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Remarks, May 21, 2020 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

As perpared for delivery for President Tim Killeen

Opening remarks

Thank you for the opportunity to offer opening remarks, Chairman Edwards, and good morning everyone.

I hope you, and your families and friends are safe and well as we all stay close to home and do our part to put the COVID-19 crisis behind us. The pandemic has created more disruption and uncertainty than any of us could have ever imagined, and our thoughts are with our students, faculty and staff, alumni and the people across Illinois whose lives have been upended. But it also is a time that has brought me immense pride in the University of Illinois System and its three truly extraordinary universities.

We are demonstrating our land-grant mission in real-time, marshalling our world-class resources to help preserve public health, solve the challenges the crisis has handed us and put Illinois on the road to recovery. About two months ago, most of our nearly 90,000 students went home to study and most of our more than 25,000 employees went home to work, an enormous contribution to the physical separation needed to slow COVID’s spread. Models show that every 50 days each of us spends at home saves one life, so you can see the far-reaching impact we have had in the more than 60 days since normal campus operations were suspended.

We are also battling COVID on the front lines at UI Health, where our dedicated team is working around the clock and providing the life-saving treatment that has sent home more than 900 patients who had tested positive. On a related note, I also want to thank Chairman Edwards and his wife Anne for the generous, $100,000 gift announced earlier this week to establish the UI Health Employee Relief Fund, which will support healthcare workers facing financial hardships due to COVID-19.

On top of our contributions in healthcare and social distancing, the intellectual power of our universities is making a profound difference day-in and day-out. To highlight just a few, UIC is at the forefront of cutting-edge clinical trials toward treatments and possible cures, including one for an antiviral drug first used to treat Ebola that is already proving effective in shortening recovery time. Experts from across the system are routinely providing up-to-date research to guide prevention efforts, and Urbana played a key role in epidemiological models cited by Governor Pritzker as a factor in his decision to invoke statewide stay-at-home orders. At the state’s request, UIS has been sharing its expertise as a pioneer in online education to help colleges and K-12 schools across Illinois transition to virtual learning. Also at the state’s request, our Discovery Partners Institute is coordinating efforts to expand testing across the entire state of Illinois … a key to both public health and reopening the economy. And about three dozen IGPA experts from across the system are examining the economic repercussions of the pandemic, and developing strategies to help Illinois rebound from the downturn.

It has been a remarkable team effort and I am so grateful to our students, faculty and staff, university and system leadership and our trustees for serving the needs of our state and showcasing the real-life impact of its flagship university system in real time.

The pandemic and its fallout will remain a top priority. That includes addressing the sudden and lingering financial impact on our students. To assist them, we created a new emergency fund last month that will provide at least $36 million in financial aid now and for the coming academic year. The Students FIRST COVID-19 Emergency Fund will help defray tuition, housing and other costs for undergraduate and graduate students experiencing unexpected shortfalls from a crisis that has cut deeply into the U.S. economy and left millions of Americans out of work. Financial aid for Illinois students will be a priority, including a guarantee to cover next year’s tuition increase for every new in-state undergraduate student. The fund will be managed by the three universities, and is expected to be needed only through the 2020-21 academic year, supporting students and their families until the pandemic hopefully ends and the economy recovers.

We also are looking ahead to fall. The system and each of our universities are examining the reopening of campuses and expect to have plans next month with the changes that might be required to ensure both safety and excellence. Transitioning to a “new normal” while retaining our world-class educational experience and protecting the health and safety of our campus communities will be the overarching priority. The effort will include a deep dive into issues such as how the pandemic will affect class sizes, residence hall occupancy, large sports or entertainment events, and other traditional campus activities. Things may not look exactly the same as they did when many of you last saw our campuses in March. But I am confident that with the appropriate protocols in place this fall, we will restore much of our face-to-face teaching, as well as lab-based research, residential life and the other unique benefits that make our campus communities second to none.

My thanks again to the board for its support, and I hope you share my pride in the University of Illinois System.Thank you for the opportunity to offer opening remarks, 

Closing remarks

Thank you, Chairman Edwards.

I am grateful to the board for the leadership and guidance that helped create the new sexual misconduct prevention measures that you approved today. I also want to thank Executive Vice President Barb Wilson and the system-wide task force that spent over a year developing a holistic approach that establishes new policies and procedures, along with education and training that will foster a culture of safety and success. The new measures reflect our commitment to healthy relationships and safe campus communities where everyone can study, work, learn and explore … free from sexual misconduct or harassment in any form.

I also want to thank the board for its support of the new, sustainability focused investment strategy that we announced last week. The U of I System is the lead investor in the new strategy launched by BlackRock Inc., a global asset manager and leader in sustainable investing. The BlackRock strategy tilts investments toward companies that rate highly on criteria related to environmental and societal impact, as well as future financial performance and societal impact. The dual focus on both returns and issues such as air and water pollution and pay parity matches the system’s values and a commitment to sustainability laid out in our Guiding Principles, which call for managing both our physical and fiscal resources with future generations in mind.

I also am delighted to welcome Jay Walsh as interim vice president for economic development and innovation, and my thanks to the board for approving his appointment today. Jay is a biomedical engineering scholar with a lengthy track record of turning transformative research into economic opportunity, and a lengthy record of distinguished leadership at Northwestern. His arrival means today’s board meeting will be the last for Ed Seidel, as it is for our Dee Dee Williams and Susan Koch. And I want to take this opportunity to thank them all, once again, for everything they have done for the U of I System, our students, our universities and the people of Illinois who we are so proud to serve. With Jay stepping in for Ed and Greg Knott already on board to succeed Dee Dee, we are focusing our attention on replacing Susan and hope to name an interim chancellor soon. Filling the position on an interim basis will provide time to work with the UIS community and explore the campus’ opportunities and challenges before we launch our national search for the best possible permanent successor. That dialogue has already begun, and we have been gathering input from faculty, staff and student leaders to help guide us in selecting both an interim and permanent chancellor.

In closing, I hope you have had a chance to see the virtual commencement videos produced by our three universities and, if not, please go to their websites and check them out. If you’re like me, all will give you a smile and a tear as they give the Class of 2020 the richly deserved congratulations they have earned. But we still plan to bring them back for a traditional face-to-face sendoff once COVID is under control, so stay tuned.

My thanks again to all of you for everything you do for the U of I System. Be safe, and I hope to see all of you back on campus very soon.