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Remarks, September 20, 2020 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

As prepared for delivery by President Tim Killeen

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

Almost three weeks ago, we began a new academic year that is sure to be unlike any in our long history. But I am proud to report that one very important thing hasn’t changed: The University of Illinois System remains a go-to destination, a place where the best-and-brightest students from across our state and around the world turn to pursue their dreams. Even amid the pressures of a global pandemic and the economic downturn that followed, system-wide enrollment grew this fall, albeit modestly, topping 90,000 for the first time and setting a record for the eighth straight year. Combined, enrollment at our universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield increased by more than 1 percent to 90,343 students, based on 10-day enrollment figures, up from 89,270 students a year ago. The fact that enrollment grew during the most challenging period in any of our lifetimes is a testament to our academic excellence, to the hard work of our admissions and recruitment teams, and to the extraordinary steps we have taken to promote both student safety and affordability.

Last spring, with the help of CARES Act funding, we created a new fund that is providing at least $36 million in targeted financial aid system-wide to help students facing hardships due to COVID-19. It is helping cover unexpected needs from housing to supplies to tuition, including covering this year’s sub-inflationary tuition increase for every new, in-state student who joined us this fall. And it is being provided on top of nearly $240 million in institutional financial aid that we already provide annually, funds that we have more than doubled over the last decade in our ongoing efforts to support our students.

Their interests were also front-and-center as we mapped out plans to safely resume in-person instruction this fall. The SHIELD saliva-testing and surveillance program that our brilliant researchers at Urbana-Champaign pioneered is unmatched, and a source of immense pride for all of us who are associated with the U of I System and for the people of our state. Interim Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation Jay Walsh will talk more about SHIELD shortly, and about our efforts to make it available to universities, schools, businesses and other entities across the state and around the world that have expressed interest since our program was launched. I also want to thank Jay for his testimony yesterday before the U.S. House Science Committee’s Research and Technology Subcommittee. Jay was called to share his unique insights with the subcommittee as it examines the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the U.S. academic research enterprise, and explores what will be needed to recover from those setbacks and restore its crucial pipeline of innovation and STEM talent.

The SHIELD program has allowed us to do something many universities couldn’t do this fall: welcome back students physically to our campuses.I am delighted that so many of them have joined us, and hope they will continue to pull together, follow our protocols to curb the spread of COVID and ensure that some in-person instruction can continue through the end of this historic academic year. And I am grateful to our dedicated leadership, our busy admission and recruitment professionals, our pioneering researchers and all of our faculty and staff for the extraordinary work that brought us to this point.

For our students, these are especially challenging times. They are juggling their studies, jobs, family and friends in a time of unparalleled uncertainty caused by the multiple stresses of the pandemic, the economic downturn and our national reckoning over social justice. Next week, we are kicking off an ongoing effort focused on student mental and emotional health, an effort that took root long before our current challenges but one that is especially timely now. The system-wide initiative will begin with a virtual symposium next Wednesday featuring a keynote address by Dr. Gary Glass, director of counseling and career Services at Emory University. Dr. Glass is a licensed psychologist who has been working with colleges and students for more than 20 years, promoting a community-based approach that focuses on both individuals and campus culture. The event also will foster a dialog among our talented faculty, staff and student leaders across the system, and more than 400 have signed up to learn and share insights. I am grateful to them for their commitment to the wellbeing of our students, and I look forward to innovative ideas and approaches that this event will spark.

Finally, I mentioned in July that we 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 temporarily on hold to control costs during the COVID crisis, high priority work is moving ahead unabated. And I am happy to report that a new facility that has been in the works for years will open next week: a new state-of-the-art lab that will add to UIC’s standing as a global leader in medical training and innovation. The Surgical Innovation & Training Laboratory will provide world-class, hands-on training for all surgical disciplines, with a particular emphasis in the fields of microsurgery and robotic surgery. The advanced simulation at the 16,000-square-foot facility will be a training ground for the highly skilled surgeons of tomorrow and a magnet where surgeons from around the world will join them to explore and innovate. The $8.8 million lab is the product of years of planning and fundraising by UIC’s its departments of surgery and neurosurgery and its Robotic Surgery Center. My thanks and congratulations to everyone involved in a project that will pay dividends for our medical students, and the patients they serve, for generations to come.

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