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Remarks, July 22, 2021 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

As prepared for delivery by President Tim Killeen

Good morning, everyone.

It seems that John Lennon had it right. The late Beatle once said that everything always turns out OK in the end.

“If it’s not OK,” he said, “it’s not the end.”

And here we are, back together again as we inch closer and closer to the end of a global crisis that has gripped all of our lives for nearly a year and a half.

I know we are all grateful for the lifeboat that Zoom provided throughout the pandemic, a lifeboat rooted in the virtual chat rooms pioneered decades ago by U of I scientists. The online technology has kept us afloat for the last 17 months...through seven board meetings, as well as teaching, learning, research and all of our other important missions that our remarkable faculty and staff have sustained across the U of I System. But there are just no words high-voltage enough to describe how good it feels to be here with you in person without worrying about your Wi-Fi connection, mute button or whether the dogs will come clomping in, barking to be let out. It’s yet another sign that the familiar rhythms of campus life that we’ve missed so much are on their way back.

Last month, for the first time since the pandemic began, Roberta and I hosted an event at the Presidents House, which normally welcomes guests at least every other week. It was a chance to celebrate Barb Wilson and give her the sendoff she deserved before taking office last week as president of the University of Iowa. Bittersweet as the occasion was, the smiles were ear-to-ear as colleagues and friends saw each other live and in person, many for the first time since they left their offices to work from home in March of 2020. The joyful reunions are trending up.

Faculty and staff will be returning in force as the fall semester nears, many on new, flexible schedules enabled by our experiences during the pandemic that will let them divide time between working on campus and at home. Students will return next month to classes and labs that will largely be held in-person, with hybrid and online provisions for some large, lecture-style classes. And they will return to campuses committed to their safety, under a requirement that all students who are able to do so be vaccinated against COVID. Those students will enjoy a pre-pandemic campus experience, without requirements for testing, wearing masks and social distancing. On-campus students with health conditions or other reasons why they cannot be vaccinated will need to apply for exemptions and, if granted, follow campus-specific guidelines such as testing and masks. 

Our vaccination requirement has been applauded by independent observers such as the editorial board of the Champaign News-Gazette and Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke, who said the U of I System “is doing the right thing for its students and for the communities those students call home.”

That has been Job One all along.

It was the impetus behind the SHIELD testing protocol pioneered by our brilliant UIUC researchers that made our campuses the safest in the nation last year. And it was behind efforts such as our clinical testing of vaccines at UIC and the vaccination centers UIC hosted that provided more than 137,000 shots for people across Chicagoland, including over 111,000 on campus and at Credit Union 1 Arena.

When students, faculty and staff return for the fall, they will find campuses where facilities continue to expand and keep pace with our academic excellence.

Here in Chicago, construction is underway on a new $196 million outpatient surgery center and construction on the $118 million Computer Design Research and Learning Center will begin shortly. In Urbana-Champaign, the $48 million Siebel Design Center will open this fall, along with the $75 million Campus Instructional Facility. In Springfield, design work is nearing completion for the new $35 million Library, Learning and Student Success Center that will replace the campus’s existing library and foster collaboration across disciplines. The projects are part of a system-wide initiative launched in the summer of 2018 to complete more than 500 capital projects valued at $4 billion over 10 years. Interim Executive Vice President Avijit Ghosh has provided you updates on the progress of this plan periodically. But I wanted to provide a quick summary for you today.  

In just three years, about 140 new construction and renovation projects valued at more than $920 million have been completed, and nearly 200 additional projects valued at $1.5 billion are in design or construction. Among others, completed projects have added the $120 million Academic and Residential Complex at UIC, the $73 million Illinois Dining Facility Renovation and Addition at UIUC, and a $1 million renovation of the Department of Allied Health’s facilities at UIS. Along with new buildings, we have completed many major renovation and deferred maintenance projects at each of our three universities … important work that keeps our facilities leading edge while also preserving our history. Projects in the pipeline include the $165 million Drug Discovery and Innovation Center at UIC, the $192 million Altgeld-Illini Hall renovation in Urbana-Champaign, the $15 million Capital Innovation Center at UIS and the $250 million permanent headquarters for our Discovery Partners Institute. The capital initiative is ensuring facilities keep pace with fast-changing student needs and has been enabled by bigger toolbox of funding options. They include public-private partnerships, thoughtful use of our capital reserves and bonding authority, and generous state capital funding first approved in fiscal 2019 after a decade of minimal or no state dollars for bricks-and-mortar work. I am grateful to Avijit and his team and to our chancellors, provosts and campus leadership for the creativity and commitment that are adding to the drawing power of our universities and their power to nurture the talentand innovation that will move Illinois and our nation forward.

That power also is growing at our Discovery Partners Institute and its Pritzker Tech Talent Labs. Their talent programs are real and expanding rapidly to meet the needs of students and the needs of employers in Chicago and across Illinois. Already, DPI’s programs have served more than 500 students and they plan to double that to more than 1,000 in the next year alone. Our programs are providing high-tech training to the full range of next-generation workers emerging scholars from high schools, the best-and-brightest from our campuses and other top universities, and workers currently on the job who want to build new skills. And every program is rooted in a core commitment to diversity and inclusion, providing life-changing opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups that will drive social and economic mobility and help bridge the gap between the haves and have nots.

Here are just a few of the many talent programs underway at DPI:

Over the last year, nearly 70 computer science and computer engineering students from Urbana came to Chicago for an experiential-based program that provides a semester of courses along with part-time internships at leading tech companies. Another 30 students worked on meaningful research projects led by science teams in a program led by DPI in partnership with the U of I System and the Illinois Institute of Technology. More than 300 students participated in a program launched during the COVID pandemic to help displaced workers upskill or reskill themselves for tech jobs. And the Pritzker Talent Labs’ fast-growing programs include one that attracted nearly 70 students last spring. Led by UIC and the Fullstack Academy, the leading software development bootcamp, the program provided accelerated tech training in software development, data science and cybersecurity. Those programs, and all of the others already in place or in development, reflect the driving mission behind DPI: to provide the real-life skills and the real-world innovation that will lift the lives of students, lift our businesses and industry, and lift our state to an even better tomorrow.

Thank you, Chair Edwards, and my thanks to the board for your service to this ever-growing university system.