Prepared Remarks for Convocation 2016

Chancellor Susan J. Koch
August 18, 2016

Good Afternoon!

Thank you all so much for participating in this Fall, 2016 Convocation!

It’s great to see all of you here this afternoon.

Convocation is, in part, a time for us to meet new colleagues; but it’s also a time to get together and get reacquainted with long-time co-workers as we anticipate the new academic year.

So whether you’re new or not-so-new, welcome to the 2016-17 academic year at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

I’d like to offer a warm welcome also to a few special guests who are with us today: (please stand when I introduce you and I promise a rousing round of applause after everyone has been named):

  • Jim Langfelder, two-time UIS alum and Mayor of the City of Springfield;
  • Lisa Clemmons Stott, Executive Director, Downtown Springfield,Inc.
  • Katie Davison, Executive Director of Innovate Springfield;
  • Former UIS Interim Chancellor, longtime Provost and faculty member, and also great friend of UIS, Dr. Harry Berman and his wife, Deborah;
  • Professor Ranjan Karri, Chair of the Campus Senate;
  • Professor Betsy Goulet, Vice Chair of the Campus Senate;
  • Maureen Hoover, Chair of the Academic Professional Advisory Committee;
  • Jo Barnard, Chair of the Civil Service Advisory Council;
  • Gary Yang, UIS Representative for Chinese student recruitment;
  • Nathan Hoffman, University of Illinois Student Trustee;
  • Austin Mehmet, President of the UIS Student Government Association;
  • And last but not least, a “personal” guest, my husband, Dennis Koch.

[Please join me in welcoming these special guests: APPLAUSE.]

Thank you all so much being here today and thank you for the important role you play in the success of our campus.

I want to also offer a grateful salute to any faculty emeriti, university retirees and alums who are with us today. Past faculty, staff and students have built our legacy and our history at UIS.

I am so grateful for your contributions, continued interest and commitment to this institution.

As most of you know, I became part of the UIS community in 2011 after spending about 25 years in faculty and other leadership roles at two other universities.

I joined this campus as a new Chancellor, and a new part of the UIS community. It was an exhilarating time for me – and a moment for us to set ambitious, aspirational goals.

It was a time to look with fresh eyes at the challenges and opportunities we all knew existed here.

Five years later, here we are.

In the time that has passed since I began my tenure as your Chancellor,  we’ve been extraordinarily committed to three strategic priorities developed in my first year:

  • growth in visibility, reputation and enrollment;
  • the recruitment and retention of talented faculty and staff, and
  • providing the outstanding facilities that our students, faculty and staff need and deserve.


I’m not going to spend much time looking back today except to say, I am deeply grateful to all of you who have helped in so many ways to advance those priorities.

Since 2011, we’ve experienced steady growth in student enrollment and added over a dozen new degree programs.

We’ve continued to recruit top notch faculty and staff to our campus.

Would anyone like to venture a guess as to how many new employees have joined our academic community since July 1, 2011?

That number is 566, including 230 faculty, 157 Academic Professionals and 179 Civil Service employees!

That’s a whole lot of new talent!

And when it comes to facilities, having done a tour of campus housing a few days ago, let me report (in case you don’t know) that we have unbelievable student housing! Really, it’s ridiculously nice! (Did you know that students in our residence halls only share a bathroom with three other people?)

We’ve also made steady facility improvements – too numerous to mention – across the entire campus – from academic areas to campus recreation and athletics.

And of course, we are building a Student Union!! (Someone still tells me at least once a week that they still can’t believe it!)

Designed with the involvement of a terrific group of UIS faculty, staff and students and with the generous support of many donors and friends, this facility will soon be the social heart our campus – providing new spaces for dining, a coffee shop, lounge areas, study areas, game room, meeting rooms, a ballroom and a Student Leadership Center. There couldn’t be a better student recruitment tool in Illinois right now!

But more important than any of those accomplishments during the past five years is the fact that, through our work together, we have delivered on the promise of a high-quality university experience – an undergraduate or graduate degree – to over 7,000 now University of Illinois at Springfield alums!

As our University of Illinois mission states: we’re in the business of “transforming lives and serving society.”

That’s what we do and I’m so thankful for the contributions that each of you make to achieving that mission each day.

So what about the year ahead?

In the 2016-17 academic year, we will continue to build on our heritage and our achievements at the same time we must confront our persistent challenges head-on.

We’ve been doing very, very well; but as one of UIS’ best known early leaders, Senator Paul Simon often said and wrote:

“We can do better.”

This year, I am calling for a redoubling of efforts to utilize the UIS campus as a safe space to communicate openly and intelligently about the issues that pervade our state and national discourse.

World affairs, environmental concerns, the Presidential election, the budget crisis in Illinois, racial tensions in so many communities across our country – these current events and others provide timely opportunities for us to educate ourselves, our students and the larger community and to engage in active citizenship that is so needed today.

With your involvement and leadership, I’d like to see us sponsor open forums and featured experts so that everyone has a meaningful venue to learn and share their perspective on the vexing challenges of our time. I pledge to be a full partner with every person on this campus who wants to be a constructive participant in civil dialogues with one another.

Mayor Langfelder has articulated an unprecedented commitment to examining and improving race relations here in Springfield – a topic that runs deep here in our home community. What a great opportunity for the University of Illinois at Springfield to be a contributing partner in an effort that matters to the University as much as it matters to the city.

So today, I am announcing my intent to form a staff/student/faculty collaboration with our city to further the Mayor’s call for greater education, understanding, tolerance, respect, equal opportunity, and social justice in our community and beyond.

Mayor Langfelder, thank you for your leadership and thank you for inviting us to participate and contribute. We are eager to join you in this important mission.

No campus-wide commentary would be complete without an update on the state budget crisis and its impact on our university.

You all know support for higher education from State government has declined sharply in each of the last two fiscal years, but our continued focus on our priorities, our strategic recruiting and creative planning have served our University very, very well and has insulated us to some extent from the layoffs, program cuts, and bond rating downgrades being experienced by other regional public universities in Illinois.

The three UI campuses are among the few university campuses in our state that have experienced enrollment growth year after year.

Yes, we have deferred projects, left vacant positions unfilled and watched every penny with special care.

I’m particularly concerned that, after much analysis and discussion with President Killeen and other system leaders in July, we’ve had to defer the merit-based salary program that you all need and deserve.

As the President said in his early August letter to employees, we’re hopeful we’ll be able to implement a modest program in fiscal 2017 and I will advocate as strongly as possible for that.

Unlike the rest of our Illinois peers, we are weathering this storm and continuing to progress despite these challenges. We will continue to do so with your help and understanding.

Of course, our fervent hope is for Governor Rauner and the state legislature to come together and pass an appropriation to round out the limited support they provided in the late Spring.

Especially important is that they develop a plan to support the Monetary Award Program (known more widely as MAP) to help low-income students pursue their degrees. MAP is a crucial tool that makes college possible for over 700 UIS students each year. As you probably know, as we wait for a MAP allocation from the state, we have assured our students that we will provide MAP funding for those who need it for the coming semester.

I do want you to know we’re doing a lot more than hoping on the political action side. An outstanding UI government relations team and concerned UI alumni and friends, along with many active staff, faculty and students will continue to be zealous advocates for the long term support needed to support higher education in our state. I am active in the Illinois Presidents/Chancellors group that is working with legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office and I hope you will join me in that effort in the coming year. Stay tuned for related advocacy alerts this fall.

As many of you know, the University of Illinois system has a new Strategic Framework that redefines the University of Illinois as “The Public’s University” and calls upon all the parts of the UI system to “Optimize Impact for the Public Good”.

We in Springfield have a special ability, thanks to our location in the capital city and our distinct legacy as a place focused on improving social policy, to execute some of the goals of the new strategic framework. Given that we are the smallest University in the system, we may also be uniquely positioned to navigate more nimbly and perhaps benefit more significantly from some of the ideas the new strategic framework contains.

For example, with more than a little nudging from the UIS representatives on the strategic planning team, the new Framework calls for fuller access for all UI students to “internships, co-ops, service-learning options, volunteer roles, and … employment [databases] across the entire system.” This is a welcome development and one I hope we will benefit from.

Additionally, the final report called on the University at large to “Leverage the System’s expertise in online education to increase access to higher education and degree completion for Illinois residents.”

I am so proud of the leadership UIS provides for online learning endeavors. Vicki Cook and Ray Schroeder are the North Stars on our campus and across the country when it comes to online education and innovation. This year, as we have done before, let’s lead the way on crafting and sharing best practices in distance learning.

The Framework also establishes the aim of building a “University of Illinois Innovation Network, [as] a set of virtually connected clusters, [beginning] with public-private partnerships in Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, the Quad Cities, and Southern Illinois.”

We are uniquely well-positioned to accelerate this effort, with the momentum of Innovate Springfield, the new downtown incubator for business, technology and social enterprise start-ups headquartered next to the Old State Capitol and spearheaded by faculty leaders in our College of Business and Management.

The momentum of Innovate Springfield can fuel the U of I Innovation Network in a big way this year, and we have the right formula of talent, organization and energy to help get this effort off the ground and have a real impact statewide.

The same formula applies to another idea in the Framework, which is to establish some form of “Lincoln Institute”.

No part of the UI system is better equipped to elevate the stature and visibility of Abraham Lincoln in our state than we are. UIS has an incredibly rich history of working in partnership with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Abraham Lincoln Association and others to deepen the public’s appreciation for our beloved President Lincoln. Our Lincoln Scholar and Lincoln Legacy Lectures are just the beginning. This year, let’s once and for all make UIS an epicenter for Lincoln Studies. Our beautiful new sculpture of “Mr. Lincoln, The Young Lawyer”, now a beloved campus landmark, is a perfect springboard for expanded leadership for UIS on this element of the new UI system strategic framework.

A final idea, drawn from the Framework, that I’d like bring to your attention today is a pillar titled “A Healthy Future for Illinois and the Midwest”.

Way back, circa 1970 when SSU was being created, the Illinois Board of Higher Education called on SSU to –quote–“take advantage of the existing medical facilities in Springfield as [we] plan programs in the allied health fields.”

It’s now 2016 and we have extraordinary medical resources in Springfield, as you know. These are major employers in our region, and we could be even stronger partners with them, in the areas of health administration, policy, and direct care. We’ve taken some positive steps to do that, the most recent being our partnership with UIC to offer a BSN program in Nursing.

This year, I’d like us to write a compelling “next chapter” in our history as it relates to the unbelievably strong medical community right here in our backyard.

And let’s not forget, District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill is a UIS alum. I want our local schools, and employers from A to Z, to view UIS as an even deeper source of talent, just as we can be in the health care field.

I applaud the audacious, ambitious plans set forth in the Strategic Framework. Some may brush them aside as an overreach. I won’t do that. We should go after them and make them work for us.

Now, with all the discussion of new ideas and goals, some might caution us against forgetting an important feature of our legacy and our future; but I will never shy away from our liberal arts heritage.

We have made significant investments in the arts on our campus in part because the arts make our campus more vibrant and makes the student experience richer in countless ways. Thanks to the creative work of our Theatre faculty, we will be announcing a new major in Theatre this Fall – a welcome addition to our curriculum.

Our membership and involvement in COPLAC, the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, has been a valuable, encouraging reminder of an essential element of the undergraduate experience of every student regardless of major. I, along with other representatives of UIS, were active participants in the annual COPLAC meeting this summer and we’ll continue to benefit from our COPLAC membership.

A new and highly visible reminder of our liberal arts legacy is under construction right now next to the Library in Patton Park. We’re creating a Shakespeare Garden In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – which is this year.

The garden will include a beautiful sculpture of Shakespeare (soon to arrive) and a lovely fountain, along with various flowers and plants named in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. (e.g. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”)

I’m sincerely grateful to UIS landscape designer, Brian Beckerman, who has designed the Shakespeare Garden, to all the terrific members of the grounds crew who are doing the work, and to Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, Ethan Lewis, Joan Sestak and others who are also helping to make the garden a reality.

The UIS Shakespeare Garden will be dedicated at the end of September, just before our campus production of “Macbeth”. I look forward to joining many of you in enjoying this lovely addition to our campus, which, like our Lincoln sculpture, has been funded through a generous private gift to the University.

During my first convocation remarks in 2011, I noted an important lesson, drawn from over 30 years in higher education – it was that leadership is about collective wisdom used strategically.

In my first year on campus, I worked hard to glean some of our own collective wisdom on a very local basis by spending time with each department in listening sessions across campus.

Five years later and with over 500 new employees since then, it is time for me to renew those sessions in individual visits to units that now have a lot of new faces, and new leaders. I am eager to visit with you, listen to you and learn more about your vision for our campus.

In closing (and on a more personal note) since I started my time at UIS my family has welcomed two more grandchildren, Izzabeau and Joseph, which brings our total to 10. It’s hard to believe we’re now in double figures! Somehow that little one (#10) feels like a milestone of sorts and as I’ve listened to his parents talk about their hopes and dreams for him I’ve found myself wondering what the world will be like when he enters college in 2034.

That is a future difficult to foresee but I do know this for sure:

The work we do every day, educating future citizens of our state and our nation is important …. In fact, it’s critical.

Our University has much to contribute to the world my grandchildren (and yours) will inhabit decades from now.

Thank you for what you do every day to educate future citizens and leaders and to make this University better than it was the day before, the month before, the year before.

Let’s make this academic year a record-shattering, award-winning, inspirational and satisfying year.

Thank you.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch