Hiring, harassment top UI chancellor's list of initiatives

Hiring, harassment top UI chancellor's list of initiatives

URBANA — A $50 million faculty hiring initiative, including $10 million for computing and information sciences, was among the initiatives announced Thursday in Chancellor Robert Jones' "State of the State" address at the University of Illinois.

Jones also promised to act "without excuse and without delay" to improve policies and administrative practices for dealing with sexual harassment on campus, so students, faculty and staff are protected.

"Events of these past weeks clearly demonstrate that many in our community question whether our standards are sufficient," he said in his remarks. "As chancellor, I share those same concerns."

Jones said he has asked deans, the Academic Senate, Illinois Student Government, Faculty Advisory Committee, Council of Academic Professionals and Staff Advisory Council to work on the issue together, saying it's more than "one case in one college."

"It is unacceptable and alarming to me to know that members of our community do not feel empowered to report incidents, or that they have reason to believe that concerns of such a serious nature would not be addressed. I am sorry that individuals have had their lives disrupted and found their educational and professional experiences here impacted by unacceptable and inexcusable behavior. I'm sorry, and I am angry," Jones said, repeating an apology he made at a faculty meeting last week.

Speaking Thursday at the Illini Union, Jones hit themes that he said will be outlined further in the new campus strategic plan next semester.

He said the university is stepping into a "defining moment" in its history, citing progress in fundraising, student recruitment, and research, as well as challenges and expanded financial aid programs.

"Last year, we had potential. This year, we have momentum," Jones said.

'Invest aggressively'

Jones said the UI has rebounded "significantly" from the budget impasse two years ago in terms of retaining its best faculty, with a noticeable drop in the number of professors choosing to take competing offers.

The campus will leverage money from President Tim Killeen's Distinguished Faculty Hiring Program with its own five-year, $50 million hiring effort to make the Urbana campus a destination for "the best faculty talent in the world," Jones said.

"We're going to invest aggressively and strategically to bring in new faculty across the disciplinary breadth of the university and at all career levels — from assistant to full professor," he said.

Jones said $10 million of that will go toward "cluster hires" of professors in the digital sciences, information and computing, to build on plans for a Data Sciences Institute. Part of the $500 million in state funding earmarked for the UI's new Discovery Partners Institute will be used to transform Illini Hall into a new Data Sciences Center, seen as "a major hub for cross-disciplinary research, innovation, education and workforce development in data science and advanced analytics." The campus will also renovate Altgeld Hall to add more space for mathematics and statistics.

"We're going to invest in NCSA's high-performance computing infrastructure," he added, to ensure the campus will have the best academic computing center to lead the way in Big Data analytics research and innovation.

But technology alone won't solve the human challenges facing society, whether it's data security or health care, Jones said. The campus plans to elevate humanities programs by making the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities a campus institute, with added staff and infrastructure to expand research and education. The Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative will also become a formal center to strengthen research on poverty and health disparities, he said.

The Chief Illiniwek debate

To free up money to reinvest in strategic priorities, he said, an "operational excellence" project will work to streamline processes, reduce redundancies and improve efficiency and the quality of services across campus.

Jones also reviewed his efforts to bring a resolution to the Chief Illiniwek debate, with a commission of stakeholders from the "coalition of the willing" to start work next month reviewing recommendations from the recent "critical conversation" on the Chief. He directed the panel to give him its recommendations before the end of the spring semester "on a path forward to remember our history, explore new traditions and partner with native nations."

"We must put native peoples at the core of our efforts and find ways to honestly honor them. But we must also find ways to appropriately acknowledge our past with Chief Illiniwek that was a part of the history and ethos here for more than 80 years," he said.

The chancellor also emphasized the importance of creating a campus climate of "tolerance, dialogue and open expression."

"I believe these issues present an imminent threat to our university and to all of American higher education," he said. "It is imperative that we establish ourselves as a community where unpopular, unexpected or controversial viewpoints are greeted with reasoned and productive debate rather than with derision, insult or violence."

Noting the campus vigils that took place last week for victims of "hate-fueled shootings" in Pittsburgh and Kentucky, he said, "If the seeds of hatred, bigotry and discrimination find no ground to take root, they can never grow into the violence that too often brings us together in mourning and grief.

"We may not be able prevent such acts," he said. "But we absolutely can foster an environment and community built on the values of tolerance and respect."

He pledged to host more "critical conversations" on related topics and organize orientation programs on different religious practices.

Bonus for Killeen on UI trustees' agenda

Next week, UI trustees will have their yearly discussion about whether President Tim Killeen deserves a bonus.

In addition to Killeen's base salary of $600,000, he's eligible for an annual bonus of up to $100,000 if he meets certain goals.

In 2016 and 2017, trustees voted to do just that, giving him $100,000.

UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the exact amount Killeen is up for this year will not be released this week. Trustees meet Thursday in Chicago.