Dean's Message – January 2010

Dear all,

I am writing my January Dean’s message at the beginning of the month because there is much unfolding already in this calendar year that we need to share. In particular of course, we have now all received the message from President Ikenberry outlining a number of measures that the University is putting in place as a bulwark against the state’s financial crisis. While there is a lot of information being provided to employees via the FAQs posted on the University’s human resources website, I would like to highlight just a few things about the recently announced mandatory furlough program and hiring freeze, but you are strongly encouraged to read through all of the information on this website to understand the impact to you on your retirement, health, disability and other benefits. The FAQs are living documents and as processes unfold for implementation, we will continue to update you.

The policy applies broadly to  academic employees making more than $30,000 who are state funded (in whole or in part). The University’s goal is to minimize the impact on students or other stakeholders and to operate every business day for the remainder of the academic and fiscal years.  To that extent, employees will be able to select furlough days that do not conflict with professional commitments and with the approval of their unit heads.  B&RP will provide each unit head with a list of employees affected by this policy and unit heads will be asked to approve furlough days and to document the full financial impact to the individual  and to College community. Pay will be reduced one day in each of the four pay periods – February 16, March 16, April 16 and May 16.

Civil service employees are exempt from the furloughs, but it is anticipated that there will be personnel cost reductions for these employees.  The nature and timing will be addressed by the University in accordance with Civil Service rules and bargaining obligations.  As soon as we know any more about this, we will share the information with you.

Tomorrow the Chancellor/Provost will also send out further details that are specific to our campus and the College will keep you keep you informed of the processes involved in implementing these directives.

So, I do hope you have all had a restful and happy holiday and are ready to tackle all that is ahead of us this year in good spirits and with stamina, particularly given how fortunate we are to be associated with a University that is as strong and creative as the University of Illinois.
I also want to wish you very best for the New Year. Certainly, the decade just past has been marked by extremes and much unpredictability. If the climate and the economy are any indications, the next decade may offer up much of the same challenging uncertainty. In terms of the weather in recent days, I gather we are currently experiencing the effects of a distant cousin of El Niño called the Arctic Oscillation which is driven by purely internal, atmospheric processes that causes great weather variability with changes from day to day, week to week  – most of it random – like flipping a coin, it is said. In terms of our University, it too is being buffeted by strong winds that demand deep and systemic responses – of organization, mindsets and culture.

We have lived with bruised senses of entitlement and persistent ambiguity for the last few years.  Today a decision was made at the campus level to crank up our efforts to put our own house in order. In such conditions we cannot go about our lives in the normal way – instead we have to be flexible and cooperative ready for any contingency and prepared to help each other out.

In our College we have accepted this onerous responsibility for some time now and put in place processes and initiatives to withstand the worsening economic crisis of our University, State and Nation. In fact, in a sense this is a predicament of global proportions. At the level of our own institution, many habits and behaviors have not really adjusted to reflect the challenging realities we now face. We can not pretend that the University we are in now is the one we entered when we were hired.  Not even I can do that, and I have only been with you for just over three years. In the most general of terms, we need to remain intensely engaged, transcend any resentments and ongoing grievances and pull together. Nothing short of that will work. I, in turn, could not pretend that I know all the ways needed to lead you out of the situation we are in.  I need your trust, commitment and collaboration to implement not just the unpalatable but necessary measures announced by President Ikenberry, but your ingenuity and creativity to redesign the way we work. Everyone’s point of view does matter in such an endeavor but we all need to be prepared to make sensible compromises.

Many of you have shown such willingness and strength of purpose – for example, as evidenced by the way we have grown our fee paying online offerings, the EOL/HRE/EPS synergy exercise, the shared services that have evolved for these departments, the commitment to redesign our teacher education program, the distributed responsibility for research grants bids, the consensus hiring plans, the agreement to recast our graduate programs so that they better support our students, the efforts to expand our international profile,  our much enhanced website/ communication materials,  the growing partnerships with our local communities and our alums to achieve mutual goals – so I am confident that we can do what is required now.

More broadly, there are many voices now calling sensibly for a rethinking of the higher education sector – we must position ourselves as leaders in the field according to our special disciplinary mission. This imperative is not only linked to the need for citizens to pay more taxes to support public institutions and for education be restored as a public priority, but also linked to the changing nature of the production and distribution of knowledge itself.  See for example:

All members of CODE, CEC and the strategic initiative leaders met today to review and update our plans as well as prepare for our leadership retreat at the end of month. We will be putting together an implementation team to fast track and oversee campus directives and the next set of initiatives to which we have committed. We will also be calling on a number of you to show leadership on specific initiatives.

As you all know, we have embarked on a multi-pronged strategy of growth, efficiencies and savings – I have spoken about this many times now.  We will redouble our efforts and pick up the pace this semester.  I have asked CEC to arrange a number of town hall meetings to address critical issues as we move forward.  The first of which will be held during the first weeks of semester to engage you in our evolving plans of action. Please feel free to contact me directly, or your unit’s Head, by email, phone or in person, with any issues that you want to discuss. We will also establish a hotline in the Dean’s office to handle queries and respond to anxieties. The assistant to the Dean, Susan Michaels will provide further details as soon as possible and be available to answer questions.

We are sincerely determined that our institutional reasons for being – scholarship, teaching, research and service to our community – will remain strong and that our students continue to be inspired and transformed. There are no cutting corners here, with or without additional resources. It is what we do.

Finally, on a lighter note, I have spent a lifetime terrified of the water after a near drowning experience as a child. As all of you know, expert adults are the hardest learners to re-train or to teach new things.  So it with much delight and amazement that I share with you that I have made a personal breakthrough on that front and can now swim – not very well yet, but unaided.  Who would have thought, leaving the beaches of Australia, I could have done that here in the corn fields of the mid-west?

Best wishes,
Dean Mary Kalantzis