SEC stands behind further exploration of Urbana-Champaign College of Medicine

At its Monday meeting, the Senate Executive Committee offered its support to the chancellor and provost to further explore the establishment of a separately accredited College of Medicine on the University’s Urbana campus.

Further, SEC encouraged the chancellor and the provost to put the proposal through the appropriate process of review before presenting it to the Urbana-Champaign Senate as soon as possible.

Abbas Aminmansour, SEC member and associate professor of architecture, clarified that the endorsement is meant to support the initiative rather than the proposal itself, which must be reviewed by the Urbana-Champaign Senate’s educational policy committee before the SEC would be able to endorse it.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she’s already received guidance from a subgroup of SEC members, but sought the committee’s support to move forward with the next steps in the process. Pending Urbana-Champaign Senate and Board of Trustees approval, in coming months the college will also require approval from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Liaison Committee on Medical Education as well as accreditation.

The goal, Wise said, is to have a Class of 2017, but this is tentative.

She said the separately accredited college, which will be in full partnership with Carle Health Systems, will broach one of society’s greatest challenges — to provide better healthcare for more people at a lower cost by using data- and technology-driven medicine.

The college, she said, will train a new generation of physicians, relying heavily on the University’s already strong College of Engineering, infusing bioengineering and big data into the year one curriculum.

Graduates of this college, she said, will differ from traditional medical school graduates, going on to be physician-engineers, physician-discoverers, physician-inventors and physician-biotechnologists. Some will go into practice, some will go to the academy and others will go into industry and start their own businesses.

“We know that companies like Apple and Google and Intel are looking for people to use their platforms in the biomedical (world),” Wise said.

She said the college will offer opportunities for economic development only in Urbana-Champaign, but the rest of the state as well, reaching north from Central Illinois to Chicago.

“The graduates of this college — some of them will stay here in our community and hopefully really, really enrich it, but many others will go and populate other areas of the state, including Chicago,” Wise said.

The University will not seek general revenue funds to finance the college, she said, rather relying on tuition, grants and contracts from existing and new faculty, revenue sharing, philanthropy and commercialization.

The college requires $100 million over a five-year period to start out, which will cover the initial costs of hiring faculty and renovating an existing campus facility. The college will cost approximately $22 million a year, but this cost will increase as faculty and students increase.

“Our belief really is that if this college is successful in bringing better visibility, better respect, greater impact of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that all of the departments, all of the faculty will benefit, whether or not you’re in the arts and humanities, social sciences or engineering,” Wise said.

Kim Graber, vice chair of SEC, said she thinks this college will change the perception of the entire University of Illinois system for the better.

“We’ve been looking for ways to improve rankings for years and we kind of stay flat, and I really think this is something that could move us ahead,” she said.

Aminmansour said the University is uniquely situated for such an undertaking.

“I particularly appreciate the vision that the entire campus and the University benefits from this — this is not something that is one way, a medical school benefiting from our engineering…,” Aminmansour said. “It’s very appropriate to put it in that context, that the campus is going to benefit from this, of course the University and … the entire world.”

He noted that the development of a technology like MRI benefitted the entire world.

Wise said that the college could contribute to technological growth in the biomedical field, hypothesizing that something like the miniaturization of existing equipment like an MRI machine would allow access at all clinics and physicians’ offices, rather than only at bigger hospitals. She added that she thinks that tech companies like Apple are trying very hard to develop algorithms for mobile health monitoring software, “but they don’t know enough about medicine to be able to apply it.”

For that reason, these tech firms are seeking partners to improve biomedical technology.

“This could actually impact healthcare for the underserved,” Wise said.

Prior to discussing these plans, SEC had entered executive session with President Robert Easter to review the chancellor.

Tyler can be reached at or @TylerAllynDavis.

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