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Remarks, November 16 meeting of the Board of Trustees

Delivered by U of I President Tim Killeen 

Fundraising campaign

Many of you were among the thousands who attended celebrations hosted by our three universities last month that kicked off the largest and most ambitious fundraising campaign in our history. The unique initiative is custom-made … built on individual, campus-based campaigns that target the distinctive priorities and aspirations of each university. Combined, it aims to raise $3.1 billion over the next five years to support our students, our faculty and staff, our programs and facilities, and our collective dreams for the future.
Our dreams are big, so we had to set the bar high.

The goal is nearly $1 billion more than our successful Brilliant Futures campaign, which also made history when it was launched a decade ago. And it puts the U of I System among just eight public universities in the nation with current campaigns seeking more than $3 billion. But thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are already nearly halfway there. At the end of October, $1.5 billion had been raised to support our push toward the high aspirations of our Strategic Framework and our next era of service to students, progress and the public good.

The total includes a transformative gift that is reflected in your agenda today … naming Urbana-Champaign’s College of Business as the Gies College of Business. The $150 million gift from Chicago businessman Larry Gies and his wife Beth, both Urbana alumni, is the largest in the university’s 150-year history and one of the largest ever to any business school in the U.S. And it will help drive the business school toward the goal that we also have targeted for the System as a whole … to be recognized as the nation’s very best in all that we do. My thanks to Larry, Beth and all of our donors for their generosity, and to our dedicated staff at the U of I Foundation and at our universities for leading this important initiative.

We are supporting them at the System level with a new marketing platform we are calling, “ALTOGETHER EXTRAORDINARY.” I think it captures exactly who we are, and the profound impact that our three great universities have on the public good. A booklet I have provided for each of you today provides more perspective and I would like to show a short video that helps illustrate our critical role in fostering an even better tomorrow. 

I hope the video gave you the same sense of pride it gave me … reflecting what the U of I System is and what it can become.


I had the pleasure of joining Governor Rauner and Mayor Emanuel last month for the governor’s announcement of another important initiative … that the U of I System will lead a new world-class research center that will massively accelerate innovation and economic growth here in Chicago and across the state. Trustee Cepeda and Trustee Edwards were among more than 200 university, business, community and state leaders who attended the ceremony on a greenfield site in the South Loop that will be home to the Discovery Partners Institute, or DPI.

The property along the Chicago River has been donated by Chicago developer Related Midwest and the gift kicks off work on an implementation plan that we will complete next year, including a timetable for opening and other details of the $1.2 billion institute. Fundraising also is now underway for the unique public-private initiative, which will be developed and operated principally through private donations and partnerships with business and industry.

DPI will deliver a high-powered jolt to the momentum that has been growing rapidly here in Chicago through 1871, MATTER, mHUB and other incubators to build the innovation infrastructure that is now so crucial to create new businesses and new jobs.

DPI will bring well over 100 of the world’s very best research faculty and staff to Chicago to pursue discovery that addresses our most pressing challenges … from cybersecurity to new lifesaving drugs to breakthroughs in agriculture to feed an ever-growing world. They will work closely with our world-class researchers at UIC and in Urbana-Champaign and from partner institutions that already include the University of Chicago and Northwestern. Researchers also will work side-by-side with companies large and small from across Chicagoland, providing expertise to solve their real-world challenges and grow their businesses. And they will work side-by-side with students … about 1,800 a year when DPI reaches full operation … nurturing the inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

DPI also will be the centerpiece of a virtually connected statewide enterprise we are creating called the Illinois Innovation Network. The network will connect DPI’s researchers with university and business partners in other regions, fostering innovation to lift communities across the state. We intend to take the network to the homes of our universities in Urbana-Champaign and Springfield, of our satellite campuses in Peoria and Rockford and of future university partners from DeKalb to Carbondale.

Israel trip

As I mentioned earlier, DPI will fast-track discovery and innovation by bringing top researchers to Chicago and fostering partnerships that will connect them with brilliant colleagues around the world. So the institute was front and center in our discussions when I joined a U of I delegation that accompanied Governor Rauner on his recent trade mission to Israel.

During the weeklong trip, we met with leading universities and research agencies across Israel, which has earned a global reputation as the “Start-up Nation” through the same culture of innovation that DPI will bring to Illinois. Israel is flourishing through innovation. Between 1999 and 2014, research discovery helped launch more than 10,000 new companies. Half are still in operation today, and about 3 percent have annual revenues that top $100 million.

There was strong interest in DPI during our meetings, which also produced memorandums of understanding between the U of I System and four of Israel’s leading universities. Those agreements will connect each of our best-in-class universities with Technion University, Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University. More meetings will now follow to forge groundbreaking research collaborations that lead the way to progress, and on exchange programs that prepare students to succeed in the increasingly global workplace that now awaits them.

Our trip also established connections beyond higher education, including meetings with the Israel Innovation Authority, Smart Cities of Jerusalem, and Tsofen, a non-profit that promotes integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into high-tech industry.

The international trip is another step toward the goals of our Strategic Framework that challenge us build on our rich legacy of global impact and pre-eminence.

Enrollment highlights

We also are continuing our progress here at home.

Days after your last meeting, we announced that fall enrollment increased nearly 3 percent to more than 83,300 students across the System … a record high for the fifth straight year. We also showed gains in other important areas that we have targeted in our strategic planning.

We saw a 2.4 percent increase among in-state undergraduates, and Illinois students comprise about 80 percent of undergraduates enrolled this fall. In addition, enrollment of African-American and Latino undergraduates increased for the sixth straight year. African-American undergraduate enrollment is up 1.1 percent, while Latino enrollment grew 12.5 percent. Combined, African-American and Latino students comprise nearly 25 percent of this fall’s undergraduate enrollment across the System.

Overall growth keeps us on pace to reach the high-aspiration target we set last January for a nearly 15 percent enrollment increase by fall 2021, to more than 93,600.

Faculty hiring

We also continue build up our ranks of faculty, who define our excellence and are at the center of everything we do.
For the current academic year, we have added 600 new tenure and non-tenure system faculty across our three universities, up more than 20 percent from 492 during the same period last year.

And I am delighted to report that we have received and approved our first two applications for funding under the new distinguished faculty hiring initiative we launched in September. One is from Urbana-Champaign, one is from UIC and each provides at least $1 million that the universities can now use as they ramp up their recruiting efforts for these world-class professors.

The three-year, $60 million program aims to recruit 10 to 15 star faculty each year … and as many as 45 over the course of the program … faculty of national and global distinction in a broad range of disciplines who will add to our ranks of leading-edge scholars that include Nobel laureates, members of national academies and MacArthur genius grant winners. The initiative is off to a fast start through the funding approved for Urbana and UIC, and we expect more funding requests soon.


We also continue to expand the state-of-the-art facilities that ensure a transformative experience for our growing student body and breakthrough discovery by our world-class faculty.

The list of projects currently in the works includes two iconic buildings will begin taking shape soon here at UIC … a new engineering innovation building and a unique living-learning center that will house more than 500 students as well as classrooms and shops.

UIS will add an iconic new campus landmark in January with the opening of its first-ever student union.

In Urbana-Champaign, construction will begin soon on the Siebel Center for Design, a new hub for student-focused learning and discovery, and major renovations are underway at Everitt Laboratory, Turner Hall and the Natural History Building.

There is more than $484 million … nearly a half-billion … of new building and renovation projects in construction across the System. Another $383 million, like the UIC projects and Urbana’s design center, is in the design phase and getting close to ground breaking. Many more are in discussions at each of our universities, including an outline of Urbana-Champaign’s long-range vision in the master plan on today’s agenda.

Closing comment

In closing, after two years where financial challenges and uncertainty commanded much our attention, our energy and focus is now squarely on our future.

We have developed a progressive legislative agenda and launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to support our efforts.

We are always stretching to reach the high aspiration goals of our Strategic Framework … growing enrollment and adding world-class faculty, investing in infrastructure and the student experience, building on the statewide innovation ecosystem that will drive economic growth, and recommitting to diversity, inclusion and excellence in everything we do.

I am grateful to the board for its guidance and support as we continue to build on this vital and growing $6.5 billion enterprise … a key engine of progress that truly is “Altogether Extraordinary.”