2018 State of the University Address
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chancellor Robert J. Jones
November 8, 2018
Watch the speech here.
Good afternoon and thank you for joining me for this annual State of the University address.
I’ll start with what I hope is the question you all want to hear me answer:
What is the state of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign today?
Before I give you that, let me step back and remind you how I answered that question last November.
In my 2017 address, I said we were charged with enormous potential.
We had a window of opportunity to take control of our own destiny and to write our own future for this university.
Seminal moments like that do not come often and they do not remain within reach for very long.
You can either take the risk and accept the challenge – or you can hesitate, play it safe and spend years quietly imagining what might have been.
I’m proud to say that this university – now in our one-hundred fifty-first year – has never settled for imagining what could have been.
We are a university that has made our mark on this world by imagining what might be possible – and then figuring out how to make it reality.
I believe our finest moments have been when we have taken control of our destiny and imposed our will on the grand problems and challenges that we face as a state, as a nation and as a world.
I am standing here today to tell you that I absolutely and firmly believe we are stepping into another of those defining moments in our history right here and right now.
We are a university that has chosen to take control of our own fate.
And, let me tell you, that changes everything.
Last year we had potential.
This year we have momentum.
We’re not waiting for someone else to solve the problems that are holding back this university – or even the problems that are holding back our own state.
We’re reaching out actively. We’re identifying those issues and problems. And we are solving them ourselves.
You can go down the list…
How about leadership stability?
We have it.
With the search for the new Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the final stages, we are just weeks from a full university leadership team. And we have a full slate of permanent deans in place for the first time in years.
Are we retaining our best faculty?
Absolutely. We’ve rebounded significantly from two years ago.
Last year, we saw the number of faculty choosing to take competitive offers and leave us drop significantly – as did the overall number of retention cases sent to the provost’s office.
We’re increasing our investments in faculty resources, implementing leadership development programs and working with departments to enhance retention efforts.
We’ve had salary programs for the past two years even in the midst of the state budget crisis.
We want to make the decision to leave Illinois the hardest career choice a faculty member will ever face.
But how are we going to recruit new faculty?
We’re going to invest aggressively and strategically to bring in new faculty across the disciplinary breadth of the university and at all career levels – from assistant to full professor.
We’re going to leverage and amplify the $30 million investment from the President’s Distinguished Faculty Hiring Program with our own five-year, $50 million campus strategic faculty hiring plan. Together, these will fuel one of the most significant and aggressive faculty hiring initiatives in our history. This is a declaration to our peers that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is going to be a very popular destination for the best faculty talent in the world.
There are concerns that state-mandated changes in our AP and civil service systems will make it harder to recruit and retain staff.
Our Illinois Human Resources team is working closely with staff, deans, directors, department heads and senior leadership here and at the System to implement these changes – while ensuring that every member of our staff continues to find the career opportunities that led them to consider positions here in the first place.
We are absolutely committed to hiring, promoting and retaining world-class civil service and academic staff across this entire university.
While there may be many different titles and job descriptions, we consider every member of our staff to be a professional and essential to every aspect of our operations.
You say we aren’t telling our story well enough?
Right now we’re in the last stages of hiring our first Chief Marketing Officer and we’re about to embark on our first-ever national reputational branding and marketing campaign. We’re going to tell the stories of the amazing accomplishments of our faculty, students and alumni loudly and clearly – and remind people just how different the world would be without Illinois.
We are finished being quiet about our success.
What about the continuing decline in state funding?
Our budget reform efforts and Investments for Growth initiatives are beginning to give us some separation from the instability and unpredictability of state appropriations.
We have always been—and will continue to be—partners with our state. And as the flagship university we have a responsibility to build new revenue sources that give us the most control over our operations and our long-term stability.
We are standing here two days after the election and we have a new governor-elect. I look forward to working with him and all of our lawmakers to find even more ways to transform the power of our state’s higher educational system into more growth and prosperity for all of Illinois.
We are taking every opportunity we have with our state leaders to reinforce with them the unequaled value proposition of investing in universities like ours.
What about all of those Illinois families being priced out of a college education?
We’re stepping up to do something about it. We are offering free tuition for four years to any admitted Illinois resident with a family income of $61,000 or less.
We announced the Illinois Commitment in September, and it is going to make an Illinois education more affordable and accessible for many more highly qualified Illinois high school graduates.
Instead of asking “Can I afford to go to Illinois?” They’re now going to be asking, “How can I afford NOT to go to Illinois?”
But we also recognize that middle-class families in the state are increasingly facing access challenges as well. So we’re going to use some of our $138 million dollar annual financial aid investments to leverage the state’s new AIM HIGH merit scholarship program to offer some relief to those families.
Like the MAP program, AIM HIGH should become a sustainable state commitment to the most-talented students of Illinois families.
Isn’t lack of physical access to higher education limiting the potential of too many Illinois residents?
Yes it is. So let’s find new and innovative ways to take the Illinois educational experience beyond the traditional classroom, and let’s put it directly in the hands of students who want it and who so desperately need it --- wherever they live.
Our online courses and new programs, like the IMBA or the Master of Computer Science, have the fastest growing enrollments across the campus. They’re dramatically expanding access to an Illinois experience. And at the same time, they are creating new revenue that can be reinvested in our traditional on-campus academic programs.
It has been clear to me since I arrived, that our history with Chief Illiniwek and Native Imagery continues to hold us back.
Starting with last spring’s Critical Conversations, we are moving forward to find ways to reconcile and heal the rifts that continue to divide our community – more than a decade after the Chief’s retirement.
We must find new ways to celebrate together.
We must put Native Peoples at the core of our efforts and find ways to honestly honor them.
But we must also find ways to appropriately acknowledge our past with Chief Illiniwek that was a part of the history and ethos here for more than 80 years.
It is not an overnight process and I know there are no solutions that will satisfy those on the extreme ends of this debate. I believe there is an honest and sincere critical mass of Illinois family members ready, willing and eager to put this behind us and to focus on the future.
I’m forming a commission of stakeholders from among the coalition of the willing, who will begin working next month. I’m asking them to offer recommendations to me – before the end of next semester – on a path forward to remember our history, explore new traditions and partner with Native Nations and communities.
There is momentum here. It is momentum that can carry us to a resolution to one of the most divisive issues in the history of this university.
What about these stories we keep reading about the State of Illinois losing too much talent to other states?
“Brain drain” is absolutely the greatest long-term threat to our state.
We know that one of the most effective tools to keep the best and brightest here is a degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Last May, about 8,000 new Illinois graduates headed home to start their careers.
If they follow the trends of the two classes before them, about 90 percent of them will have a job or begin post-graduate education within six months. Those who start jobs will be paid nearly 20 percent above the national average.
And most of those new careers and jobs will be right here in Illinois.
Right where they belong.
And finally – let’s talk about our fundraising.
We raised more than $415milliondollars last year.
That is the most successful year of fundraising in the history of this institution.
Let me repeat that so everyone hears it clearly.
This was the most successful fundraising year in our history.
Our $2.25-billion “With Illinois Campaign” is already more than 60 percent of the way to the most ambitious goal in our history.
We have asked our alums to take on a bigger role, and we’ve called on our corporate partners to increase their support.
They have answered those calls loud and clear.
We know how to raise money at this university and we are doing it at record levels.
I hope you’re getting my points here.
This is what I’m talking about when I say we are a university that has taken control.
But there are several significant near-term challenges that remain.
If we do not address them proactively and with a sense of urgency, this momentum we’ve been working so hard to build will quickly be lost.
One of the most pressing and most concerning issues we must address is the misalignment of our investigative and disciplinary processes and policies around allegations of sexual misconduct.
Events of these past weeks clearly demonstrate that many in our community question whether our standards are sufficient. As chancellor, I share those same concerns.
This is NOT about just one incident in one college. We know other members of our community are having similar and equally objectionable experiences.
It is unacceptable and alarming to me to know that members of our community do not feel empowered to report incidents, or that they have reason to believe that concerns of such a serious nature would not be addressed.
I am sorry that individuals have had their lives disrupted and found their educational and professional experiences here impacted by unacceptable and inexcusable behavior. I’m sorry and I am angry.
We must ensure that our administrative policies and practices – along with our governance rules and Statutes – provide the protection for our students, faculty and staff to pursue their studies and careers. And we need to align those with the values and standards of conduct we establish as a community.
We have already reached out to the academic deans, the Senate, the Illinois Student Government leaders, Faculty Advisory Committee, the Council of Academic Professionals and the Staff Advisory Council to begin determining a process to move forward together quickly on these issues.
We have an obligation to act without excuse and without delay and we will do just that.
Creating a campus climate of tolerance, dialogue and open expression continues to be a challenge.
I believe these issues present an imminent threat to our university and to all of American higher education.
It is imperative that we establish ourselves as a community where unpopular, unexpected or controversial viewpoints are greeted with reasoned and productive debate rather than with derision, insult or violence.
Last week opened with vigils and prayers and grief for members of two communities devastated by hate-fueled shootings. It is a sad truth that these incidents are becoming all-too-common in our society today. In fact, we have learned of another this morning.
Whether it is an anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh, or racist killing in Kentucky, or the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota, these are acts of individual evil.
We may not be able prevent such acts.
But we absolutely CAN foster an environment and community built on the values of tolerance and respect. If the seeds of hatred, bigotry and discrimination find no ground to take root, they can never grow into the violence that too often brings us together in mourning and grief.
We’re going to build and expand the framework we set up around last year’s Critical Conversations to catalyze more dialogue and educational understanding around even more topics. We’re also establishing new orientation and training programs related to differences in religious practices.
Our efforts to create change in the national discourse must be born and rooted right here at Illinois.
We’ve moved beyond the state budget impasse and returned to some relative normalcy in our financial operations. However, it is important that all of us keep in mind this “normal” year saw us funded by the state at more than a six percent reduction from our 2015 appropriation.
Stability is critical in our ability to make plans across multiple years. But this stability comes with budget reductions that we cannot realistically expect to be reversed.
Our challenge is delivering world-class academic excellence within the budgetary realities in which we can expect to be operating.
We are taking steps to generate more revenue through online programs and other innovations.
And our fundraising efforts are bringing new philanthropic support.
But new revenue generation is only part of the solution.
We must be more efficient than ever in how we use every dollar from every funding source.
With an initiative we’re calling Operational Excellence at Illinois, we want to streamline our processes, reduce redundancies and improve the quality of services across the university.
Through careful review of resources, innovations in services, and focused efforts to incentivize and to find new efficiencies, we are going to recover financial resources to reinvest in our strategic priorities.
The final risk I want to discuss threatens our ability to conduct ground-breaking research.
Our research doesn’t just create new knowledge and discovery, it also represents a significant funding source. Grants and contracts from federal agencies like NSF, USDA, Department of Energy and NIH represent about 20 percent of last year’s total budget sources. That is second only to tuition revenue.
These funds support campus infrastructure, graduate students, salaries and equipment purchases that have lasting impacts. This research is also a key driver of the reputation that lets us compete in recruiting the best and brightest new faculty and new students in a global market.
Those traditional sources of research funding are in rapid flux at the federal level with fundamental shifts in funding priorities.
This means we need to be making research investments in infrastructure, technology and in faculty and staff expertise that anticipate an external funding landscape five, 10 or even 20 years into the future.
We need to be more strategic in our prioritization of research investments.
So we must also consider how we evaluate programs, centers and initiatives for their impact to date and in relationship to their alignment with future needs.
Erosion of our ability to compete in this emerging funding landscape will negatively impact every aspect of our university mission.
Clearly, we have more than four challenges on our horizon. But these are the ones we see posing the greatest immediate threats to our ability to deliver on our land-grant missions.
And we have some serious goals in mind.
As I’ve talked today, I’ve actually been foreshadowing and previewing some of the themes and ideas you’ll find in “The Next 150,” our new five-year strategic plan scheduled for release at the beginning of the spring semester.
The Next 150 builds on the latest strategic plan and rests on the same four pillars of scholarship, transformative learning, societal impact and stewardship of resources.
The plan is going through its final stages of review and refinement right now, and you’ll be hearing a lot more in the next month or so about when and how we’ll be releasing it to the university community.
We’re excited to see this map of our directions forward coming into clear focus.
But I will tell you all right now, when you read it, you should NOT expect to find many surprises.
The Next 150 wasn’t created to bring about abrupt and unexpected changes in direction or values.
It is meant to lay out our collective vision of our institutional goals and to define the ways in which we will measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable.
So, you won’t find big surprises.
But you will find big ideas with the potential to transform the way the world lives, thinks and learns.
That’s what we’ve been doing for 151 years.
Now we’re laying out how we go about it for the next 150 years.
I told you last year that a revolution in global health care and medicine was going to be born here.
That revolution began in earnest in July, when we opened the doors to the first class of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. These students are 32 pioneers, who will become physician innovators at the intersection of medicine and engineering.
Less than a block away, our Cancer Center at Illinois is taking rapid and important steps towards earning NIH designation as a National Cancer Institute. We intend for this university to become the home of the most advanced and most innovative basic science cancer research center in the country. This would also be the first new cancer center established at the basic science level by the NIH in 30 years.
In total, we are well on the way to establishing a biomedical research and innovation ecosystem that will, in part, define excellence at the university for decades and centuries to come.
Last year, we set out to build on our historic foundations of excellence in the digital sciences, information and computing to establish ourselves as the world leader in analytics and data sciences.
We’re going to invest $10 million dollars of our new faculty hiring initiative in cross-campus cluster hires in these areas.
We’re going to invest in NCSA’s high-performance computing infrastructure. This will help ensure we have the bleeding-edge academic computing facility to lead the way in Big Data Analytics research and innovation.
This fall we announced the first capital innovation funds from the Discovery Partners Institute. It will support the transformation of Illini Hall into the new Data Sciences Center.
This will be a major campus hub for cross-disciplinary research, innovation, education and workforce development in data science and advanced analytics.
Across the street, we’ll be working simultaneously to renovate and rejuvenate Altgeld Hall to add new educational and instructional capacity in mathematics and statistics – the foundations of analytics.
The future of data sciences may still be taking shape. But one thing I am confident in predicting is that this future will be run right through Illinois.
But, we need to recognize that the challenges we’re talking about – whether healthcare, information and data or food or energy security – will not be solved simply with a technological breakthrough.
These problems are not hard to solve just because of the complexities they present on a technical scale.
They are hard to solve, because they are problems at the human scale.
Nothing gets more complex than that.
We aren’t going to invent or engineer our way out of these challenges.
We are going to have to “creatively think” our way out of them.
We need to begin letting our priorities and approaches to solving these human-scale problems be set and guided by our scholars, researchers and disciplinary experts – who best understand how and why they exist.
There are those who would say the 20th century was defined by advances in science and technology.
Whether you accept that or not, I am telling you that this century must be defined by advances in the humanities, the arts and the social sciences that let us come to terms with the repercussions and the implications of those twentieth-century discoveries.
We have a unique opportunity to be the intellectual, scholarly and educational center of gravity of this human-centered and human-driven century of progress. We have the strongest foundations and the deepest academic roots in the nation to characterize, analyze and decode these human-scale challenges.
We don’t have to go create excellence in these disciplines.
We already have it.
All we need to do is to feed it and support it.
We’re going to start by elevating the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities to a campus institute. This will come with new investments to add staff resources and develop infrastructure that fortifies and expands humanities scholarship and educational initiatives.
We’ll also elevate the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative to a formal center – to strengthen the impact of social science research to fight the root causes of poverty and health disparities
We must also dramatically redefine how this university engages with our society and communities.
Last year, I called for us to move from being a university with engagement programs to being a Publicly Engaged University. We must remain anchored here in this community – but we also must have an active and visible presence throughout the state.
Our University of Chicago partnership in Hyde Park and our partnership with Discovery Partners Institute in downtown Chicago are examples of that in motion.
Extension is working right now on a plan for reimagining and organizing itself in ways that align more closely with the campus academic, service and research strengths.
The Research Park is returning to the governance of this university. We’re going to expand the Research Park – both in scope and mission – to make it a center for our university’s statewide economic development and engagement efforts.
We’ve taken tremendous steps in rapidly building out the physical mechanisms, networks and infrastructures necessary for a publicly engaged university this year. But we also need to reset and reorient our philosophical, academic and operational perspectives as well.
Engagement isn’t just about presence or reach or scale. From our budgeting and compensation strategies to our recruiting, promotion and tenure policies to our research and scholarly support structures – we are going to embed public engagement as a fundamental principle in our operations.
I started this speech today by telling you we are a university with momentum.
We’re taking control of our future and solving our own problems.
This sense of self-reliance resonates uniquely and powerfully at Illinois.
It energizes us.
It empowers us.
And I hope it inspires us to honestly believe that what we do here at Illinois can make a visible, positive impact in a world that – at times – seems to be permanently mired in division and destruction.
I read the same news you do.
I recognize the deep anxiety many here feel when it appears the values and ideals that are foundational to higher education seem to be under constant attack.
But this is when we are most needed.
These are exactly the times for which this university was created.
Let me remind you of some words from John Milton Gregory, the first Illinois president, from his speech at the inauguration of this university.
“It is no ordinary work which we are set to do, and it comes to us under no ordinary circumstances.
The hungry eyes of toiling millions are turned, with mingled hope and fear, upon us, to see what new and better solution we can possibly offer of the great problems on which their well-being and destiny depend.”
150 years later those words still ring true.
With every new idea, with every challenging conversation, with every momentary setback in research and with every new piece of hard-won knowledge -- this university shines a little more light in a world that is desperately searching for ways out of the darkness.
I think this is something many on the campus have begun to recognize and sense as we build this momentum together.
There is an optimism about our collective ability to make a positive and measurable difference in the world around us.
And there are plenty of great reasons for that optimism.
Consider just a handful of highlights of the past months.
We celebrated the 50th anniversary of Project 500 with a class reunion weekend that honored those groundbreaking alumni.
A new economic development study showed we bring an annual impact of nearly nine-billion-dollars to the state – more than one percent of our Gross Domestic Product.
We’re seeing our physical landscape transformed – from our residence halls to the Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center to Everitt Lab to the Mechanical Engineering Building to the Siebel Center for Design.
The finalists to become our first Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion begin coming to campus this afternoon to make public presentations. This critical position will take us to the next level of success here at Illinois.
We launched “Coursera for Illinois” to give all of our faculty, students and staff free access to all of the Illinois-owned online courses and specializations offered on the Coursera platform.
We held the first campus-wide celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day – an example of our commitment to put Native Peoples at the center of our efforts as a university.
To our university traditions, we’ve added the land acknowledgement statement that opened this event today. And when I began our May Commencement Ceremony with it, the response from the crowd of 20,000 was immediate applause.
The Krannert Center -- the most important and most progressive university performing arts center in the nation - has launched a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary.
We launched the new IQUIST Center for quantum science research and joined the University of Chicago and two national labs in another quantum research partnership in Chicago.
We held a long-overdue celebration of the contributions of Mr. Albert Lee, known by many as the “first unofficial dean of black students” here at Illinois. His family joined us for a special dedication of a memorial marker over his previously unmarked grave in Mount Hope Cemetery on the edge of campus. Tomorrow morning at our Annual Celebration of Diversity, we will debut a documentary we commissioned on his life.
But if you really want to find the most dynamic and most important drivers of our momentum… just take a walk around the campus.
You’ll find about 60,000 of them in our students, and our faculty and our staff.
You can talk to one of the members of our record-setting new freshman class this fall. It is a class that is more diverse than ever before with more than one-in-five being first generation college students.
Ask chemistry professor Renske van de Veen about the research horizons that will open up with the Packard Foundation Fellowship she won last month – one of just 18 in the nation.
Maybe you’ll run into IGB director Gene Robinson, who this summer won the Wolf Prize in Agriculture – considered by many to be the Nobel Prize in the field. He followed that up with election into the National Academy of Medicine this fall.
Or perhaps you’ll have the chance to speak with sociology professor Rebecca Sandefur who just became the eighth faculty member in our history to win a MacArthur “Genius” Award.
Or talk to Amaury Saulsberry, a junior in industrial design about what happens when you come to Illinois. Amaury added a unique line to his resume this fall when he was invited to deliver a speech introducing former President Barack Obama to campus.
In fact, I want to end my own remarks with a quote from Amaury’s speech.
He said, “When you apply to Illinois they tell you this place is going to open doors to BIG opportunities… I can tell you that is absolutely true.”
As the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign standing here talking about the State of the University today, I could not agree more with that statement.
We are a university that has taken control and we are a university that has tremendous momentum.
And when you combine those here at Illinois, there is no problem and there is no challenge beyond our reach.