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Remarks, May 17, 2018 meeting of the Board of Trustees

Delivered by U of I President Tim Killeen

Record number of degrees awarded

Many of you joined the celebrations here at UIS and across the U of I System over the last week as our universities graduated the Class of 2018, including the 150th graduating class in Urbana-Champaign. When final counts are in, we expect total degrees for the 2017-18 academic year will top 22,000--a new record that will build on our nearly 20 percent growth over the last decade. This year alone, the U of I System sent off such a large number of graduates that they could populate a new city the size of Charleston, East Moline or Park Forest.

And, this marks our seventh straight year of awarding over 20,000 degrees--impressive numbers that add to an ever-growing global network of more than 720,000 U of I System alumni, including nearly 400,000 right here in Illinois.

Commencement is one of many signs that this is a university system on the move, guided by an ambitious plan you adopted that ensures we never stop stretching to do more for students and the public good.

Financial strength

Our improving financial position is another sign, and has positioned us to invest in expanding our power as an engine of progress.

Over the last year, our expenses have increased by just 1.4 percent--below the rate of inflation and a testament to an unflinching eye toward cost control and efficiencies. Meanwhile, we saw greater improvement in revenue last year, supported by restored state funding and new tuition dollars generated by another year of record enrollment.  And, in just a few minutes, U of I Foundation President Jim Moore will provide an update on the remarkable progress of our new fundraising campaigns. We are already more than halfway toward our ambitious $3.1 billion goal … just a few months after launch and years away from our 2022 deadline.

Enrollment growth is one of the surest signs of our strength, and has been driven by our reputation for excellence and a commitment to affordability that will freeze in-state tuition for the fourth straight year next fall. Our efforts have pushed system-wide enrollment to nearly 84,000 students and there are signs that next fall could extend our streak of record highs to a sixth consecutive year, moving us closer to our goal of topping 93,000 students by 2021. First-time freshman applications and admits are up over 6 percent, both record highs. And we have admitted over 7 percent more Illinois residents.

Investing in our buildings

To continue building on our strengths, we also are investing in our buildings. On today’s agenda alone, you will take action to advance nearly a dozen construction and renovation projects that will total more than a quarter of a billion dollars when completed. The list includes the new Siebel Center for Design, an innovative hub of student-focused learning and discovery, and a host of other improvements to classroom, research, athletic and residential facilities--all financed without state capital funding. The projects will help ensure that learning, laboratory and living spaces keep pace with the quality of our academic and research programs and maintain our standing as a go-to destination for top students and faculty. The projects also reflect the high priority that the board placed on facilities in January when it directed me to work with our chancellors and provosts to develop a long-range capital plan to ensure that future bricks-and-mortar investments support our strategic goals.

Faculty recruitment

Now, it is time to invest in another strength: our faculty. Faculty are the very heart of everything we do--the world-class talent behind the teaching and innovation that define our excellence, and the magnets that attract top students and highly competitive research grants.

But, in recent years, faculty hiring has lagged. As system-wide enrollment has increased about 7 percent over the last five years, by nearly 5,600 students, our faculty numbers have increased by only a little over 2 percent. After retirements and resignations, that translates to a net addition of only 139 faculty across all three universities. Of those, 62 are tenure-track and 77 are non-tenure track. The patterns differ a bit at each university, with UIC showing greater growth in non-tenure track faculty, many of which are clinical faculty, than at our other two universities. Nevertheless, we have not kept up with student growth.

This disparity stems in large part from the uncertainty of state support over the last few years. When faced with a budget impasse that lasted two years, our university leaders understandably have been hesitant to commit to hiring tenure-system faculty, which require recurring salary commitments and expensive start-up packages. This is an issue that cuts to our core; an issue that transcends campuses and disciplines, with implications now and into the future.It’s a matter of academic quality for our students--quality that erodes as faculty numbers lag and class sizes grow. Our academic excellence is rooted in a simple formula: right-sized classes, taught by top faculty who can give students the attention they need.

Ratings organizations know all about the formula, too. So as our class sizes increase, our rankings will decline.Certainly, we cannot pander to the rankings.But there is no denying that they influence our reputation and, in turn, the decisions of prospective students, faculty and staff whose talents have earned them the right to choose from the best.

So we must re-invest in talent.

Our Distinguished Faculty Hiring Program is one example of such a commitment. I am excited that we will announce very soon the initial cohort of stellar hires we have made from this program. We also need to leverage our firm financial position to ramp up the hiring of assistant professors. They are the faculty who will become our stars of tomorrow. I pledge to work with the chancellors to set an ambitious goal for faculty hiring over the next five years, a goal that will support our excellence and reputation across our the U of I System.

In the end, our universities rise on the quality of our students and faculty. As we grow one group, we must nourish and grow the other. 

Thank you for your time and your support.