A Message from Dean Kevin Hamilton
I write in August of 2022 as a new academic year begins – our third operating in pandemic conditions. Here in FAA, the past summer afforded time to reflect with gratitude on not only the faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters who have helped us through these times, but on the many things that make teaching at a public university in Illinois an ever more distinctive privilege within the landscape of higher education.
Though we have our outstanding faculty to thank for the quality and character of our classes and curricula, we ultimately depend on the state’s highest body, the Board of Higher Education, for guidance on our work and plans. That body’s recent strategic plan rightly describes the thriving of the state as dependent upon closing gaps in access to education “that disproportionally impact African American, Latinx and other students of color, low-income students, working adults, and students from rural communities.” Going forward, all new curricular proposals at Illinois are required to include explicit plans to address these disparities.
This means that when we make changes to who, how, and what we teach to ensure access and equity here at the University of Illinois, we are moving with a whole state of educators doing likewise. The governor and legislature strengthened such efforts last year through enacting a “uniform admission” policy for the University of Illinois (under Public Act 102-0187), which provides automatic admission for transfer students from community colleges who meet certain minimal requirements.
Where educators in at least 36 other states face legislative efforts designed to restrict mere discussion of racism and bias in the classroom, our state’s leaders are not only naming how structural inequities restrict access to education but identifying the address of these matters as central to the state’s success. At Illinois we also have in our chancellor, now in his sixth year, an experienced leader in educational equity, as recognized by his recent addition to the Board of the Directors of Hope Chicago, a new exemplary organization funding college education for scores of disproportionately affected Chicago families.
Here in FAA, we are emboldened by all of this, even as we know we have much to correct in our college to ensure our part in the work. We see our degree offerings as uniquely suited to not only preparing students to be part of the state’s equity and justice work but also to meeting students where they are in their distinctive passions for creating and sharing. Through our burgeoning Arts Impact Initiative, we are bringing data to back up those convictions and beginning exciting new conversations with partners across multiple sectors to ensure that our graduating artists, designers, architects, planners, scholars, and performers are welcomed by employers who understand exactly what assets they bring.
At a time when families are asking many good questions about the value of education, the record of our alumni and faculty is evidence of the unexpected places that specialization in our fields can take you. As evidenced by the stories in this issue of Dimension, arts vocations testify to an unexpected paradox – that by going deep in the areas of knowledge we steward, people learn to be students all over again in ever new places, disciplines, and conditions. As I encouraged an auditorium of high schoolers gathered at the U.S. Capitol this summer to celebrate their success in the Congressional Art Competition – for artists, specialization is a superpower. May the enclosed stories of unexpected applications of that power embolden you in your support for the arts and in our work together for good.