Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

City Club of Chicago 02.01.18

Video of the talk, which includes corresponding PowerPoint slides and campus images, is available at the City Club of Chicago's website. (Please note that the video is not captioned.)

Thank you, David, what a kind introduction. And actually, I'm glad that at some point you started talking more about UIC and less about me, because as you were going on I had to hold Ero back from walking up to the podium and setting the record straight for me, but it's great to hear you share your experience with the university.

Jay, I want to thank you and I want to thank the City Club for this invitation. It's good to be back here after a little bit over two years and I hope that at the end of the next half hour, I will still be deemed worthy of the City Club coffee mug that I came here for actually! That was the main reason.

And I want to thank all of the City Club members, all of the guests that we have here today, for joining us. If you have any problem with my accent, they will start writing subtitles in a few minutes so don't worry about it. But it's a great crowd that we have, it's a great group of friends, and supporters of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Jay did a great job recognizing a number of the distinguished guests, Ed did a great job - actually they do something very smart here, right.

When it comes to elected officials, they ask them to stand up and introduce themselves. The reason is they don't want to miss anybody, and this way they have no liability. My problem here is that we have so many corporate friends, and friends from nonprofit organizations that I will not even attempt to go through the list. You're all very welcome and we're all delighted to have you here, as are our friends from the academic community who are with us today.

But, I have to acknowledge one of my bosses, who is sitting right here, and I want to really acknowledge University of Illinois Board of Trustee Ray Cepeda. Ray, do you want to stand up for a minute? And Ray is the only UIC graduate right now at the University of Illinois Board.

It's been a little bit over two years since I was here last and my, what a two years it has been. How many things have changed during this period. We even have a state budget by now. I thought it was impossible to have a state budget in Illinois! That's all that I knew at the beginning that I was here. Well, I hope I don't have to be used to it for once every two years. But, one thing that hasn't changed, however, and I'm proud to report to you, is that UIC still remains undefeated in football. We haven't lost a game and we continue to have these records. Not too many others! Listen Northwestern, listen University of Illinois at Urbana, they can't claim this.

Alright, joking aside. We have built a lot of momentum during the last two years. Whether it's the record breaking enrollments; whether it's the national and international recognition and attention that this university receives; whether it's our expanding capital infrastructure or the record breaking healthcare care services that we offer, they all point to the same direction. A direction of growth and vitality and they provide strong evidence of momentum.

And all this has happened under the current financial environment in the state, but even more importantly while the landscape of the higher education sector is changing at the national level at a rapid pace. In fact, one could argue that for almost a decade now higher education across the country is facing an existential crisis.

I know that most of you have read the sometimes thoughtful and sometimes less thoughtful analyses and opinion editorials in the press. You have heard the voices that suggest that our product is not working, that our cost is ridiculously high and that our management model is antiquated. In fact sometimes they have used the term "byzantine", that we have a "byzantine management model." Now as a Greek, to me it sounds good. They were the glory days of the empire, right?

But if you take all of this under account and you add to these the changing demographics that we face, especially here in the Midwest, you have a fairly good version of a perfect storm.

I am the first to admit that there is an element of truth in each one of these statements and there is a number of things that we need to change in our universities. But we cannot allow the challenges that we face as higher education to be exaggerated, and we cannot allow these challenges to be used as the instrument to question the value of higher education as a public good by some who prefer to see higher education to be treated as a private benefit instead of a public good.

More than 100 years ago Andrew Carnegie compared higher education to a social ladder. A ladder that allows talented individuals to improve their socioeconomic status and to advance. A ladder that can break generational cycles of poverty, a ladder that we desperately need right now. This is exactly what my institution, this is exactly what UIC does. Our ladder of social advancement is broad and our ladder runs deep as I will show you in a few minutes. And this is the definition of the public good that we need to protect in higher education.

In our leadership and management courses that we teach, we tell our students that in a time of crisis the most important responsibility of the leadership is to protect the institution's, the organization's core values. And this is exactly what we have done over the last few years at UIC. We have focused on our public mission protecting access and excellence and in order to do so we have shown in practice the spirit of innovation expected from a leading research university.

Of course these are claims and these are words that you would expect anyone in my position to come and tell you. But I'm here today to substantiate with evidence, data and numbers - I have this advantage, I'm an engineer and I love numbers - what I have said so far.

So, we are in our third year of all-time record university enrollment, which surpassed 30,500 students this fall. By far the largest university in the city and the second largest in the state. Students and their families vote with their feet, and our record enrollment is a vote of confidence. A vote of confidence for UIC, and a vote of confidence for the city of Chicago.

Let me put this into perspective. Last fall, when every public university in the state of Illinois was down in freshman enrollments, we were up 23 percent, 23 percent up in a down market, bringing in more than 4,000 new freshmen to campus for the first time in our history. Add to this a 12 percent increase in transfers – more than 2,100 students transferred to us -from the Chicago City Colleges, from the College of DuPage, from many other institutions and you end up with over 6,000 new students, undergraduate students, at UIC last August. We are bursting through the seams.

Among our freshman class: 36 percent are Chicago Public School graduates; 43 percent are the first in their family to go to college, 53 percent are Pell grant recipients, in the state of Illinois that means that they come from families where family income is $35,000 and below, 53 percent of our undergraduates; 74 percent students of color where you count together the Latinos, the African-American, and the Asian American students, and more than 90 percent of them are from the state of Illinois. This is what commitment to the public mission means and these are the numbers to back it up.

People often ask me in the last few months, "Why UIC?" The reason the students come to UIC and to the city of Chicago is because they recognize the quality and the value of our institution. To put it in simple terms: it's because we are really good and it's because they're really smart and they figure it out.

Our students can also do the math. They know that we have held tuition constant for the last four years and they know that we guarantee the same tuition for the entire period of their study, for 4 years of study. So in fact a senior graduating in 4 years from now, from UIC in 2022, will be paying the same tuition as a freshman who entered UIC in 2014. That's what they understand. And they also know that in addition to the federal aid and to the MAP grants we provide $60 million of scholarships every year from our own budget. This is what commitment to affordability means and these are the numbers to back it up.

The Wall Street Journal recognizes the success that our students have. In their rankings that place much greater emphasis on outputs and the success of the students that we accept - rather than inputs and the quality of the students that we reject, which is what US News does - UIC was ranked 23rd in the country among public universities ahead of half of the Big Ten schools. And Sherri is working this out from back there. Sherri, leave this up for a few more seconds so people can see the list, not only the position of UIC but can see the list of the schools under UIC. This is a clear mark of excellence.

It should not come as a surprise, because excellence is what you expect from a top tier research university. We are expected to demonstrate new ideas, discoveries and innovations in the classroom, in the research labs, and in our healthcare system. But we are also expected to demonstrate new ideas and innovations in the way that we conduct our own business.

UIC is a major research engine that brings over $355 million in new awards annually here in Chicago.

Whether it's developing a retroviral therapy to treat drug resistant HIV or a new blockbuster shingles drug, whether it's creating an artificial leaf to capture solar energy or perfecting robotic surgery, or whether it's addressing the root causes of educational inequities in our neighborhoods or understanding the tragedies of human trafficking, the research and scholarship of our faculty members is at the forefront of national and international issues.

And we definitely know not only how to write papers and go to conferences, but we know how to implement solutions and how to move scientific discoveries to the marketplace. In financial year 2017, licenses of our intellectual property generated more than $28 million in royalties. This places UIC among the top 20 universities in the country, public and private, in revenue from intellectual property licenses.

Our IP has also resulted in 35 active start-up ventures. They range from a company (EnteroTrack) developing a capsule to help identify the presence of esophageal inflammation, leading to faster treatment, to a company (NetEnergy) that has created a battery that stores effectively, thermal energy.

UIC researchers have over 300 active patents right now in their portfolio and I have to tell you are very careful to patent because of the cost, so they're not liberal with patenting. And this is exactly what scientific innovation and action means.

There is also a special place at the near West Side at UIC. This is a place where research meets education. We call it the Innovation Center, and there are people who come from all over the world to watch how we're doing it. This is what I describe as a research playground where undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty get together to address real technical problems defined and funded by our partners, and our partners are Caterpillar, BMW and Baxter. This is also an example of the innovation that I was referring to.

And while through our research we have the potential to impact people around the world, our healthcare system delivers quality care primarily to the people of Chicago and the state of Illinois and I'm delighted to see some of our colleagues from other hospitals being with us today.

With a 495-bed tertiary care hospital, 22 outpatient clinics, and 11 federally qualified health centers - that's unique for a university to have created a center like this - throughout the city, we provide comprehensive care to the people who need it most in our underserved and underinsured communities. But we also provide the highest level of specialty care to everyone.

In fact, we have the first Robotic Surgery Center of Excellence in the United States and our doctors have pioneered more than 30 robotic surgical procedures. There is a great advantage in this area, because the recovery time - when you have a much smaller way of coming in during surgery - is much shorter.

We are second in the city in kidney and liver transplants, and we are one of the very few places in the world qualified to implant an artificial retinal device. The media, in their stories, have called this the "bionic eye," in individuals who suffer blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa. Somebody asked me, "Isn't this like the goggles that they wear in Star Trek?" And I said "That's exactly what it looks like." This is what excellence and innovation in healthcare mean.

The spirit of innovation characterizes every aspect of our healthcare operation. In fact, our hospital leadership is expected to think outside of the box.

Last year, for example, we launched a pilot program called Better Health Through Housing, to provide housing and intensive case management for some of the chronically ill, homeless emergency department patients. Without a secure home base, these patients once they are released from the emergency department, they really don't get healthy. They go back the next day or two days later. The pilot project was a great success and the hospital recently decided to extend it.

More importantly, several other hospitals in Chicago are considering starting similar housing programs, or they may have already started them and I don't know about it.

There is a very simple reason for doing so. This program reduces the number of almost daily emergency room visits by the same small number of people and not only improves their health but also saves a lot of money in the operation of the hospital.

Let me move away from healthcare for a minute and tell you that also this year we are in the process of updating our campus master plan to improve UIC facilities and grounds over the next decade. Our capital infrastructure result, it must and will reflect the quality and impact of this institution in order for us to achieve our educational, our research and engagement goals; for us to attract the best faculty and staff we need a better infrastructure; and for us to provide the best experience for our students, we need a better infrastructure and our students deserve it.

But we didn't want to wait until all of the i's are dotted and all of the t's are crossed in the plan that we are putting together. And in the past three months we already broke ground on two major projects that will enable our campus to meet our commitment to access and excellence.

In November, we broke ground on a new Engineering Innovation Building – the first new academic building on the east campus since 1991. This is before the large majority of our students were even born. While demand for an engineering education is up everywhere, the demand for UIC's College of Engineering is skyrocketing, outpacing national growth, and it will probably come as a surprise to most of you if I tell you that right now at UIC, the College of Engineering has approximately 5,000 students.

Just two weeks ago, we also celebrated another ground breaking for a $100 million academic and residential complex. This complex is part of a public-private partnership with American Campus Communities, the nation's largest developer, owner and manager of high-quality student housing communities.

This new facility will not only revitalize campus housing, adding 550 new beds, but will also provide more than 50,000 much-needed square feet of academic space. By creating an innovative public-private partnership in this case, we are able to address our capital infrastructure needs in the current fiscal environment. We are not putting a dollar down for any this; it's the developer who is taking this step.

This is a less expensive after all, if you look at the total, and much faster process than our traditional state processes. Delivery time for the complex is 18 months. A project that we ran through the regular channels for us, is close to three years. And I know it will happen in 18 months. We shut down the parking lot where this project is going to be on December 22nd and equipment moved in on December 22nd, and in fact they started digging on December 23rd. Now these two facilities are just the beginning. Stay tuned - and I know we have a number of folks from the architectural community, from the engineering community here - stay tuned for an exciting master plan that we will be unveiling later this year, supporting and enabling the achievement of our strategic priorities. A plan that looks into the future of higher education with the same spirit of innovation that I have been talking about today. A plan that will not only change UIC, but will also affect the entire West Loop.

You probably follow the news; recent news that you may have heard from UIC also include our decision to explore the possibility of the John Marshall Law School becoming part of our university, and I'm delighted to see here today, Dean Darby Dickerson and members of the Marshall Board of Trustees including the House Minority Leader, Leader Durkin. You may not know it - he serves on the Board of Trustees of John Marshall.

There is a natural alignment that exists between UIC's public mission and Marshall's commitment to provide access and opportunity to Chicago's aspiring law students.

But there is also a hole right, there is an empty space, in UIC's academic canvas waiting for 50 years now for a law school to fill it. There is a gap without a law school that affects our ability to fulfill our mission.

In our College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, we are educating the future leaders in public administration with one of the best programs in the country and we need to introduce them to the legal component of their future work.

In our College of Engineering, we are preparing leaders in technology and we need to educate them on the intellectual property issues that they will face.

From the School of Public Health - one of the best schools of public health in the nation - we are graduating the next policy leaders in this field, and we need to teach them how to write the law.

And finally, in their research and community engagement, our faculty members from various disciplines address educational, health care, economic and criminal justice inequities in our neighborhoods. This is one of our core strengths in terms of scholarship - and they need the law faculty to supplement and enrich their efforts through their own scholarship and research.

It's about time that we fill this void in our university and it's about time that we open our doors to those who teach the law and to those who study the law. And it's about time, if our due diligence and all the work that we do works out, as we welcome the Marshall alumni, it would be about time also to start generating UIC alumni who practice the law, who judge the law and who write the law.

And if we really want to see the legal profession diversified in Chicago, Marshall and UIC combined hold the key to the solution.

These are the reasons we are going through this process and these are the benefits for Chicago and for the state of Illinois.

I hope I have shown you by now, how UIC is defying the trends. I love this expression, thank you Crain's for thinking about it, we wouldn't have thought about it. It's great to show you how UIC is defying the trends and building momentum.

With our focus on the public mission, with pride for the marks of excellence and the legacy of access, and with the confidence on our ability to innovate, we look to the future with optimism.

Our graduates that you see behind me - they're up there, okay, well I have to check guys - are just a few of the 250,000 alumni, 170,000 of them strong here in Chicago, who excel in the world of business, in the world of news and entertainment, in the world of sports, and I'm sorry, Chicago Cubs fans, I have to put Curtis up there, and in the world of healthcare, and of course as expected, Chicago's best forum, the City Club, recognizes impact first and repeatedly invites alumni as speakers, so let's put these guys up. This is where they get their best speakers, is what I hear. So collectively, all of our alumni are a living proof that Mayor Daley's vision has been realized and 50 some years later Chicago is home to the best urban-serving public research university in the country.

I want to thank you for your support, it's an honor and a privilege to serve as the Chancellor of the University of Illinois for Chicago.