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Showing other universities the way

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Lon Kaufman

Lon Kaufman: “How do we train future leaders in a way that hasn’t been done before, on a campus that looks like the world?”

Photo: Joshua Clark

At UIC, Lon Kaufman sees an opportunity to not only educate a diverse student population — but show the world how to do it.

“How do we train future leaders in a way that hasn’t been done before, on a campus that looks like the world?” he said.

“We can be an example of how to educate in a different way and help the rest of the world understand how to do that as well.”

Kaufman will use his new role as vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost to help UIC stand out as a model for higher education.

His appointment is effective Aug. 15, pending approval from university trustees.

As UIC’s next chief academic and operating officer, Kaufman has several items on his agenda: increasing graduation and retention rates, providing interdisciplinary training and supporting research across the campus. He wants to ensure campus resources are allocated in ways that support these goals.

UIC’s funding structure makes deans primarily responsible for managing the finances of each college or unit. This system has been successful, Kaufman said.

“Deans have done a wonderful job of building a responsible economy within their respective colleges that work and assure reasonable reserves,” Kaufman said.

“We’ve gotten very lean over the years. We are small in the sense that we don’t have an enormous number of faculty in comparison to our peers, but our faculty is very productive.”

Kaufman said his experience working with several strategic planning initiatives — including the 2010 UIC Campus Master Plan, the Diversity Strategic Thinking Document, the Diversity Strategic Plan and the Learning Outcomes Assessment Program — has shown him the importance of collaboration.

“We need to engage the campus,” he said. “Everybody has a right to be heard.”

Throughout Kaufman’s 26 years at UIC, he’s held a variety of positions: faculty member, department head, dean and vice provost.

He joined UIC in 1985 as professor of biological sciences and was director of graduate studies before becoming department head. He was named dean of the Honors College and vice provost for undergraduate affairs in 2003, then vice provost for planning and programs in 2008.

“Being a faculty member and thinking about scholarship is at the core of everything,” he said. “The other jobs are experiential, helping me learn about the different parts of the campus, understanding the goals of different parts of campus and how to make them mesh.”

As a faculty member, Kaufman’s research interests included the regulation of gene expression, signal transduction and crop productivity. The demands of his new role no longer allow him to run his lab, so he’s turned it over to Katherine Warpeha, a new assistant professor in biological sciences.

As vice provost for undergraduate affairs and Honors College dean, Kaufman developed UIC College Prep, the charter high school affiliated with UIC.

The school, which has a special emphasis on the health sciences, is a collaboration between the university and the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Each of UIC’s health sciences colleges helps develop curriculum and hosts the high schoolers on campus.

“The generosity of the faculty and students in the health sciences colleges has just been outstanding,” Kaufman said.

The school, which is set to graduate its first class of seniors next spring, has seen tremendous success, Kaufman said. UIC College Prep is the first open-enrollment school in the Chicago Public Schools system to reach an average ACT score of 21.1.

Its students have taken home top honors in citywide math competitions and scored well enough on UIC placement tests to take college-level English courses.

“It’s one of the best high schools in the city,” Kaufman said.

Another highlight of Kaufman’s career thus far has been the redesign of general education requirements, a project in collaboration with Astrida Tantillo, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Building in assessments for general education courses helped UIC receive its reaccreditation from the North Central Association in 2007, Kaufman said.

“They gave us a 10-year bill of health with no need for a follow-up visit, and that was just the way it should be,” he said.

Kaufman lives in Highland Park with his wife, Zena, a divisional vice president at Abbott. They lived in Oak Park for 20 years before moving to Highland Park in 2006. They have two children, Ian, an aeronautical engineer, and Heather, a college student.

“Oak Park was wonderful for raising children,” he said. “We still have a lot of good friends there.”

Kaufman succeeds R. Michael Tanner, who left UIC in December to become chief academic officer and vice president of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. College of Pharmacy dean Jerry Bauman is serving as interim provost and vice chancellor.


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