URBANA — Rebuilding the faculty ranks, boosting support for students who struggle academically or socially, helping faculty connect with potential collaborators and obtain more funding.
These are among the initiatives outlined in a report released by University of Illinois leaders following a lengthy planning process on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Provost Ilesanmi "Ade" Adesida issued the Visioning Excellence outcomes report Wednesday.
Wise went on a "listening and learning tour" shortly after she arrived campus in the fall of 2011. She met with faculty, staff and students to find out why they chose to come to Illinois and why they've stayed. Last fall, the chancellor kicked off the "Visioning Future Excellence" process, in which people were asked to consider society's most pressing challenges in the decades to come and how the university can address those challenges.
Several brainstorming sessions, focus groups and meetings later, six themes emerged: economic development; education; energy and environment; health and wellness; information and technology; and social equality and cultural understanding. For each theme, a committee came up with dozens of recommendations for short- and mid-term actions. Those recommendations were released earlier this spring when Wise and Adesida held a town hall meeting on campus.
The recently released report, Wise told The News-Gazette, "summarizes what we did in the initial phase, identifies the six themes and outlines what we learned from that in terms of continuing improvement and new steps."
In recent months, administrators have been drawing up a strategic plan, a process that came out of the visioning excellence exercise. The strategic plan, which focuses on the next three to five years, will be released in a few weeks.
The plan will show not only goals, Wise said, "but a plan of action with real assessment along the way."
As reported earlier this spring, one of the initiatives to come out of visioning excellence was the plan to hire 500 faculty in the next five to seven years. The number of tenure-track faculty has declined in recent years because of retirements and faculty leaving for opportunities elsewhere. Faculty hires will be in the strategic areas named in the process and there will be "cluster" hires in areas such as energy, sustainability and the environment, Wise said.
"This initiative will take awhile," she said of strategically hiring faculty. Search committees are being formed now. Departments will recruit new assistant professors and mid-career ones who have obtained tenure at other institutions.
"I think the magical thing we're trying to do is build clusters of faculty at all levels that create a critical mass and can be responsive to grant opportunities and teaching opportunities and public engagement opportunities," Wise said.
Some of the other initiatives planned, according to the report, include the following.
— A revision of general education that would encourage teaching courses that "cross departmental and disciplinary boundaries." Redesigned curricula would promote leadership, encourage critical thinking, information literacy and more.
— The vice provost for undergraduate education's office would make sure emerging technologies and data analysis were used to improve the way the campus delivers online and on-campus education.
— Create a faculty expertise database that could help connect researchers to potential collaborators.
— Create an office that would support faculty teams that are working on large and multidisciplinary research projects.
— Create a chancellor and provost faculty advisory council on diversity and cultural understanding
— Coordinate programs on campus that support student diversity. Increase endowment that supports scholarships.
— Establish the veterans' education and support systems research initiative which would build on the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education currently under development.
— Enhance local economic development by bringing together a chancellor's economic development team that includes community and campus leaders.
A list of all the initiatives for continuous improvement, plus new strategic initiatives, can be found in the report. It can be downloaded from http://oc.illinois.edu/visioning/reports/VFE_outcomesreport.pdf.