Publish Date

Karen Whitney BOT Remarks | 5.13.22

Good morning.

In the 22 months I have been with UIS serving as the Interim Chancellor, I am thrilled to share with you what I have come to know and appreciate most about UIS.  As I have said before, Iam so proud that UIS is a capital city university dedicated to the public good through intensive teaching, applied research and outstanding public service.

In these last 2 years, we never lost sight of our mission and leading the way for other universities, as evidenced by repeatedly being named a top public regional university in Illinois and the fourth best in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report.

Defining UIS and really all of us in so many was the Pandemic. Together, we more than rose to the challenges of COVID-19 — all because we stayed United in Safety. Managing UIS’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic was No. 1 of my top 10 priorities, and we led the way in our response. We wore masks. We tested. We got vaccinated. And we showed care and compassion toward one another through grace and innovation.  I have a tremendous appreciation for the incredibly hard work and creative problem solving our leadership exhibited. I appreciate Interim Vice Chancellor Ann Comerford for her never-ending capacity to care about our students and to support her staff of student affairs professionals as they provided student services and programs for our students. Many of these programs and services were made even more important during the pandemic. I appreciate Melissa Mlynski, our Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, who through her leadership responded in the most caring way to the many many needs of our employees as we figured out the many many issues and challenges that COVID threw at us. We also continued to capably handle the business of educating our next generation of leaders! Just five days ago, I stood on the Bank of Springfield Center stage to congratulate 622 new UIS alumni who have earned their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees. This may be one of my favorite UIS memories because of the victories it represents — the personal victories of our students to get to that milestone moment, the professional victories of our faculty and staff to persevere in an unfamiliar time, and the victories that were felt from waiting two years to celebrate a traditional Commencement together to provide closure to another amazing academic year at UIS. I appreciate Joan Sestak, our Director of Community & Governmental Relations who chairs our Commencement Committee.  Perhaps Joan’s greatest accomplishment was a year ago we conducted 53 mini-commencements for our Spring 2021 ceremonies.

As you know, because this Board has been so supportive of our efforts, we are preparing to launch new colleges and schools designed to best position UIS to even better serve our students, community and state. Effective July 1, UIS will launch a new College of Health, Science & Technology, harnessing the incredible power of these areas of teaching and research in ways that will best advance our mission in a post-pandemic world. Other notable outcomes of this multiyear monumental transformation of our academic enterprise, led by our Provost, Dennis Papini, with the incredible leadership of our Deans, Department Chairs/Heads and most importantly the faculty, has also resulted in the launching of a new School of Education; School of Health Science; School of Integrated Science, Sustainability and Public Health; School of Communication and Mixed Media; School of Public Management and Policy, and School of Politics and International Relations. This was the signature accomplishment that Dennis was recruited to UIS to achieve and after 5 years of strong, steady leadership, UIS is now even better poised to fulfill its mission and expand its reach as an exemplary public regional university.

Our Reaching Stellar Campaign was a complete success! UIS’ most ambitious campaign surpassed our original $40 million goal a year ahead of schedule and will have raised over $42 million by the close of the campaign on June 30. This campaign was dedicated to funding scholarships, academic excellence, the Center for Lincoln Studies, and advancing our commitment to the public good.   Many thanks to Dr. Jeff Lorber, Vice Chancellor For Advancement, for his incredible leadership and passion for philanthropy’s impact on a university.  For example, generations of students will benefit from the hundreds of new scholarships that resulted from this campaign because of Dr. Lorber and the team of dedicated professionals and friends of the university who realized the dream of Reaching Stellar.

Our commitment to downtown Springfield and leading through innovation continues to grow. We are very grateful for the support from the University of Illinois System and the State of Illinois, which has provided funds to support our economic, small business development and innovation-advancing work through Innovate Springfield. At present we are in negotiations to acquire a building in downtown Springfield, and you may expect more details this fall. Expanding our programs, services and physical footprint in downtown will advance our commitment as a capital city public university dedicated to the public good. This accomplishment is only made possible because UIS is a proud member of the University of Illinois System and in partnership with the other universities in our system and with all of public higher education led by our President. With  President Killeen’s vision of an Illinois that embraces and harnesses the power of public higher education—- UIS will acquire and refurbish an existing building thus contributing to the vitality of downtown Springfield. I want to extend my appreciation to Mr. Charles Coderko, our Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities & Services who is leading our building acquisition efforts.

If what I have outlined for you is not enough we have also made great advancements in expanding our mission by growing our enrollment through the outstanding leadership of Dr. Vickie Cook, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment.We have also worked to do the unspectacular but necessary work of continuing to identify and improve how we run the university to be more efficient, including improvements in financial planning and resource allocation led by our Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration, Arnold Henning. Arnold’s leadership as our senior financial officer has enabled UIS to move forward more confidently as we work to grow our revenues to meet the future challenges of the university.

I am also very appreciative of the faculty and staff who I have worked with both formally informally such as Campus Senate Chairs, Lynn Fischer and Celest Weuve, our union leaders —- Kristi Barnwell, Steve Schnebly, Kevin Norris, Maricela Arce and Will Newton. Our leaders representing academic professionals Cody Pope, Craig McFarland, Emily Boles and Lisa McGuire and our civil service professionals, Aaron Stewart, Ann Schoenberg, Erin Hartnett and Jeff Sudduth.  It takes a village to run a university, and I so appreciate the many colleagues who work together to ensure our success.

I extend appreciations to Rhonda Perry, our Campus Legal Counsel and one of the sharpest legal minds I have ever had the pleasure of working with on many items of importance. Finally, Kelsea Gurski, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs & Chief of Staff and Kelly Walraven, Executive Assistant have been the hardest working and most dedicated to the university.

So you see, it is about the people.

The people we are all dedicated to serve —- our students, alumni, community, state and the people who are in service — our leadership, faculty, staff, our system leaders, and this very board. It’s the people I have most treasured and it’s the people I will miss.

With the next Chancellor of UIS named, I am ready and excited to pass the baton to incoming chancellor designate Janet L. Gooch, who officially steps into the role July 1. In the time I've spent with Janet during these past few months, I have found her to be smart, innovative and gracious. She is just what UIS needs at this moment in our university’s proud history.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

I’d like to end my remarks by showing you what a special place UIS is. I hope you see the energy, the vibrancy and the PEOPLE who contribute to our bold legacy and bright future.

Go Stars!

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