A report to the U. of I. Board of Trustees at its Sept. 10 meeting outlining the University Senates Conference's 2015 agenda led to pledges from both groups to work together to better meet the U. of I.'s civic land-grant responsibilities.
The conversation comes as new President Timothy L. Killeen works to develop a systemwide strategic plan by next year.
"The USC wants to be an active partner in the strategic planning process," said Nicholas Burbules, the USC chair and a professor of education policy, organization and leadership.
Burbules said many of the issues presented by Killeen at a recent board retreat are systemwide challenges that call for the participation of the faculty of all three campuses.
He said some of those issues include significantly and strategically increasing enrollment and pursuing student and faculty diversity. He said there are multiple components to campus diversity that include underrepresented minorities and rural, first-in-family or international students.
"We need to make progress on all of these," he said.
Other issues include the increasing role of online instruction, student preparation for academic success before and during college, and how to better collaborate across the three campuses.
He said they all lead to deeper institutional questions, not only about the relationship between campuses, but between faculty, administrators, board members, campuses and the university at large.
"We need to be working together in all of these areas," he said. "We need to develop multiple metrics of success and models of expanded cooperation. We need to ask, 'What kind of system are we?'"
Trustee Patrick J. Fitzgerald agreed with Burbules' call for the board to work more closely with USC committees to ensure all parties are pulling in the same direction.
"We should all do better to work together," he said.
Trustee James D. Montgomery said he would like to see a greater emphasis placed on addressing the issue of high school graduates who may be ill-prepared to take college courses.
Burbules said he envisions a U. of I. Extension-style program that would bolster state K-12 instruction and better help students prepare for college.
The challenge, he said, especially in rural and economically depressed school districts, is finding teachers who are qualified to teach college gateway courses – or finding ways to work more closely with high schools and community colleges to get that information to students.
"We need to have some input to that (elementary and secondary education) process or we're not dealing with the root of the problem," Montgomery said.
"It's obvious that success in college starts at a very early age," said Trustee Timothy Koritz.