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Campus Senate discusses UI Labs, undergraduate advising

Jorge Villegas, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, reported on issues discussed at a recent University Senates Conference retreat, including the new UI Labs initiative. According to the report of the meeting submitted by Villegas, Lawrence Schook, Vice President for Research, considers the UI Labs “an idea in flux,” but The News-Gazette reported that University lawyers petitioned to trademark the name and slogan, “UI Labs: The Future Today,” last summer.

The UI Labs is “meant to provide a place that could offer opportunities for collaboration between faculty as they come up with ways to address industry or, potentially, government research needs,” according to Lynn Fisher, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. John Martin, Associate Professor of Chemistry, recalled that the project has been described as, “What Bell Labs is to AT&T, UI Labs will be to the University of Illinois.”

The UI Labs will be independent of the University of Illinois system and, despite being based in Chicago and supported by private industry and government entities, will not be held to any specific research agenda. “This is ours,” Villegas said. “This is for the faculty.”

Senators agreed that they wanted more information on how UIS might get involved with the project, whether it may be utilized for research in the humanities as well as the sciences, and how the University of Illinois’ commitment to shared governance and collective bargaining will be addressed.

Karen Moranski, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education, delivered the findings of the Undergraduate Advising Task Force, which is searching for ways to improve academic advising in all colleges across UIS. The UATF recommends hiring two additional professional advisers and an advising director, creating an academic success center as a centralized location for all advising matters, and instituting an advising referral service. These recommendations are in addition to those already implemented, such as Starfish Connect, a case management system that assists with collecting data and scheduling appointments with students.

Peter Boltuc, Professor of Philosophy, questioned the need for additional hires and wondered if UIS would be better served by allocating this money elsewhere. Martin shared his concerns, especially in light of the fact that many students face financial concerns in their college careers. He asked, “If we have a fixed amount of money, are we better off putting it in advising or putting it in financial aid?”

Samia Ahmad, at-large SGA member and a junior in political science and criminal justice, said, “Personally, I’ve had rough issues with undergrad advising. I’m excited for [advising] to get more people.”

In 2007, UIS expanded the general education curriculum to keep in line with the requirements of a four-year university. This has led to greater complexity, but Fisher wanted to avoid blaming problems with undergraduate advising on the new curriculum. “We have naturally faced an increased complexity in our student body – the directions they are coming from [and] their preparations,” she said.

Moranski said new retention information shows that sophomore and junior years are when students often decide to not complete a degree. “Advising in those semesters is absolutely crucial to retaining those students through to graduation. That’s where we can really make a big impact. And every student we keep to graduation helps us to provide more majors, more services, because it helps us continue to keep an enrollment base.”

Provost Lynn Pardie clarified that UIS does not have a retention problem and is on par with national averages, a point she attributes to a collegial atmosphere that includes a good deal of personal contact between faculty and students. But she said there is always room for improvement.

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