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Remarks, July 23, 2020 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

As prepared for delivery by President Tim Killeen

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

Just a little over four weeks from now, our three universities are set to welcome students back for the fall semester. The return was mapped by literally hundreds of faculty, staff and leaders from across the system who shared their time and talents to build the framework for a semester that will be unlike any in our history. Our plans will maintain the academic excellence that attracted record enrollment the last seven years, this time through a unique hybrid mix of in-person and online classes. Faculty across all three universities have been working hard to re-design courses, embrace the latest technology, and ensure that students will have the kind of cutting-edge educational experiences that we are known for. And, at every step, our operations will be rooted firmly in promoting the safety of our students, faculty and staff, and the communities we call home.

Our safety protocol is leading-edge across the board, from saliva-based testing that provides campus-wide coverage and next-day results to a phone app that alerts users if they have been near someone who tested positive for COVID. Both were developed in Urbana and, in a few minutes, Chancellor Jones will elaborate on his campus’s plans for fall, including safety protocols that we plan to expand across the system. I am deeply grateful to everyone who contributed to our plans for a safe and productive return, and to the board for its leadership and support throughout the process.

Students are eager to join us. This summer our enrollments are up. And our projections for fall show that system-wide enrollment should hold steady despite the pandemic. We are working hard to provide financial support as well as a safe and welcoming environment for new and returning students. The enrollment numbers are encouraging … a reflection of students’ faith in us to watch over their safety and their confidence in our power to unlock the doors to their dreams. Arranging the return of students to our campuses and managing through the other impacts of the COVID crisis have consumed much of our attention over the last few months. But they haven’t slowed the myriad other day-to-day efforts that make the U of I System a true world leader in education and innovation.

Through an initiative we launched two years ago, we continue to add distinguished faculty across a broad range of disciplines who are expanding the system’s global standing as a go-to destination for students and research funding. The first cohort added 14 new professors and you met some of them during a presentation to the board last year, experts in fields ranging from bioengineering and business to healthcare and public finance. Barb Wilson is working with the provosts to help recruit the next cohort, which to date includes at least seven new professors, with a possibility of 11 total, in crucial disciplines such as aerospace engineering, pharmacology, chemistry, sociology, education and business. The multi-year, $60 million initiative has more than paid for itself through the tens of millions of dollars in research funding and the global prestige these professors have brought to our campuses.

Our overall research portfolio also continues to rise, a tribute to the excellence of our world-class faculty and their power to discover, innovate and drive progress. Current research funding stands at $1.06 billion for FY19, up from $1.02 billion the previous year and near the top among university systems nationwide.

We also continue to move forward judiciously with the 10-year capital program you approved to ensure that our facilities match the excellence of our faculty and programs. Though some projects are on hold to control costs during the COVID crisis, high priority work is moving ahead unabated. That includes UIC’s new outpatient surgery center, the new hospital welcome atrium on today’s agenda, and a permanent new home for our Discovery Partners Institute. We are currently in the process of selecting an architect for DPI and expect to sign an agreement soon for the land that Related Midwest will donate for the facility. Architect selection is expected to be completed in late fall, with groundbreaking projected for 2022 and completion in 2025. 

I am also delighted to share the news of another extraordinary year for our advancement partners. Preliminary reports from the University of Illinois Foundation indicate that, for the first time in the Foundation’s 85-year history, both cash and new business totals each exceeded $400 million in a single fiscal year, with cash at $420 million and new business at $459 million. In addition, fundraising campaigns in Urbana, Chicago and Springfield continue to report significant positive progress and are now collectively 88 percent toward their ambitious $3.1 billion goal. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our chancellors, deans and advancement teams, the system is trending well ahead of pace with two more years to go before the campus-based campaigns close in 2022.

In a time of crisis, the University of Illinois advancement community was also able to pivot to a new, shared cause: raising funds to support both COVID-19 research and the students, faculty and staff who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. The willingness of our staff to quickly address this growing and unexpected need is greatly appreciated. The Foundation will release official, fiscal year 2020 figures and campaign updates in conjunction with its annual business meeting in October. But it is incredibly encouraging to see these preliminary numbers and the positive signs that our loyal and generous alumni and friends have not wavered in their support of the University of Illinois System, even in the most challenging times. 

I am also grateful to the public safety departments at our three universities for coming together to answer the national call for equity and restraint that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Their collaboration has developed a series of important joint initiatives that each department will implement as part of their essential work in protecting our campuses. All officers will undergo both de-escalation and use-of-force training, to be conducted by the director of Urbana’s Police Training Institute, and this training will be completed by the end of August. Each campus will also form a police liaison board made up of faculty, students, staff and community leaders. The boards will review policies and procedures, as well as providing ongoing advice on policing issues, and will be appointed by our chancellors this fall. Our universities will also adopt the NAACP’s shared principles, a set of 10 core values designed to build and foster trust between police and the communities they protect and serve. All three campuses will also look into adding a social worker or mental health counselor to every police shift, so as to provide insight from trained professionals to manage difficult situations.

I am also proud to report that we are also working on another important new initiative to help achieve the racial equality and justice that has evaded our country for far too long. We are creating a new, system-wide center that will bring together experts from across our universities and beyond to take a deep, scholarly, interdisciplinary look at racial inequities and tackle solutions. The idea grew from a series of in-depth listening sessions we had in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and we hope to have plans in place by fall. The center will be located in Chicago, and will generate public policy recommendations to effect real change, and to foster understanding and awareness. We will update you as the initiative progresses, and look forward to sharing our expertise to help steer our state and our nation onto a path of racial healing and transformation, toward the America that we can and must become. This initiative will complement and reinforce significant new efforts to address these systemic issues that are being undertaken at our universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. Just today, Chancellor Jones announced a comprehensive new “Call to Action” to his university community. It will leverage the campus’s leading-edge scholarship in social justice, equity and inclusion to promote meaningful and lasting change. The first component will be the Chancellor’s Research Program to Address Racism and Social Justice, which will fund new faculty scholarship focused on health disparities, systemic racism, and policing and criminal justice reform. Chancellor Jones will share more details about the initiative in a moment. 

UIC has historically been at the forefront of the nation’s universities, having created many institutional structures and programs that have led to significant gains in diversity and inclusion over the years. And, now, it will continue building on its mission with an even stronger focus on Black students, faculty and staff. That includes a new system of accountability that will be established for faculty recruitment and retention. UIC also will build more strategic relationships with K-12 schools on the South and West sides of Chicago. It will increase academic support and professional development services for Black students on campus. UIC’s healthcare enterprise will expand healthcare delivery efforts and community partnerships in the Chicago neighborhoods that have faced disproportionate hardship and harm because of COVID-19 and structural racism. And UIC has been actively including Black student voices in every task force and effort to inform the outcomes.

At UIS, efforts are already underway through the campus’s Diversity Center and the Coalition Builders, a leadership training organization that works to eliminate prejudice and conflict. Both are hosting virtual listening-and-learning sessions every week for students and other UIS community members, promoting difficult but much-needed conversations and providing opportunities to share concerns. It has been a great way to begin the healing, opening the hearts and minds of our campus community.

Like everything we do, these initiatives are focused on marshalling our resources to serve the public good.

And, in closing, I would like to share a short video that captures those efforts on another crucial front: the fight against COVID-19. Our contributions have been impactful and far-reaching: from healthcare workers on the front lines, to epidemiological modeling that guided the state’s prevention efforts, to cutting-edge clinical trials, including one now underway at UIC for a new vaccine. I hope that they make you as proud as I am to be part of this remarkable, life-changing university system.

Thank you again, Chair Edwards, and my thanks to the board for your leadership and support.