Wednesday, July 22, 2020

UIS Perspectives: Working together for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

The following is an excerpt from a column by Justin Rose, University of Illinois Springfield director of diversity and inclusion. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on July 20, 2020.

When it was written in 1776 ”... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it was surely the most amazingly written expression in the Declaration of Independence. Sadly, our country’s practice of that document, the Constitution, and the Amendments to follow did not necessarily reflect that message.

Over the past 244 years, we have witnessed these words being selectively applied to uniquely advantage one group over another, as much of our history has its connection to the creation and implementation of slavery. In short, slavery in America has been a system in which property law principles are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy, and sell other individuals as a form of property. Over the lifespan of America’s development, we have seen this system morph due to many brave, courageous, and servant leaders who fought against the intense overt oppression and subversive suppression. Decade after decade, these Davids of our time took on the Goliath of our nation — racism.

America’s issues are vast and people want to see change, particularly our traditionally marginalized and underrepresented communities. I, myself, subscribe to that notion. As a Black male working at an institution of higher education, I have witnessed my students expressively say they feel they live in an America that does not love them.

Those words scream out to me a much louder message. To me, they place attention on what our America’s history has been and why we all need to stand up for the rights of those who are continuously scraped, cut, and gashed — left to bleed. I firmly believe, in order to begin healing, we have to stop the bleeding. With that as the chorus in mind, we need to seek to apply the doctrine the way it was so eloquently written so that we can see reflected an America that pulls people from the margins into the larger picture — thus allowing for real opportunity at Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

At UIS, we have decided to not turn a blind eye and to recommit ourselves to the alignment of the doctrine. The recent national events of racial injustice have reawakened the world and have been front and center for us. We are ensuring our students, staff, faculty, and administrators (myself included) are not ignoring the long history, practice, and ideology of systemic racism. Standing firm with the Black community and other marginalized groups who are deeply entrenched in the fight towards justice is our fight.

Listening to our campus community’s experiences has prompted the launch of our comprehensive “How Do We Heal Pathway Forward” resource guide, which can be found at The guide is designed to be interactive/clickable/digestible for people to learn. It has video features, web links to learn how to be anti-racist, and web links to enhance civic involvement. But equally as important, it has the framework for our “Where We Can Go” Diversity Mini-Series. The July Diversity Mini-Series is now entering its third week with programs addressing the current civil unrest on issues of Race, Police Brutality, and Allyship.

We believe that exploring these topics and helping our students, staff, faculty, and administrators through our weekly discussion opportunities is helping us move forward together. We believe it is a part of the formula to help shape a community rooted in equity, justice, and inclusion — you know, like the declaration that was so eloquently indoctrinated for our nation to follow.

Monday, July 13, 2020

National Weather Service certifies UIS as a StormReady® University

The National Weather Service has certified the University of Illinois Springfield as a StormReady® University. The StormReady® universities are better prepared for saving lives from the onslaught of severe weather through advanced planning, education, and awareness, according to the National Weather Service.

To create a StormReady® plan, the UIS Police Department participated in severe storm spotter training and worked with the National Weather Service. Donald Mitchell, chief of the UIS Police Department said, “The StormReady® certification was something we felt would help reinforce our dedication to the safety of our community.”

Mitchell added, “While we felt that we were following the best practices for notifying our community of hazardous weather, this certification allowed us the opportunity to have weather experts evaluate our systems to help us improve. I’m proud to have the endorsement of the National Weather Service showing our efforts are right on track.”

Chris Miller, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Lincoln said, “This is clearly the result of the leadership, extensive planning, and commitment by you and those at the UIS Police Department, and cooperating departments on campus. The willingness, of more than a dozen of your staff members, to complete severe storm spotter training was exceptional.”

This article was published in the Chicago Morning Star on July 11, 2020.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

UIS offers detailed plan for students returning to campus in fall

The University of Illinois Springfield on Wednesday detailed how it hopes students might safely return to the campus for fall semester classes in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 18-page plan, “Return to the Prairie,” addresses how the campus will offer “on-ground,” or in-person classes as well as blended classes, that combine face-to-face and remote instruction.

It also spells out plans for student living arrangement and on-campus activities.

Of note is that the university will go remote with all classes beginning Nov. 25 until the end of the semester, which is Dec. 12.

Face coverings that cover the nose and mouth will be required on campus when a six-foot physical distance from others is not possible. Face coverings are required in all common areas, which includes classrooms.

“It is our best intention to unite us in public health and safety, and we are committed to providing a high-quality experience regardless of the circumstances in which we may find ourselves,” said UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney. “Whether our Prairie Stars are learning via on-campus instruction or remotely, UIS is committed to and capable of providing a high-quality university experience to everyone who calls UIS home.”

Classrooms and laboratories, along with common, meeting and event spaces will be set up and organized to facilitate appropriate social distancing. They will be cleaned and disinfected daily by building service workers.

Students will be allowed to live on campus in single and double occupancy residence halls, townhouses and apartments, however, guests will not be allowed in residence halls.

Carry-out options will be encouraged at the UIS Student Union Food Studio and no self-service options available. Seating in dining areas will be arranged to encourage social distancing.

COVID-19 testing will be available to all students on campus through Campus Health Services.

The “Return to the Prairie” plan was created by two teams focused on academic planning, student affairs and community engagement.

Classes at UIS begin Aug. 24.

Monday, July 6, 2020

UIC, UIS announce pathway for undergraduates to earn nursing degree

The University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois Springfield are announcing the creation of a joint undergraduate nursing curriculum that will guarantee a spot for incoming freshmen in UIC’s nursing program.

The agreement, which begins this fall, will allow a student who is interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree to apply to the Springfield campus as a freshman. If accepted, the student would be guaranteed admission to the UIC College of Nursing BSN program on the Springfield regional campus when they achieve junior-level standing.

“It’s an opportunity for very competitive students to have this pathway guaranteed for them,” said Kevin Browne, vice provost for academic and enrollment services at UIC. “We guarantee admission to the BSN degree, which is a major threshold to enter the health care industry.”

If students are not accepted into the program as freshmen they still could apply to UIC’s BSN program as a junior or senior without the guaranteed acceptance.

The effort is designed to help increase the number of students in the program, said Cynthia Reese, director of the Springfield regional campus of the UIC College of Nursing.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on July 2, 2020.

‘This is how I can help’ / UIS interim chancellor takes reigns amid pandemic

University of Illinois Springfield interim Chancellor Karen Whitney was clear-eyed when she accepted the yearlong appointment earlier this year.

Among the challenges staring her down: an unprecedented public health crisis that has significantly altered the delivery of academic services, great social upheaval as institutions across the country confront uncomfortable truths on race and ensuring that other major university initiatives, such as the construction of the Springfield Innovation Center, don’t get lost in the shuffle.

These circumstances are exactly what attracted Whitney to the job.

“This is how I can help,” Whitney said in an interview with The State Journal-Register last week. “I’m not in science or public health. If I could, I’d go to a lab and I would make the vaccine that would keep us safe. I can’t do those things, but I know how to run a university and work with a lot of people and that’s how I’m going to help.”

She takes over for Chancellor Emeritus Susan Koch, whose retirement became official last week after nine years leading the Springfield campus.

Whitney laid out her list of goals and priorities she hopes to accomplish during her limited tenure in Springfield. At the top of this list is meeting the moment the country currently finds itself in, she said.

“So the goal is to work with the university, the faculty, the staff and students to ensure the university continues to provide high quality teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Whitney said. “That’s job one. Job two is to embrace this incredible moment we’re in and to continue the university’s work around anti-racism and social justice.”

Though the plan now is to welcome students back to campus this fall, Whitney acknowledged that it can change on a dime.

Whitney said the response to the pandemic and social unrest in the country are top priorities. But, this won’t distract her from the other important work to be done, she said.

Whitney said she plans to work with the university’s enrollment team to improve recruitment efforts of both graduate and undergraduate students. This includes implementing the Common Application, an admission application that allow students to apply for hundreds of schools at once verses applying for each individually.

Whitney said she would work to continue implementing the university’s strategic plan, secure a new collective bargaining agreement with university faculty and reach out to the Springfield community as Koch did.

She will also continue the push for the development of the Springfield Innovation Center, which will be the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network.

Yet even on borrowed time, Whitney said don’t expect her to be a caretaker chancellor.

“This year is going to be a very busy year, it’s going to be one with unprecedented existential threats that we will respond to,” Whitney said. “And it’s a year though, because of that, to take stock, and to advance on what we do really well, and to be clear that we always need to innovate, create and improve. So I would say, hang on, it’s gonna be a busy year.”

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on July 5, 2020.