U. of I. President Tim Killeen
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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The U. of I system’s long-term strategic plan will leverage the combined academic power of all three campuses to uphold the land-grant principle of “serving the public good,” while continuing to offer students a diversified, world-class liberal arts education.
That was the message of President Tim Killeen, who held the last town hall-style meeting March 14 on the Urbana campus to gather input for the final strategic plan document. The plan will be presented to the board of trustees for approval at its May 19 meeting.
Killeen assured those attending that the new plan will not replace campus strategic plans, but will serve as a “chapeau” connoting the university’s overall mission of academics and public engagement. He said the campuses would maintain autonomy and the thought of “territory” would eventually fade away. He said university websites already were referring to the university system without differentiating campuses.
“The ‘S-word’ (system) has been in and out of the lexicon (at the U. of I.),” he said. “It’s firmly there (in the strategic plan), and it may well be capitalized.”
Putting more emphasis on the U. of I. system gives leaders “an incredible opportunity to get this right,” he said. “If we get this right, it will be a much healthier place. It’s not to constrain, but to allow empowerment. With that comes responsibility.”
Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson, who joined Killeen in answering questions, said she is firmly behind the system emphasis and the aspirations in the strategic plan. She said talk of the system and how the campuses relate had become “baggage” that wasn’t moving the university forward.
“We’re committed, the two of us, to get on a different path,” she said. “It can’t be everything to everybody, but it can set the right tone going forward.”
She said the campuses would have to work in unison to rise to the challenging times and prove the importance of higher education in making societal – in this case, state-level – change.
“It’s all on us to articulate the role of higher education in society, but it’s hard,” she said. “We can be better if our three universities are aligned and we’re working together. The campus plan will dovetail and work in conjunction with the (systemwide) plan.”
Killeen said he has met with more than 500 campus members through a variety of engagement activities. He said the input has made, and will continue to make, the draft plan better.
“There were some jaw-dropping moments,” Killeen said. “I hope everyone has felt like they had the opportunity to participate.”
Transcripts of the sessions and a draft of the plan can be viewed online.
The plan has four sections that Killeen called “pillars.” They are: a healthy future for Illinois; an institution of and for our students; an accessible, networked, 24/7 university; and effective stewardship and efficient use of resources. Each of the pillars includes a list of aspirations to meet each goal.
The plan also proposes to better leverage U. of I. Extension to give the university an even stronger statewide presence, and to establish “innovation clusters” at various locations in the state that support industry. It also promises to “identify the most critical current and future workforce needs of the state,” and to develop programs that serve them.
Killeen said the board of trustees had been apprised of the plan’s content, and that he was still working on addressing some “balancing” issues based on the public feedback before the board receives a final document. He said more details of what the plan will look like in action would be revealed at the annual faculty retreat this spring.
“We’ll really launch some exciting components to it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Killeen has been working with the U. of I. legislative caucus to draft a “shell bill” outlining ways to “regularize our relationship with the state.” Referred to as the state compact, the deal would increase university accountability in reaching state goals in exchange for long-term funding promises and regulatory relief from the state.
Participants at the March 14 town hall had several suggestions for Killeen’s plan.
Among them were:
- Find ways to accurately measure success of the strategic plan.
- Reduce the expectations of outside forces for a quick financial return on academic investment.
- Better emphasize internationalism and diversity.
- Ensure that graduates are lifelong learners and valuable members of their community.
- Better emphasize the importance of sustainable energy practices.
- Leverage U. of I. public broadcasting assets to better promote the university’s work.