Questions for the Chancellor


Mark Capapas

Chancellor Robert Jones prepares to give his State of the University remarks on Jan. 24. Since the pandemic started, Jones and his team have been working to maximize public health.

By JJ Kim

The Daily Illini: What has it been like to be Chancellor amidst the COVID-19 pandemic? What has been the most difficult aspect?

Chancellor Robert Jones: I think my experience has been very similar to that of everyone else. I have the same sense of frustration and uncertainty as I’ve watched our university, our community and our entire world seemingly turned upside down and shaken by this pandemic. But the hardest part for me has really been watching the impact of this pandemic on the experiences of our students and on the careers of staff and faculty. We are doing all we can to mitigate the disruptions and to maximize health and safety. But there is nothing normal about anything that has happened in these past eight or nine months. And you can see how much it wears on people. I want to be able to step in and tell them when it will be over and what to expect in the week or month or semester ahead. It is personally and professionally challenging to me to be the chancellor of one of the most important universities in the country, but to be unable to answer these questions. But I am so very proud of the patience, kindness and personal commitment to taking care of one another that I have witnessed.

DI: How has the pandemic changed your views on how the University should be run?

Jones: I think we have learned a lot about ways we might streamline and reimagine some of our more traditional operational processes and practices when this is behind us. I notice that we’ve done away with a lot of paper and physical routing of documents around the university. Those will be good things for us going forward. Perhaps more critically and more substantially, I believe this has dramatically accelerated the integration of online and in-person instructional options for our university. I think the future of our university will be one where these are far more seamless in the academic experience of all of our students.

DI: What sorts of responses have you seen from the community on how the University has reacted to the pandemic?

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Jones: From the earliest days of the pandemic, we have seen a really unprecedented and impressive level of communication, collaboration and consultation across our cities, the university, the county, our public health district and our local hospitals. There is no way to separate the university from the communities in which we all live, learn and work. And COVID-19 certainly doesn’t recognize city or university boundaries. We really are all in this together and mostly what I’ve seen from our community is a great deal of pride in the way the university has approached the semester. We have worked hard to be fully transparent and honest and to build trust.

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