UIC Chancellor talks past, present, future

Chancellor Michael Amiridis

“We have much to be proud of, much to be daunted by, but even more to be excited about,” says Chancellor Michael Amiridis. — Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Chancellor Michael Amiridis highlighted UIC’s accomplishments, discussed its challenges and outlined his vision for creating a stronger university during his State of the University of Illinois at Chicago address March 30 in front of a crowd of about 600 people at the UIC Forum.

“We have much to be proud of, much to be daunted by, but even more to be excited about,” Amiridis said. “This is a great institution and I’m confident that we are on the road to become the model urban public research university for the 21st century.”

During his first year as UIC chancellor, Amiridis has met with thousands of students, faculty and staff members to hear their suggestions for enhancing the campus.

“After listening to and speaking with so many of you in and around our university, I have no doubt in my mind that collectively we have the foundation needed and the will to build this model university,” he said.

Amiridis emphasized campus accomplishments over the past year, such as recruiting two strong leaders: Robert Barish, vice chancellor for health affairs, and Susan Poser, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“In a very short period of time, both have made their presence known and I’m hearing from you that their impact is already visible,” he said.

Despite the state budget crisis, UIC enrollment continued to climb this year to a record 29,000 students.

“This number speaks volumes of the quality of our undergraduate, graduate and research programs,” he said. “Our recruiting efforts have been improving constantly as we expand beyond Chicago and beyond the state of Illinois.

“We need the diversity of perspective— and let’s be honest we also need the financial support — that out-of-state students bring to our campus and we can attract them to UIC and Chicago without compromising our mission of serving our primary constituency, which is the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.”

Other highlights of the past year include:

  • Establishing the Center for Teaching and Learning, which promotes new pedagogical methods
  • Creating new programs under the direction of the Center for Student Success Initiatives that improve summer session accessibility, reform the first-year math program, create a new block schedule and more
  • Beginning new campus traditions with the inaugural December Commencement ceremony and Flames Homecoming week in the spring
  • Renewing UIC’s partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago and expanding scholarship opportunities
  • Launching UIC ENGAGE, which sends UIC student volunteers to schools and community faith centers on the city’s West Side to provide tutoring and mentoring
  • Establishing stronger partnerships with the City of Chicago

Despite fiscal challenges because of the state budget impasse, the university decided to keep in-state undergraduate tuition flat for the second year in a row, Amiridis said.

“We understand the difficulties faced by many of our students and their families in the current state environment,” he said. “In the spirit of openness and transparency, starting this spring we will engage student and faculty representatives in the budgeting process for the university, so future decisions regarding new revenue streams and fund allocation are clearly understood and supported by our community members.”

The state budget crisis continues to be a challenge for the university, Amiridis said.

“As I have told legislators repeatedly in the past few weeks, we are running out of time and we are now facing the consequences of reputational damage and significant opportunity costs,” he said. “If a compromise is not reached soon, operational damage will follow.

“UIC is in a strong position because of the collective efforts of our students, faculty and staff, but the absence of the state budget allocation is severely limiting our ability to move forward.”

Looking to the future, Amiridis said he plans to implement a broad faculty hiring program, which will include senior faculty hires and improve demographics.

“The budget impasse has not allowed us to move forward with these goals during the past year,” he said. “As soon as our financial situation becomes clear, we will move forward this year with such a hiring program.”

The budget impasse has also created challenges for the campus infrastructure, Amiridis said. The average campus building is 50 years old, and a decline in state funding for the past several years has caused a deferred maintenance backlog of about $800 million, he said. The campus is spending about $30 million each year on renovations and repairs.

“We have no choice but to change the financial options for funding capital facilities,” he said. “This does not mean that we will not continue to lobby vigorously in Springfield. But it also means that we should build what we can with our own funds and we should do everything we can to bring private funds to campus.”

The campus will move ahead with projects to build basic science labs in the College of Medicine, modernize some classrooms, complete the Mile Square building, improve the hospital’s aging infrastructure and construct a modular-designed Engineering lab building, he said.

Public-private partnerships will fund the construction of a new classroom and residence hall building on Halsted Street, as well as a new soccer stadium on South Campus.

Amiridis said he is optimistic about the future.

“We have a new leadership team in place that fully understands the potential of this university to set the standard for higher education in this century,” he said. “Our students are the faces of the future of this country and our highly accomplished faculty and staff are fully dedicated to the students’ success and to creating the knowledge that fuels our economy and our culture. This is a combination that will not only prevail, but will triumph in the end.”

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