College

Dear Alumni and Friends:

It is with great pleasure, gratitude, and nostalgia that I write to you today. In the pages of this issue of InSight, which is both a newsletter and an annual report, you will have the opportunity to learn about the daily workings and accomplishments of our faculty, students, and departments. With the semester and the year coming to an end, and the new millennium approaching, I should like to reflect on the priorities and events of the last decade, especially since, as I wrote you in my last letter, I will be leaving this great college at the end of the academic year to become dean of the Warwick Business School in England. Bear with me as I take a little space to reminisce with you about the way the college has evolved during my tenure as dean. Guiding this nationally ranked business college for the last nine years has afforded me extraordinary opportunity to be an integral part of a great institution at the cutting edge of business knowledge. I have met with countless students and alumni and been fortunate to serve with an outstanding faculty.

During my tenure as dean, I established a clear vision for the school as a world-class institution and a leader in academics and academic programs; in research and technological innovation; in internationalism; and in developing strong alliances with business and the community. And, through a college-wide planning process, I presented a strategic plan that stressed clear planning priorities and guidelines. In particular I have focused on certain priority issues, including the undergraduate program, faculty excellence and research, the MBA program, and alumni relations and fundraising.

Undergraduate Program. I consider the top-ten rated undergraduate program "the jewel in the crown." A priority has been to examine and revise the core curriculum to specifically include technology and globalization components and to thoroughly update all of the college majors. Significant developments include the full implementation of a totally new accounting curriculum by our #1 ranked accounting program, called Project Discovery, which has become the standard for the nation. Today we face new challenges from the adoption of the state-mandated 150 hours to sit for the CPA examination. Later in this newsletter you will learn the results of a task force that has been examining the undergraduate majors, the core curriculum, and the delivery of services to students. Demand for our undergraduate courses remains extremely high and has increased dramatically in technical areas such as management information systems. So high, in fact, that we can only meet these challenges by increasing the size of our classes. But we also take steps to insure that our students have good experiences in the classroom. We never lose sight of the fact that our overarching mission is to educate students to the best of our ability, as we prepare them to become the business leaders of tomorrow.

Faculty Excellence and Research. A glance at Faculty Profiles (available on the Web at www.cba.uiuc.edu) makes clear the research excellence of our faculty. They excel in every area: publication, honors and awards, service. They receive research grants from foundations and governmental agencies, are editors of major journals, presidents of academic associations. In this issue of InSight, as in every issue, we list faculty honors and awards. To be a major contender in a research institution like Illinois, our faculty must be recognized for their research contributions to the field of management. Similarly, we must have strong doctoral programs, which result from and attract strong faculty and graduate students and develop high quality faculty for management education.

MBA Program. The college has made a major commitment to the re-engineering and revitalization of the MBA program. Despite some difficulties, the distinctive and integrative first-year MBA curriculum is a clear success. And the Office for the Study of Business Issues (OSBI) has become a model for the development of project-based consulting skills, attracting external clients such as Lucent and Ford, and technology transfer projects within the university. Now we must find the resources to make the second-year tracks as distinctive and successful as the first-year curriculum. The focus for the second year is on selected tracks that can bring technology, an undisputed strength across this university and in the college, to the forefront. These areas include accounting, finance, management of information systems and technology, and marketing.

Alumni Relations and Fundraising. Over the past several years the college has significantly improved  its alumni relations and development profile as many regular issues of Commerce InSight will attest. We easily met our five-year goal of $61 million for Campaign Illinois, well ahead of schedule, and have stretched the target for academic facilities, programs, endowed chairs, scholarships, and unrestricted funds to $100 million by the end of 2000. Gifts to the campaign have increased the number of scholarships and fellowships we provide to students, including the $5 million for Leiby Hall Scholarships — the largest scholarship gift ever committed to the university. The college has also secured commitments for sixteen new faculty chairs and named professorships. A generous gift from the Wohlers family is being used to renovate Commerce West. I also hope, before long, to announce a schedule for the construction of a new education facility across Sixth Street from Commerce West, anchored by the previously announced gift from Arthur Andersen. One great success has been the significant improvement in alumni involvement in the college through the Commerce Alumni Association, the Business Advisory Council, and the large increase in unrestricted support for the college to $1 million per year through the Investors in Business Education Fund.

Creating a new entrance for Com West, a work-in-progress.

All the years I have served as dean have been beset by inadequate budgets. Private funding has certainly helped us maintain our competitive edge. But it is recurring state funds that are required for everyday operations. With more state money we could hire additional faculty, offer more sections of courses, have smaller classes, and on and on. Despite these shortfalls in resources, we have earned top ratings. We continue to provide a first class business education to our students at bargain-basement prices.

A changing business environment, that is both global and technological in a way that would not have been dreamt of twenty years ago, poses special challenges. To prepare our students for the global marketplace we have changed our requirements to include four semesters of foreign language. This requirement, coupled with our strong efforts to support study abroad (by creating a CBA Study Abroad Office and brokering direct exchange programs with around twenty programs across the world) has radically increased the number of Commerce students who study abroad each year. What they bring back from this experience is priceless in terms of increased understanding and personal growth.

Then there is technology. Here the challenges are huge in magnitude. Computers are widely used in the classroom across the curriculum at all levels of study. We are making forays into distance learning, especially in the EMBA program. We require our MBA students to have laptop computers. Online courses are under development in the Department of Finance and in the MBA program. As part of the renovations of Com West, the entire building is being rewired so that we will be completely computer adaptable in the 21st century. The innovations here are exciting, necessary, and expensive.

And of course, our best assets are our students. Quality remains high, as a glance at the statistics in the Annual Report section of the newsletter will confirm. Not only are they smart, they are also well rounded. They participate in all types of extracurricular activity in the college, university, and community. For example, thirty-two of the undergraduate students elected to the Senior 100 Honorary last year were from the College of Commerce, even though we enroll only about 11 percent of the undergraduate student population. Success of OSBI has increased the external profile for MBA students.

It's hard to recap nine years in a couple of pages. Our activities have been chronicled with increasing pride and frequency in these pages over the years. I'm sure you take the same pride in these successes that I do. I have been privileged to be a part of this college for the last nineteen years and dean for nine of them. I have made many great friendships among the faculty and alumni. I want to thank all of my Illinois friends sincerely for their help and support. I am grateful for my Illinois experiences; they have enriched me beyond description. I leave Illinois with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and great affection. "To everything there is a season," and it is now time for me to move on to new challenges, but Illinois will always be in my heart.

With very best wishes for a happy new year,

Howard Thomas, Dean and James F. Towey
Distinguished Professor of Strategic Management