SJR Column: Strategic Framework, June 2016

When University of Illinois President Tim Killeen presented the UI’s new strategic framework at the Board of Trustees meeting on the Springfield campus a few weeks ago, he aptly chose the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Be sure you put your feet in the right place.” he quoted. “Then stand firm.”

The process of “putting our feet in the right place” has been a year-long endeavor involving hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alums and advisors from all three campuses of the UI, including UIS. With Illinois’s leading public university system now encompassing over 80,000 students, 25,000 faculty and staff, and more than 700,000 alumni, there was no shortage of opinions and ideas!

The result of those hours of meetings, discussions, debates and emails is an exciting plan that builds on past successes at the same time it is filled with fresh thinking and high aspirations. The framework is intended to leverage existing strengths and add critical value to each of the three campuses; but also, as President Killeen stated, “… to lead a new era of progress and prosperity for the people of Illinois.”

In fact, the very name of the plan, “The Public’s University: Optimizing Impact for the Public Good,” reinforces the University’s deep commitment to the future of our state. The framework is timely to say the least!

Longtime university leader and UIS Business professor Jorge Villegas served as one of 23 members of the Strategic Framework Steering Committee.

“From the beginning of our discussions,” he says, “there was strong consensus that the system’s mission is to serve the public good.

The whole world benefits from our teaching, research and service and the outsized impact that the Springfield campus has on state government, with thousands of UIS alums working in the public sector, means that UIS will play a lead role in optimizing the system’s positive impact on that public good.”

System-wide priorities in the framework are outlined under four strategic “pillars” around which the University has pledged to organize its world-class resources for the next decade. They include: An institution of and for students, Research and scholarship with global impact, A healthy future for Illinois and the Midwest and, Tomorrow’s university today.

Megan Styles, a UIS professor in Environment Studies and another member of the group that created the plan, is enthusiastic about opportunities for faculty (and students) embedded in all four areas.

“The U of I is an incredible network of people, resources and ideas and the strategic framework will help UI faculty work collaboratively across the three campuses to solve the wicked problems of the 21st century,” she says.

At the same time, the framework highlights the centrality of the humanities and the arts in the human experience – reminding us, according to Styles, that “humanities and the arts play a crucial role in developing well-rounded, socially engaged graduates who will be effective global citizens.”

UIS Associate Chancellor Ryan Croke believes the framework presents an opportunity for UIS to deepen its impact in Springfield, Central Illinois and statewide.

“It puts Springfield on the map,” he points out, “as part of a newly conceived U of I Innovation Network, a set of virtually-connected innovation clusters across the state, which could benefit the recently launched I-SPI business incubator downtown.”

“I was also glad,” he says, “that strong language on accessibility made it into the plan. To truly be an institution of and for our students, accessibility has to be a priority in every corner of the UI system.”

Student voices were prominent throughout the planning process. Student Trustee Dominique Wilson, who graduated from UIS with a major in Communications this spring and who has been accepted for the Peace Corps next fall, recognized early on his responsibility to ensure the ideas and opinions of students were well represented in the strategic framework. “With a growing student body at UIS,” he states, “our graduates will be a key to creating needed future impact in Illinois communities.”

Karen Hasara, former Mayor of Springfield and UIS alum, is one of the University of Illinois Trustees who unanimously approved the plan in May. “The framework includes a commitment to a more student-centered atmosphere and plans for an enrollment growth strategy that greatly enhances the goals UIS has envisioned,” she reflects.

“It recognizes the importance of the Springfield campus’s location in our capital city with a commitment to civic engagement that will benefit the communities and citizens of our area.”

With the new UI strategic framework, we’ve followed Lincoln’s advice to “put our feet in the right place;” but Lincoln also said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” As Chancellor of UIS, I believe this new framework represents a launch pad for the University of Illinois system, and for UIS, to create its own future – a future that is relentlessly centered on educational excellence and on providing a level of public good that only the University of Illinois can achieve. (The Public’s University: Optimizing Impact for the Public Good is available for review.)

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch