Greetings – Dean's message – Feb 2010

Dear all,

As each week passes in these unusual times, there is so much that we need to share that I find it difficult to know where to begin and what to include in these monthly messages. First I want to thank all those who expressed their care and concern for me when I experienced a health scare a week or so ago. I am pleased that the tests show no significant damage and that I have a strong constitution.  The truth is many in our College community, and among our loved ones, face similar health issues, in part because we live in extraordinarily stressful times. We have to deal with nagging anxieties about extremes in the weather around the world, the ongoing effects of the global economic meltdown, the maddening political gridlock at various levels of government, the frustrating fact that our industrious state is on the verge of being declared bankrupt and that our stellar university is now on a credit watch. Our interim leaders are working as valiantly and as swiftly as they can to salvage a situation that was unimaginable only a few short years ago.

To be truthful, there was no way we could escape the difficult circumstances we are in because when I arrived here almost three and a half years ago, to be part of one of the wealthiest most successful universities in the nation, I was startled to learn not only that our College was carrying a significant structural deficit, but that the University as a whole had been spending more than it earned and that our reserves were depleted. We started earnestly to address this situation under the leadership of  Provost Linda Katehi, through strategic, resource and business planning at the campus and College levels. Unfortunately, however, no-one was prepared for the financial calamities now faced by the nation and our own State, which is now ranked the second worst, in financial terms, after California. There is no getting around this dismal situation, brought about by systematic long term miscalculations regarding our available resources and management systems that were not robust or explicable. Consequently, we were not prepared for the lurches in funding flows that have transpired, only serving to compound an already bad situation.

Nothing can be corrected without complete honesty. We need to scrutinize seriously the fundamentals of what we do, the way we do it, our productivity and our goals, the resources we attract and the way we account for their use. We need to rethink the way we are organized in the University, from the top to the bottom, and the value we provide to those who seek our expertise and programs. Moreover, we need to ensure that the culture and the habits that contributed to the difficult situation we are in, are not the same ones that underpin our efforts to shape a more solid future. We need systematic changes in our mindsets and a paradigm shift in our systems of operating.  Your elected faculty members on CEC and your unit’s leaders on CODE have been working to address these very issues for some time now. In addition, our successful and creative synergy exercise that has brought EPS, HRE and EOL together, showed us how effective leadership in these critical times must be both bottom up as well as top down. We learned how important it is to stay focused, honor deadlines and turn principles and conversations into decisions and actions for the greater good, even if that means giving up some benefits or sharing power. In our case, the staff too played such a key role in demonstrating alternative, more efficient ways of working with faculty and students do deliver our programs and services.  By acting together in these ways we can avoid doing unintentional harm and ensure optimal outcomes. We have proven that we are capable of the latter already on so many fronts, growing our online learning, expanding our research, introducing shared services across the College, tackling curriculum review and expanding participation in advancement activity. The next few semesters are going to be taxing on all of us. We are arranging a series of College-wide meetings that require your full participation, including in the repositioning and redesigning our graduate and undergraduate programs. A College communication website is being set up to interpret and update you on campus and College initiatives that will impact on you and keep you informed about the many processes and programs that we, for the moment, take for granted. Please be engaged in your unit and connect closely with you unit leaders. Come and talk to me about anything that is on your mind or send me message.

You have received and will continue to receive much communication about the strategies the campus administration is developing to address the financial crisis. I do not want to repeat what is in the campus websites – but I do want to urge all of you to log on the Stewarding Excellence web site regularly and read carefully all the information that is being provided. Also do attend the information sessions hosted by the campus about the various programs under development to reposition our university. You will note that these are grouped into three categories of action, ‘Institutional transformation’, and ‘Cost reduction’ and ‘Revenue generation’. Be mindful that some of you will be invited to be part of the numerous review teams that are being established and thereby have the opportunity to help shape our future.

Our College has been on this transformative path for some time now so we are prepared and well positioned. You should consider yourselves full participants in our unfolding strategic plans. No substantive or effective change can be achieved by executive fiat. We need to understand our circumstances collectively and to advance our College together. Of course many things will be unsettling about the trajectory of the institutions to which we, as educators, have tied our own professional and personal fates—from schools to universities. But we have been trained to tackle problems and the most difficult ones are the test of your expertise, wisdom and stamina. It is not hyperbole to restate that we are fortunate, indeed, to be workers, scholars and students in our College. As they say, we need to stay ahead of the game, and real players not mere spectators. See for inspiration NYT piece on China which ‘has nothing comparable to the research, industrial and economic resources of the United States. Yet the Chinese are blowing us away in the race to the future.’

Finally, I know winter is still enveloping us, and as pretty as that can be when the snow falls, it also can have a dampening effect on our emotions.  We share too the sorrow of all affected by the continuing horrendous news out of Haiti. It reminds us that we are creatures of nature and that we need to take care for each other every moment.

This month is designated as Black History Month, a time dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the achievements of people who have overcome historic injustices caused by their fellow humans.  We salute all those in our College who contribute to our understanding, knowledge of history and work to prepare cadres of educators equipped to improve the lives for all learners.  We would also like to acknowledge the students who participated in our MLK writing competition and Mildred Trent for her leadership of this important event.

Some other significant achievements that need noting:

Professor Helen Neville was awarded a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center to work on her research project: “A Transnational Examination of Black Racial Identities, June 7 to July 5, 2010.

Our prolific, Chris Lubienski, has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study education policy in New Zealand next year.

Susan Fowler and her team’s work was acknowledged by the chair of the House Education Committee (Michael K Smith) who recommend a briefing on their project (funded by ISBE and IDHS) on the longitudinal data set and policy implications related to pre-K and K-12 education.
Dorothy Espelage, is one of the research scientists for a new project: ‘Instrumenting Research on Interaction Networks in Complex Social Contexts’ awarded to GroupScope by the Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation Initiative of the National Science Foundation.

Peter Weitzel, working with The Forum on the Future of Public Education, wrote an op-ed on charter school research for last Sunday’s Peoria Journal Star.

Sarah Lubienski, Art Baroody and Joe Robinson, have been awarded an IES grant for a math education postdoc program.

Lori Herber had a museum exhibit, “Rising from the Rust,” an interactive, digital story-telling piece comprised of more than 3,000 portraits and countless interviews in German which opened at the Ruhr Museum in Essen, Germany.

Bill Cope was quoted in Times Higher Education Supplement (London, Jan. 21) about the way that higher education investment is a key part of China’s economic-stimulus package.

Chris Higgins was the featured speaker on the Teachers College Record’s special issue on Hannah Arendt.

Michael Peters was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, an honor given for distinction in research or the advancement of science and technology.
His journal, ‘Educational Philosophy and Theory’, has risen to the top 5% of all Education journals based on citation analysis and expert peer review. This puts it on a par with Harvard Educational Review and the Cambridge Journal of Education.

George Reese has become an adjunct professor in C& I and his MSTE team has been involved in a growing number of exciting STEM collaboration across campus.

Our College is hosting the first annual Graduate Student Conference on April 9th. One of ours Alumn, Dr. Pat Cross, has offered a generous donation which fully funds the conference. Please save the date – it promises to be a College highlight.

Thank you, good luck and congratulations to all for your contributions to our College’s profile.

I hope you enjoy my picture of the sun rising today – it does regularly.