Dean’s message – January 2012

New Year 2012

I hope all of you were rejuvenated by the winter holidays and the meanings they held for you. For those of us who stayed in Champaign, the weather was unseasonably warm (as it was elsewhere, with butterflies appearing in London). For our family, the warmth was extended metaphorically by the friends and loved ones who joined us. Luckily of us, Bill and I managed to complete our onerous publishing commitments by Christmas Eve (one new book to the publisher, and a revised edition of another), so it was especially pleasant, as you can imagine. We suspended all typical work related activities in favor of chatter, cooking, bowling and general revelry – all too short but blissful.

As the new calendar year begins and we stream in for the start of the semester, I want to welcome you all back and hope that your year is creative and fulfilling. This long weekend celebrates the life and work of Martin Luther King. His struggle for justice and social cohesion remains important as so many stubborn divides appear to persist, even getting larger in these difficult times, adding to the burdens of those already afflicted by historic injustices and inequalities. Certainly, all our work and purpose is aimed at understanding and dealing with these issues in order to unleash potential, dismantle barriers and ensure that every one has a fair go and a good life.

In that broader spirit, I attended the World Universities Forum in Rhodes last week along with a very interesting group of international scholars. We discussed ‘Reinventing the University in a Time of Crisis’. It is clear that culture and context all play a significant part in the way people in different parts of the world address the transformations underway in higher education. The European position, despite the uneven economic circumstances in which member nations find themselves, still favors free public education available to all, increased funding for fully costed research and comprehensive program offerings for students. And this whilst faculty is having their salaries reduced and conditions impoverished (40% salary cuts in Greece, for instance, 25% in Portugal). In the Asian and Middle Eastern regions by contrast, higher education institutions seem less worried about the erosion of the Humboldtian vision of the independent, generalist university. Rather they are busily leap-frogging into the future by partnering with as many other universities around the world that they can to bolster their ‘brands’ and attract fee-paying students to market demand driven, specialized, programs and research. No matter where folks were from though, a number of themes recurred—the need to make savings, be prudent, deal with the conundrum of new technology and much fiercer competition on a global scale.

Of course, I found myself reflecting on our own circumstances during these discussions, much relieved that we have seriously engaged in the difficult dialogues about what we value, how we work and what sort of change is appropriate and achievable. Consequently, we are now in an extraordinarily strong position, not easily reached and still creating discomforting conditions in many respects. I say this knowing also that nothing is any longer predictable, particularly given the ominous signs that persist at the university, state, national and global, levels. But, we have at the very least, proven that we are capable of shaping our own destiny to some meaningful degree. Our programs remain strong and in high demand, our students are first class and we are continuing to see a bonanza in successful research grants. We have a remarkable scholarly and instructional community, supported by dedicated staff and educational professionals. And we are now in the fortunate position to be recruiting again. We hired four superb new faculty members last year after a long hiatus and right now we are seeking six new faculty, increasing our PostDoc numbers, replacing lost support staff and negotiating some potentially valuable spousal hires. We have an extraordinary opportunity to repopulate our ranks with those who will enable us to maintain our commitment to breakthrough research, transformative teaching and learning, high quality support services and to grow inspiring partnerships with our local education systems. So strength and wisdom to all of you involved in recruiting and decision-making.

No doubt you will be as pleased as I was to receive the message from Executive Assistant Dean, Barb Geissler last week informing me, ‘It thrills me to tell you that we met all our goals last year and ended the fiscal year with no deficits. I think that you will also be very pleased to see the FY11 Financial Statements and Management Report, which show 4-fold growth in our net flexible funds over the 5-year period.’  The report also shows a clear trend of improved cash solvency, which provides concrete evidence of the significant effort made by our entire College community, particularly in light of the difficult financial circumstances faced over the last few years. It matters that we have the resources to match our aspirations, so thank you to all for all your endeavors. What a great way to start this calendar year.

Please be mindful that CEC and CODE we will continuing to engage with the issues that were the subject of our seven round table discussions at our last Faculty Meeting. Your participation in these matters and the ongoing deliberations about the design of our teacher education program will shape our future and enable us to live up to our tradition of astute innovation and timely leadership in education. See http://blogs.education.illinois.edu/transitions/

Congratulations to Professor Liz Stine-Morrow and her team for kicking off our success stories with their breakthrough work with older adults and cognition. Look out for announcement 18 Jan in, Today’s News.

Congratulations also to Professor William Trent who is a candidate for AERA’s 2012 election for the ‘Office of President-Elect’. It is a great honor to be in this race – voting opens today – best of luck Bill!

Finally, I want to thank, again, Associate Dean, Joan Tousey whole-heartedly for what she has taught me over the years, her commitment to our College and for her warm friendship. All members of our College community have been touched in some way by the work she and her team have done on our behalf and we wish her all the very best in all she chooses to do beyond her retirement in June. See also – http://blogs.education.illinois.edu/transitions/2012/01/06/transitions-in-advancement-and-communications/

Wishing you all the very best,

Dean Mary Kalantzis

On the walls of the University of the Aegean.

To the right – MY FREEDOM IS IN THE HOLES OF MY SHOES. To the left – OCCUPY THESE EMPTY BUILDING

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