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Remarks, March 12, 2020 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

As prepared for delivery for President Tim Killeen

Thank you, Chair Edwards.

First, I want to add my thanks to you and Anne for your generous gift. It’s no easy task to make history at a premier university system like ours, with roots that trace back more than 150 years and a rich legacy of achievement that has literally helped change the world. But you have, and your generosity will continue to make history for generations to come through the students, the programs and the innovation that it will support. Please accept our deepest appreciation again for your extraordinary gift, for your confidence, for your loyalty and for your leadership. 

I hope you all will also join me in congratulating Vice President Ed Seidel, who as you know was appointed last week as the 28th president of the University of Wyoming, and takes office in July. Ed has been part of the U of I family for more than three decades, since he first came to Urbana as a postdoc researcher at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. His talents ultimately landed him at leading institutions around the world and earned a host of prestigious awards and membership in our nation’s leading scientific societies. And they landed him back here in Urbana six years ago, first as director of NCSA and then as vice president for economic development and innovation, where he was a key member of the team that developed our Discovery Partners Institute and Illinois Innovation Network. I am deeply grateful for his many contributions to our universities and our state, and for his counsel, support and friendship over the last five years. Thank you, Ed, and we wish you the best in this exciting new chapter of your career. 

I am also happy to share that we are making great progress on system-wide policies regarding sexual misconduct that you endorsed in November and we intend to present them for final approval at your May meeting.

With help from faculty and staff working groups, two new policies have been drafted. One lays out clear standards and specified prohibitions on faculty and staff relationships with students. The other adds a background check process to our hiring procedures for faculty and staff so we can detect previous findings of sexual misconduct.

Just as importantly, we are working hard to develop comprehensive implementation plans that spell out how the new policies will be carried out and enforced. The vetting process is already underway and we have received helpful, positive feedback so far from the USC, from other faculty leaders, and from staff groups Over the next two months, we will continue to meet with key stakeholders across the three universities to get their insights, advice and support. Those interactions are as valuable as the policies themselves, a chance explain not just the new rules, but the new culture we are working to create.My thanks to the board for your commitment to healthy relationships and safe campus communities, and I look forward to sharing final versions of the policies and implementation plans in May

Shortly after your January meeting, I had the pleasure of leading the U of I System’s second visit to India since 2018. The weeklong trip including meetings with leading Indian universities to promote research partnerships and encourage more top students in STEM fields to study at DPI or on our campuses. Our delegation of nearly a dozen top administrators and faculty also met with major companies, urging them to establish a presence at DPI. Those collaborations would support students and innovation, and would help the Indian startup economy, and ours in Illinois, by providing soft landings in Chicago. Our stops included Infosys Limited, one of India’s leading technology services firms, and Larsen & Toubro Limited, one of the country’s largest conglomerates with services that range from equipment manufacturing to engineering and financial services to electrical, automation, IT and financial products. The visit is among about a half-dozen we have taken in the last four years, answering your challenge in our Strategic Framework to keep building on the global perspective that is so important to help shape our student body, our academic programs and our research.

I am also proud to share the news that Foundation President Jim Moore and his team have crossed another milestone in their fundraising campaigns. To date, the unique campaigns at our three universities have collectively topped the $2.5 billion mark. And that’s more than just a big round number. It also means the campaigns are now our most successful fundraiser ever, topping the $2.43 billion that the Brilliant Futures campaign collected over eight-plus years when it ended in 2012. Our current campaigns are already at 81 percent of their combined $3.1 billion goal and will keep setting new records every day before they close more than two years from now. I am grateful to our generous donors for the support that makes the U of I System a cut above, three distinctive universities that are Altogether Extraordinary.

Finally, I want to assure you that the U of I System and our universities are taking every precaution to safeguard students, faculty and staff amid the global coronavirus outbreak. Each of our universities is leading its own outreach and response efforts, working with faculty, staff and students to address the unique needs of their campus communities. They also are part of a system-wide planning and response team I appointed earlier this month that is meeting regularly to guide best practices and ensure communication and information-sharing across the system. It is led by Dr. Robert Barish, who oversees our hospital, clinics and academic colleges in Chicago as UIC’s vice chancellor for health affairs. The team includes experts from all three of our universities, as well as our regional medical campuses, and the top two administrators from the system and each our universities.

As part of our collective efforts, Urbana-Champaign has already called home students studying in regions where the virus was worsening (Italy and South Korea) and cancelled study abroad trips over next week’s spring break. UIC students have left Italy, and study abroad programs to China and South Korea were cancelled before they began. UIC also is encouraging its students everywhere on study abroad or exchange programs to return to the U.S. UIS has only a few students studying abroad this semester and none in affected areas, but remains in constant communication with all of them. UIS also has already cancelled a summer study abroad program to China Our universities also are looking further ahead, reviewing future study abroad programs and developing plans in the event international students can’t get home after the semester or if new international students can’t get here in the fall.

On a system-wide level, we also are developing consistent guidelines for travel by students, faculty and staff and for limiting the size of events to reduce prospects of exposure.  We all share the hope that our work will be a short-term assignment, and that the virus’s spread is soon halted. Until then, we will do everything in our power to ensure the welfare of our students and employees.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and my thanks to the board for your service.