UI names first academic administrator for Discovery Partners Institute

UI names first academic administrator for Discovery Partners Institute

CHICAGO — As plans proceed on the Chicago development that will house the much-heralded Discovery Partners Institute, the University of Illinois has hired DPI's first academic administrator.

The UI announced Friday that Urbana sociology Professor Phyllis Baker — who has been working on the DPI project as a special assistant to President Tim Killeen for more than a year — will be the inaugural director of academic affairs at the Chicago-based research institute.

Baker, a former professor and administrator at the University of Northern Iowa, will develop and lead the institute's educational activities, the UI said.

Baker has helped oversee DPI's initial academic plans in her role as visiting special assistant but assumed the official job on April 22, pending formal approval by UI trustees on May 16 in Springfield. Her salary will be $157,000 annually.

"It is truly an honor to be on the ground floor of an initiative that will have a transformative impact on the lives of students, the city of Chicago and its local communities, the state of Illinois and beyond," Baker said in a release.

As planned, DPI will eventually be home to thousands of students and more than 100 top researchers who will work with academic, business and tech part-ners worldwide on break-throughs to drive innovation and economic growth in Chicago, the state and beyond, officials said.

Baker has worked with eight faculty working groups to define the vision and governance for DPI and develop its four research themes — computing and data, environment and water, food and agriculture, and health and wellness, said interim Director Bill Sanders.

"Phyllis brings with her a wealth of experience in academic administration, and I am thrilled to have her as part of the permanent leadership team of DPI," Sanders said in the release.

The institute is designed to attract students from across the UI system and from DPI's partners, such as the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and several international institutions. They will earn degrees from their home institutions but spend time at DPI, similar to a study-abroad program.

Baker will work with DPI's partners to develop programs to train students in entrepreneurship and other areas.

Some students are already taking classes at DPI's temporary offices on Wacker Drive in Chicago, through the UI's "City Scholars" program for engineering students.

Baker said Friday that DPI hopes to add more classes in other areas in the fall semester, as well as more faculty interactions from the different universities. "It's going to grow over time. We'll have more this year than last year," she said, emphasizing that the academic programs are "faculty-led."

The UI's long-term goal is to create a 500,000-square-foot institute as part of "The 78" development south of downtown Chicago, using half of the $500 million in state matching funds for construction of DPI and its statewide Illinois Innovation Network.

The developer, Related Midwest, has offered to donate the land as part of its $7 billion project, located on a vacant 62-acre stretch of land along the Chicago River between the South Loop and Chinatown. The project cleared a major hurdle last month when the Chicago City Council approved $700 million in tax-increment financing for The 78.

Meanwhile, the University Senates Conference, a UI faculty advisory group, recommended that the project proceed on a temporary basis, and that was endorsed last month by the Urbana and Springfield campus senates.

The Chicago campus senate, however, declined to endorse DPI in March, citing questions about how faculty royalties and intellectual property will be handled and about DPI's costs and funding, among other issues.

DPI must still be formally approved by the UI Board of Trustees and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Baker joined the UI in 2015 as a sociology professor and also worked half time in the office of the vice chancellor for student affairs. She said she was invited to transfer to Killeen's office to help with strategic projects and started working on the DPI proposal after it was announced in fall 2017.

Baker said she had experience working on university-wide initiatives during her 25 years at Northern Iowa, where she was head of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology; director of Women's and Gender Studies; and associate dean in the College of Social and Be-havioral Sciences. She also had a yearlong fellowship in higher education administration with the American Council on Education. She holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of California at San Diego.