Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Karen Whitney: United in Safety as the fall semester begins

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on August 23, 2020.

As readers of this column are well aware, UIS Chancellor Emeritus Susan Koch, who retired June 30 following nine years of dedicated leadership, cared deeply about making the University of Illinois Springfield an inspiring place for teaching, learning, research and service. A place where leadership is lived. And a place where people want to be.

Count me in as one of those folks.

When I was asked to consider serving as the UIS interim chancellor, I did so knowing I would be leading during an unprecedented time in our history. I have worked in higher education for more than 40 years, and believe that this is very likely the most challenging time for educational institutions across the country.

Though I was quite busy and happy working with other presidents and chancellors around the country as a higher education consultant, I saw the interim position at UIS as an opportunity to make a real difference during a demanding time and keep the university moving forward to ensure the success of our students, university and community.

Chief among my top goals for my time at UIS is effectively managing our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our greatest obligation is to the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. To this priority have countless numbers of administrators, faculty, staff and students dedicated themselves over the past several months.

At UIS, we say (and believe!) we are United in Safety. Like most other universities, we released a plan (https://www.uis.edu/admissions/fall-2020/) this summer outlining our safety expectations, testing protocols, teaching and learning strategies and efforts to promote and prioritize safety on campus.

We are providing masks for all students, faculty and staff and are requiring everyone to wear a face covering when on campus. We developed enhanced cleaning protocols. We moved furniture and rearranged our facilities to support physical distancing. We blanketed the campus with safety signage. We continued to build on our nationally award-winning approach to teaching and learning online; we have led the country in innovating “blended courses” that offer teaching and learning in a sensitive combination of on-campus and online formats. We worked closely with our faculty while listening to our students to provide that right offering of courses.

Recognizing that not every student will learn on campus this fall, UIS is uniquely prepared for this time of increased demand for remote learning. For 20 years, UIS has been a national leader in online learning. 

We also launched an on-campus COVID-19 testing approach using the University of Illinois’ revolutionary saliva test (https://www.uis.edu/covid-19/testing/), which every member of our on-campus community will undergo once a week at no cost to them. 

Every measure has been taken with the utmost care and concern for our community, and it reflects strong, steady planning, dedication and creativity. We also have experienced tremendous collaboration with community partners, which I greatly value and appreciate.