy includes an on-ground and digital advertising campaign and other focused recruitment efforts.

I want to acknowledge that the outcomes of faculty research – the publications, presentations and creative activities that are so central to faculty work – also enhance the visibility and the reputation of our university. Our engagement with the Springfield community is also very important to enhancing our contributions to our neighbors and our reputation.

Whether it’s the volunteer activities led by our Center for Volunteer and Civic Engagement, UIS Athletic events, the monthly UIS Perspectives column in the SJR, or simply the increasing positive news coverage of our campus, our faculty, and our students by local, state and national media – it all improves our visibility – and our reputation.

I already mentioned that our Board has held the line on undergraduate tuition increases this year and last week we announced the continuation for the third year of the Leadership lived student employment program. This program is providing more on-campus jobs for students and assisting them to pay college costs.

At the same time, we set an all-time record for cash giving to the university this year. Many of those gifts are for scholarships, which also help address the challenge of affordability for students.

We are one of the most affordable campuses in Illinois at both the undergraduate and graduate levels – and we are increasingly so because of our work to address the affordability issue with multiple strategies proactively.

There are 192 higher education institutions in Illinois – including 48 community colleges, 12 public campuses, 97 private colleges and 35 for-profits. Clearly prospective students have many choices and they make those choices based on a wide variety of factors.

If we remain mission-driven – committed to providing students with an innovative, intellectually rich, collaborative and personalized learning environment; and if we remain focused on our priorities, we will be the choice of increasing numbers of students.

In closing today, I want to share with you some excerpts from a letter I received last week from one of our students:

“Dear Chancellor Koch:
My name is Xu Jia. I am a UIS new graduate from May, 2015. I recently become a full time employee and I am very excited because I found the job I always wanted within three months after graduation from the UIS. I feel the contents and topics I learned from my courses at UIS will be used extensively in my work. I appreciated my faculty’s trust, challenge and encouragement. I have valued my UIS education very much and it is my honor to be a proud UIS alumni in the future.
Xu Jia”

I receive communications like this periodically and they always remind me, as I am reminding all of us today, of the reason we do the work that we do. We’re fond of saying, as you all know, that UIS is a “right-sized and supportive community.” And we promise our students a “Leadership lived,” experience that will prepare them for a successful future. It certainly sounds like we delivered on that promise for Xu Jia.

So as we start this 2015 academic year, I’m asking you to join me in making a personal commitment to student success – the same success that this new UIS graduate experienced. I’m asking you to do something extra – as faculty did for Xu Jia – 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! It might even lead to a few more letters, like the one I’ve mentioned, arriving in my inbox. (If so, I’ll be sure to share them with you.)

Yes, indeed, there are challenges ahead.

We need a resolution to the stalemate in Illinois capital in order to sustain the promise of higher education for deserving students.
We need to stay focused on our strategic priorities.
We need to have a ribbon cutting for that Student Union!
We need to make sure that we always see the “elephant in the room” and that we address that elephant strategically and collaboratively;
I am confident that as long as we all work together as colleagues and do our best work every day, we will continue to deliver on the mission that has prepared almost 37,000 SSU and UIS graduates to make a difference in Illinois and in the world.

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 will continue to do my best work every day on your behalf and on behalf of our students.

Best wishes for a successful and satisfying year.

Thank you.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch