November 2, 2017
Good afternoon and welcome to the first of what I intend to be my annual state of the university address.
I believe it is critically important to have these opportunities for the campus community to come together and hear directly from me – and to ask me questions and to hear my thoughts in a public forum.
For some of you who attended the recent Annual Meeting of the Faculty, some of what you're hearing today will sound familiar. But it is important for everyone on the campus to have a clear idea of where we stand today and to be a part of critical discussions about our future.
I'm going to start with some updates around critical campus issues and priorities. From there, I'll step back and speak more broadly about my vision and hopes for us as a university going forward. And I'll leave plenty of time for questions and discussion.
This event was billed as a “State of the University Address” and that's exactly what I intend to deliver. I'm going to give you an honest appraisal of where the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stands today.
Here's the answer -- and I'll give it to you up front because it frames the rest of my remarks.
We are a university that is charged with enormous potential.
Our shared challenge is to actualize that potential energy to create impact and change. We face real and ongoing challenges – challenges that put our excellence at risk -- but we have truly put ourselves in a position to sustain and grow our excellence.
To be clear, I'm not avoiding the frank acknowledgement that we are still navigating uncertainty on many fronts. I'm concerned that there are still setbacks possible if we allow ourselves to lose our clear focus on finding ways to deliver on our land-grant missions of education, scholarship, engagement and economic and social development.
During the past few years, we've been through one of the most disruptive periods in our history. You all know the list - leadership changes, unparalleled budget crises, social and political unrest, to name a few. But just look around this university. See what we've accomplished. Look around at the foundations we've continued to lay and reinforce through it all.
We now stand at a point in time where we have a window of opportunity to focus all of our energy on shaping our future as a university – on taking control of our own destiny. We have breathing room. We have stability. And we are being driven forward by our intellectual and human capital that are unmatched in any institution of higher education in this nation or the world.
We are charged with potential. And there may be no place where that potential is more evident than in the students who choose Illinois for their college experience. Together, they are as impressive in their academic quality as in their personal commitment.
This fall we welcomed 7,518 new freshmen to campus. This class is notable in both quality and profile.
They have a 28.5 average ACT.
It is also the most diverse class ever – with 20% of our students from underrepresented populations.
And 22% of them are first generation college students.
This is a big deal. It demonstrates that we can be an “elite” academic institution while not being an “elitist” university. Quality, access and scale are not mutually exclusive.
Once again, we are also the largest provider of undergraduate education to the citizens of our state – with 5,507 Illinois residents in the freshman class.
Our international freshman enrollment is up slightly – to 1,116 – with representation from 31 nations. China is the largest source, but we saw significant increases in students from India this year as well.
With our new transfer students – 80% of whom were also Illinois residents -- and the returning student body, our total undergraduate enrollment is 33,624 – the largest in our history. And with our graduate and professional students - - we are home to 47,826 students.
Students aren't just enrolling here. They are succeeding here. Our freshmen retention rate is 93.5 percent. Our 6-year graduation rate is 85.2 percent. I remind you, the national average is just 59 percent.
This trend of success is also seen in the graduation rates of our underrepresented students. While we can - and we must - improve in our recruitment and retention of these students, I want everyone in this audience to appreciate the academic achievements of the students who come here.
Our underrepresented students' six-year graduation rate is 81 percent – slightly below the overall rate, but that gap has been closing steadily.
But as proud as we are of this class and of our track record in preparing them – a constant concern going forward must be our success in ensuring that we maintain the balance between access and affordability. We cannot lose out in attracting the best students just because they get better financial offers from our peers. And we most certainly cannot leave potential students behind because they or their parents cannot afford the cost of an Illinois education.
We are extremely proud that Illinois continues to be a university that provides access to such transformational educational experiences on such a massive scale. To us, that is the land-grant mission in action.
While our potential may be most visible in our students, the key to unlocking and actualizing it in every aspect of our mission is found in our faculty.
Last year our core academic and instructional missions were led by more than 1,900 tenure system faculty and nearly 1000 specialized faculty members.
Together, this faculty cohort taught about 5,000 class sections.
They stewarded, mentored and taught the roughly 13,000 students who earned degrees in May – including more than 700 doctoral degrees.
They generated more than 600 million dollars in research and development expenditures and led us to a sixth consecutive year as the top university recipient of NSF awards in the nation.
We saw them honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Packard Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Tony Award nomination, just to name a few.
We continue to be aggressive in our efforts to recruit new members to the faculty. We added 105 new tenure stream faculty last year, and we have approved 160 new searches this year.
One area of ongoing concern for the university is our ability to retain and support the careers of our outstanding faculty. We are constantly targeted by our peer institutions for recruitment. And over the course of the past couple of years with the state's very long and very well-known issues, those outside efforts intensified.
Over that two-year period, we saw the number of retention cases increase over previous averages. During 2016 in particular we saw an increase in the number of faculty members choosing to take the external competing offer. The good news is that our numbers from last year moved back down much closer to our previous levels. But, these losses are real to us and are real evidence of the real damage the state's budget impasse has done.
Interviews with faculty members – both with those who chose to stay and those who chose to leave – reveal uncertainty about the state as a consistent reason for considering another offer.
What is heartening is that our community, interdisciplinary nature, collegiality, and supportive working environment are consistently cited as key factors in the decisions of those who stay. So, we have a good foundation and we are working to enhance and leverage that.
As you know, we did not have a salary programs for several years. Last year, our average faculty salary was 5.5 percent below the median salary of our peers, and this year it is 7.3 percent. Obviously, we need to find ways to ensure that our compensation, benefits and retirement packages remain competitive with our peers.
There have been many leadership changes since I first started as chancellor at Illinois. In fact, by the time we hire a permanent provost this semester, we'll have seen a complete turnover of my senior leadership team over the last 13 months.
Barry Benson joined us as the new Vice Chancellor for Advancement. Professor Susan Martinis began her appointment as the Interim Vice Chancellor for Research. Danita Brown Young joined the university as our new Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Rusty Barcelo joined my office as a Visiting Assistant to the Chancellor for Diversity.
That leaves us with one position still in progress. We welcomed all four of the final candidates for provost to the campus for presentations and interviews this fall.
I want to commend the search committee and Dean Vik Amar who chaired it for their work that yielded such an outstanding pool of talent and potential leadership for Illinois
I've met with the committee and am also reviewing the feedback and advice from all of you who offered your thoughts. It is my intention to name someone to this position by the end of the calendar year if not much sooner.
Finally, I want take a moment to acknowledge the efforts and commitment of a key member of my leadership team this past year, Interim Provost John Wilkin. John stepped into this role in January. I believe everyone who has had the chance to work or speak with him shares my admiration for his wisdom, judgement and collaborative approach. It has been a pleasure and a real privilege to work with him as Provost this year, and I thank him for his service.
We are continuing to advance the budget reform process that began a year ago. July brought us some very welcome relief with the passage of a state budget.
This gave us some important clarity, stability and predictability with respect to our state appropriation for the year. Overall it set our 2018 appropriation at our 2015 appropriation minus 12 percent. While that was a significant cut, it was a much better outcome than many of the bills that were proposed. More importantly, it was a reduction that our campus can accommodate thanks to the collective preparation of our faculty and administrative staff over the past few years.
We have worked collectively and diligently since this impasse began to put in place budget reforms and processes that would let us operate – in the short- and the long-term – in a more challenging fiscal climate. And in fact, this reduction as well as prior funding shortfalls not addressed by the new state bills, were already factored into our working budget models for this year.
We have managed and implemented 67 million dollars in permanent reductions over the past two years. At the same time, we have made a conscious effort to protect student access to an Illinois education. We have committed for increases another 12.5 million-dollars in financial aid that will bring us to a 91.6 million-dollar planned investment in financial aid next year.
Budget reform is on schedule and will allow colleges to define their own paths more clearly but also allow campus the resources to invest strategically. We need that balance. At this point we thought it was time to come up with a more descriptive name for the process besides “budget reform.” We've settled on calling it “Integrated and Value-Centered Budgeting – or IVCB.” This really describes what we're trying to do. We want a budget model that is truly integrated with our strategic priorities and works across disciplines and mission areas. And the Value Centered piece refers to our commitment to invest in University-wide excellence.
I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to all of the faculty and staff here at this university for your patience, hard work and sacrifice during these past couple of years. Every aspect of our mission was under pressure and every one of us was impacted by the uncertainty and challenges we faced.
Despite the external pressures of the state condition, our fiscal position has remained strong and steady throughout this entire time. That position of strength is one we enjoy only because of the quality of the people who make up this university. We, perhaps more than any other state university or college, came into this new year positioned to leverage that solid foundation for new growth and even greater achievement.
In fact, the financial plan for this year included a 10 million dollar pool for investments that will be used for program and revenue growth – our Investments for Growth program. All our colleges and our academic and research units were invited to submit proposals for funding of programs or initiatives that would create new revenue opportunities and enhance the delivery of our academic and engagement missions. We received about 40 proposals that were evaluated and ranked by the Council of Deans. Eighteen of these were funded this year.
They range from seed funds to develop new degree programs in high-demand areas to facility improvements that will create new capacity for externally-funded research and services to programs to enhance faculty career development. We were looking for proposals that would offer more independence from state funds, boost our enrollment and create new avenues of social and economic development for our state and region. This is the kind of financial innovation we can use to advance our missions while buffering ourselves from the unpredictability that comes with reliance on state appropriations.
While the most acute budget issues have been mitigated, we are certainly not free of serious and challenging issues on our campus.
I believe the most serious issues facing all of higher education are related to free speech and expression around divisive and difficult topics. Universities are quickly becoming physical and philosophical focal points in conflicts around everything from political ideology, race and ethnicity, religion, gender and economic opportunity.
Our educational responsibility to create communities where everyone should feel empowered and comfortable sharing ideas and perspectives is being put to a constant test. This is especially true when the ideas expressed come in direct conflict with the values and beliefs of other members of a community. This is where we should excel as a university. This interface between different - and even unpopular - ideas is where new understanding and new conversations must happen. I believe that it is when we disagree or debate that we often find ourselves making the biggest leaps forward.
Instead of constructive conversations or productive disagreement, we are seeing division, anger, resentment, discrimination and bullying take precedence. We have to widen the circle of productive communication around troubling subjects, and match our inclusiveness with intense respect for intense disagreement.
I can send massmails all day addressing controversial issues or hurtful expressions. But that won't address the core issue. In fact, those messages themselves are sometimes as problematic as the events or conversations that led to them.
While there is no panacea, we need to find ways to help members of our community talk and listen to one another while still engaging in honest, productive dialogue and debate around difficult topics. We need to do this both to heal and strengthen our own community, but also because we as a public university should be the place that models this.
That's the idea behind the “Chancellor's Critical Conversation” series we're in the process of implementing. It is based on a model I used at previous institutions and that led to some very positive outcomes. I've asked a group composed of members of my leadership team, faculty, staff and students to organize a program here that creates meaningful and respectful dialogue around local and national issues important to members of the community.
We're trying to get the first of these public events set up later in the semester around one of the most divisive topics at this University: Native American imagery. From there I anticipate we will schedule one or two more around other key issues in the spring.
I truly believe these conversations present a way to speak directly about our campus climate together. But they also can lead us to solutions that improve the climate for everyone in ways that lead to a cohesive, collaborative and welcoming community. This will translate to a university that is a more attractive destination for the students, staff and faculty that we need to sustain our excellence.
That is the state of the University right now. I've given you just some of the facts, figures and the context for our operations today I want to end by talking about where we are heading tomorrow and in the months and years ahead.
When we launched our Sesquicentennial celebration last February, we set out with the goal of using this milestone year to recognize our past accomplishments while framing our plans and vision for the Next 150 years.
This fall we've formally started the process of updating and refreshing the campus strategic plan that ran from 2013-2016. In my mind, the launch of our Sesquicentennial was also the launch of our next phase of strategic planning and that's why the working name for the updated plan is The Next 150.
I've said from the day I arrived that I thought the campus strategic plan was a very, very good one that set out clear, measurable and meaningful goals. It was created with broad campus engagement and it led to important new programs and initiatives such as the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the creation of two new institutes, the elevation of IPRH to a campus program and the Grand Challenges initiative that is redefining our approach to general education. I want us to build on that plan.
My goal for the Next 150 Initiative is to take that plan and update the pieces of it we believe are still relevant and important. We will identify gaps that we see in it and establish a new set of goals for the university in the next five years.
With our Council of Deans and Senior Leadership Retreats this past summer, we started to outline the process we'll use this year to create the next phase of collective planning.
We have a website up with information about the timeline and process, strategicplan.illinois.edu and we'll expand that as we move forward. You will have many opportunities for input and engagement in the planning process and I ask that you please join in the effort.
I don't know exactly how the plan will take shape and which initiatives and goals we'll see emerge as the top campus priorities. But there are a number of fundamental, grand challenges that I believe must manifest in significant ways in our final plan.
These are areas where this university already has existing comprehensive strengths – and areas that are essential to delivering on our land-grant mission. They represent opportunities for us to build strength and capacity across the entire campus disciplinary spectrum around some topical areas where we have a comparative advantage and shared community concern.
These are grand challenges where we can lead not just here at Illinois, but in the national conversations about the future of higher education.
It is how we, as a University, step up and create new solutions to these challenges that will define the way we are viewed by history.
Far more critically, our actions and our accomplishments around these challenges will define the kind of world we leave for our children and our grandchildren.
This has been the measure of success at Illinois for 150 years. It is the very same measure we will use for the 150 years that are ahead of us today.
This is the time we take inventory of the comprehensive and inclusive excellence of this university. Today is when we begin turning our collective imagination loose to envision the most audacious and the most ambitious goals. And, just as we've done here since 1867, we will take that vision and step-by-step, we'll push back the edges of discovery, redefine what we've been told is impossible and we will carry the world around us to a better place for everyone to live and work.
Right now there is a revolution in health care and medicine underway in the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. This first college born at the intersection of medicine and engineering will reinvent how we teach and prepare physicians. Cadaver labs are being reimagined and augmented with 3D simulation. Huge one-way lecture halls are gone. Students will be immersed in clinical experiences from the beginning. And part of their curriculum will be to create new solutions to real problems and inefficiencies in medical practice or treatment that they see. This program is designed to harness the creativity of physicians from the first days of their medical careers.
The Carle Illinois College of Medicine isn't just the launching point of a new kind of medical education – it is the catalyst for what I believe will become the most robust university-based bio-medical and health sciences research and innovation ecosystem on the planet.
We have a century of investment and leadership in basic health sciences and technology foundations from LAS, AHS, Vet Med, Engineering and ACES. We have the Mellon-funded research group in biohumanities. We have the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute, IGB, Beckman and our new Cancer Center. And we've just charged a committee to develop plans for a new health sciences translational research facility to vastly accelerate the movement of our basic research into clinical practice.
I'm not talking about 50 years in the future – I'm talking about five or ten years from today. This will be the most important physical and intellectual center of medical innovation and biomedical health research in the nation.
Let's be the university that finds the way to feed the world. As we stand here right now, this planet is on a clock. We need to improve food production by 50% to meet the needs of our global population by the year 2050. We have three decades to solve what may be the most challenging societal issue in all of human history.
As most of you know, I'm a crop physiologist by academic training and I've spent my career as a scientist working to improve crop yields. I've watched this field grow, evolve and advance. I've seen it take revolutionary leaps forward.
Time and time again I have watched as the most important advances and greatest innovations came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Illinois brings more than a half century of sustained investment and research programs in the field of photosynthesis. Our interdisciplinary excellence in agriculture, bioengineering, computer science, biology and chemistry, combined with an unmatched research infrastructure uniquely position us to be the world university leader.
Those fields to the south of campus? Those aren't just experiments in crop yields or efficiency. They must be the birthplace of the discoveries that will feed billions.
We are also poised to become the foremost leader in data sciences and analytics in the world. Information is the basic commodity that underlies global health, commerce and social progress of the 21st century. From our genetic code to our financial networks to how we communicate and even how we govern –- data defines our lives.
We are the university that can honestly lay claim to being the home to Big Data and the driver of advanced analytics. From Computer Science to NCSA to the ISchool to LAS to Business to Law – we have a network of researchers and scholars that has steadily been cementing our international reputation as the “go to” university when you want to talk about advanced analytics. That is exactly what happened when the Mayo Clinic – the top ranked hospital in the nation – needed an academic research partner in a program to sequence and analyze the genome of the 100,000 patients they see each year. This is the forefront of individualized medicine and this is where the pioneers are looking for help.
Just look at a list of some of the largest corporate partners that have opened analytics divisions in the Research Park in the past few years to see the kind of reputation we have. What happens if we bring that expertise together in a new kind of Data Sciences and Analytics Institute like we have done with Beckman or IGB?
I'll tell you exactly what will happen: Suddenly and very literally – all roads forward for the world will lead directly through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Data and information are shrinking the world and bringing us closer together. Our ability to embrace, encourage and adapt to the accelerating diversity of cultures, ideas and identities will be essential for any personal, institutional and societal progress. These differences should fuel our creative spirit and lead us to consider new perspectives and possibilities. They lead us to knowledge we would never find within the confines of who we are today nor within the relatively narrow worldview we each construct individually. Diversity is not simply a problem to be addressed – it is the potential for things we've never dreamed about doing, trying or achieving.
Our university ability to harness that potential will be governed by our ability to organize ourselves in a manner that integrates, prioritizes and truly prizes diversity across every aspect of our mission. We must be the model of what diversity looks like and leads to in the 21st century land-grant university.
We took a first step in that effort last spring with our external diversity review. We're about to take another historic step forward this semester when we launch a national search for our first vice-chancellor for diversity, equity and access. Rusty Barcelo and Assata Zerai are working right now with members of our diversity committees to develop the plan for this position and the new responsibilities it will oversee.
Inseparable from our investments and innovations around diversity will be our efforts to move from being a university with engagement programs to a Publicly Engaged University. You've all heard me talk about this from the day I arrived here. We cannot deliver on the land-grant promise of the 21st century if public engagement is not an organizing principle for us a university.
This is an issue fundamental to our founding. We were created to translate knowledge into public benefit for our state, nation and world. We cannot do this if we are not actively engaged with the local, regional and national communities that surround us. I'm talking about engagement through our teaching and curricular designs as well as in our scholarship and research.
I've asked Wynn Korr to lead a committee this semester in developing a comprehensive planning framework for our public engagement strategy as a university.
One of the unique challenges we face here is one of geography. As the state flagship, we have an obligation to serve all the citizens of our Illinois. That means we need to find ways to engage where the population of the state is concentrated while remaining fully and firmly anchored right here in Urbana-Champaign. Part of the challenge – and the opportunity – for is to develop strategies that let us create place-based partnerships and networks that extend our reach and impact without eroding our presence here.
Our new innovation partnership with the University of Chicago in Hyde Park is an example of how this will work. It is a research partnership around analytics and materials science that will create new collaborative research opportunities for our faculty and students. But it will also be a critical component of an effort to reinvigorate and rejuvenate a neighborhood that has been in decline and neglected for decades. This is what strategic engagement can look like in practice. This is how we can play a role in rebuilding a city miles to the north while strengthening the success of our own university programs right here at home.
Our first and most important measure of success here at Illinois must always be the academic and personal achievements of our students. None of our big ideas and high goals will be realized if we cannot ensure that access to this university remains affordable to all qualified students with the will to learn and the desire to come here and join this community. Access to an Illinois experience must never be measured by how much your family can pay for it.
Last week, when Larry Gies was announcing his 150 million dollar gift to the College of Business, he told the story of an intern in his company this summer who did not enroll at Illinois. Even though it was his first choice for college. Even though he was accepted. His reason? He couldn't afford it.
And here was Larry's response to that: “Never again.” Never again did he want to see a student with the ability and the desire to study in the College of Business forced to make another choice because of the cost.
I want to echo Larry's words and amplify them as university-wide challenge: “Never again.”
Let's make that our first and most important priority as a university. Let's find a way to ensure that no student with the ability and the desire to become a member of the Illinois family is ever denied that opportunity because he or she doesn't have the financial ability to come here.
In the next five years – I challenge all of us to work to get ourselves to the point where we can honestly and openly say “Never again, will that happen at Illinois.”
These are the kinds of grand ideas and unsolved challenges that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded to confront.
And we've got 150 years of evidence and accomplishment here that shows what happens at Illinois when we match audacity and ambitious goals with unrestrained creativity and imagination.
This is what I'm talking about when I say that we stand today as university charged with unlimited potential.
We have a window of opportunity right now to transform that potential into real impact and world-changing discovery and innovation. We've come out of several hard years – but the strategic decisions and investments we made throughout that difficult period have put us in a position where we can take the steps and make the plans to let us control our own destiny.
Consider just a few highlights from these first months of the new semester.
-We launched a 2.25-billion-dollar capital campaign – With Illinois. And we're already more than halfway towards that ambitious fundraising goal.
-Last week we announced a 150-million-dollar gift from alumni Larry and Beth Geis (geese) to the College of Business. This is the largest gift in our history and the largest private gift to any university in the country this year. It is a transformative investment in the College and in this university.
-We saw a new $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to support the educational opportunities of those who are incarcerated.
-The Carle Illinois College of Medicine has received preliminary accreditation from the LCME. This is a critical step towards recruiting our inaugural class of 32 students next fall. These are students who - thanks to private donors – will all receive full, four year scholarships.
-As part of our ongoing Sesquicentennial celebrations we released the short film “A Home of Their Own” that tells the story of how the local African American community stepped up to provide housing for African American students here in the 40s and 50s when they weren't allowed to live on campus.
-We announced a new 45-million-dollar investment anchored by the Gates Foundation to lead a multi-university research effort to improve photosynthesis and yields in food crops globally.
-The Krannert Art Museum opened the first major traveling exhibition dedicated to the arts of the Swahili coast. After a year here, it will move the Smithsonian next summer and to UCLA after that.
-The Siebel Center for Design will break ground for construction beginning in the spring with an opening in 2020.
-We opened the rejuvenated Natural History Building and the Chem Annex buildings just this fall.
-We had a member of our faculty elected to the National Academy of Medicine.
-We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities with a lecture by Earl Lewis, the president of the Mellon Foundation – the single largest supporter of humanities research in the nation. He was here because Illinois has become one of the premier centers of academic leadership in the humanities in the United States – an effort led by IPRH.
This is all in the space of the first two months of the academic year.
Can you blame me for being optimistic and enthusiastic about our future?
That's what I mean by charged with potential. And I have absolutely no doubt that, together, we are going to release that potential in ways that revolutionize the way our global society thinks, works and lives.
I sincerely hope you share in my excitement and my exuberance about the future of this university – whether we're talking about the year to come or the next 150 ahead of us.