Coronavirus (COVID-19)

University Town Hall

June 22, 2020

First of all, thank you to our faculty and staff who enabled our students to finish their spring semester and graduate on time. At that time we successfully took care of more than 500 students who chose to remain on campus. Currently, there are more than 200 in our housing. This experience gives us some confidence in our abilities to look after our on-campus students during this pandemic. Our priority is—and always will be—focused on the success of our students. And even though our Commencement was virtual for the first time, I think it was successful.

We are in a time like no other in our history. We are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, we must reopen in August, and it is not likely that any new international graduate students will join our university in the fall. In addition, we must also understand our role in addressing the systemic racism so apparent in our society. We must embrace and support the Black Lives Matter movement, and we must say clearly in one voice that Black Lives Matter.

This means we must renew our commitment to substantially increasing access for African-American students to our university, as well as increasing the number of African-American faculty and staff members and opening doors of opportunities for their advancement, as well as working to be an even better partner with our Bronzeville neighbors. 

In fact, planning and efforts are underway to address these important matters, sparked by significant conversations over the last several months with African-American trustees, alumni, and current students. I have met—and will continue to meet—with our students to better understand their needs. It is clear that our university must become more welcoming, must better understand how we can support student success, and must recognize that we have not done enough to make sure our African-American students feel supported and valued. I have heard very troubling concerns from our African-American students ranging from classroom interactions to a large disconnect between expectations and reality. I have received suggestions for change from our trustees and from our student body, and I will listen even more and communicate a detailed plan that is first discussed among our faculty and staff—as it is clear that a top-down solution will not be successful. We as a community must change.  

Certain facts are clear:

  • We must increase the number of African-American faculty in all of our schools and colleges. Our provost will lead this initiative.
  • We must increase the number of African-American students on our various campus sites and develop a culture that allows them to be successful, not only during their student years, but also once they graduate. Mike Gosz will lead the initiative to increase our African-American students, and our provost, our deans, and our Student Life professionals, led by Katie Stetz, will be focused on developing an appropriate campus culture to allow and promote retention and graduation of these students. Our goal must be that ALL students have a similar experience that is inclusive, enriching, and enables them for success.
  • We must increase the number of scholarships available in Bronzeville and in Chicago for students who graduate from high schools around us, and we must become a partner with these schools to enable future success. Ernie Iseminger and I, with our board, alumni, and friends, will work on this aspect of our future.
  • We must increase the number of African-American faculty and staff leaders on our campus by developing a pathway program to develop such leaders. Peter Kilpatrick and Mike Horan will lead this effort.
  • We must reinvigorate the development of our culture that supports ALL people, especially those who have been underrepresented on our campus, to allow for future success. Our deans and vice presidents, our Faculty Council, our Staff Council, and student leadership, under the guidance of the provost and I, will lead this effort.  

Stating a desired outcome is not the same as achieving that outcome, and I am asking the above groups to meet and formulate concrete plans that we will implement going forward. This is not a short-term problem and will need long-term solutions. We will become the university where difference is important. Diversity has been baked into our community’s DNA for over a century, unlike other universities, for which this is a relatively new undertaking.

Our future as a university is changing significantly due to the pandemic but also due to the fact the national policy will make it less appealing for international students to come to the United States. In the past, we, as a strategy, decided to become a global university, and we became very successful under the guidance of Darsh Wasan; however, it is doubtful if this strategy will be successful in the future. We have been growing as an undergraduate university to mitigate decreasing international enrollment. The discussion of elimination of OPT, reduction in H1B visas, and increasing difficulty in becoming a citizen has led to a decreasing trend in student numbers over the past few years; and as numbers decrease we have seen much greater competition not only within the U.S., but also in other countries.

The pandemic has accelerated these issues, and now we are predicting no new international students in the fall semester and perhaps the spring semester. This became clear only at the end of May. At our board meeting I discussed this with our board members, and we were required to present a “worst case” financial scenario, which we shared with you on June 2, as that now seems to be realistic. Peter and Mike Horan will discuss this in detail, but we face a very tough year going forward. But it is a year we will overcome. Our strategy has been to maintain our full-time faculty and staff, and attempt to ensure that their take-home pay does not decrease and their jobs continue, thus the steps taken in the June 2 memo. The provost will discuss the steps taken to balance our income with our expenditures.

There have been questions, such as will administrators face the same cuts as faculty and staff, and the answer is of course. If there are no salary increases and benefit reductions, there are no salary increases and benefit reductions for everyone. Let me talk about bonuses. First of all, until the faculty and staff receive a salary increase and resumption of full retirement benefits, I will not receive the part of my salary that is based on board requirements negotiated each year. My salary is set up that if I make the criteria that the board requires, I receive my full salary—a salary that is comparable to the average of other university presidents. Thus, my salary is an incentive-based salary that I must achieve. It is not a conventional bonus system. If I do not achieve certain goals, my salary can decrease by up to 30 percent. Thus, this year, my salary will decrease by 25 percent compared to last year. By the way, I do not set my salary; the board does, and all increases of administrators are approved by the board, and the salary pool percentage for administrators is set at the salary average approved in our budget each year. There are, however, some people who are hired who have deferred salary, which they receive if they stay a certain amount of time. This also turns up as a bonus in IRS filings, but this is not a traditional bonus either, but a promise that the university must and will honor.

Lastly, we must reopen in the fall. Without students on our campus and in our housing, we are not financially viable—no traditional university is. Thus, we must reopen in the fall with an on-campus experience. It is also what our students want and expect. Bruce Watts will describe the reopening procedures to enable the potential for operation of our various campus sites in the fall.

I have reviewed all of the questions that were posted online before the meeting and tried to answer some of the very general comments during this time. After presentations by Peter Kilpatrick and Bruce Watts, Nick Menhart will moderate a session to answer a number of the online questions and, if there is time, he will open up for live questions. After the town hall, we will post answers to questions that could not be answered live.

Thank you.

Alan W. Cramb
President, Illinois Institute of Technology