Elizabeth Spiller arrived on campus March 20 to acquire her ID, visit her new office and drop off 21 boxes of books. When she left, she closed her door, making sure to sanitize the handle.
She hasn’t returned since.
Spiller officially became the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs on March 23. While she continues to send emails to assist with response efforts surrounding COVID-19, she has not stepped foot on campus since assuming the role.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, she said she is committed to UNL’s mission of ensuring all students are successful, faculty are valued and education is prioritized to find solutions to problems.
“I can’t say enough about the incredibly impressive can-do attitude of this campus,” Spiller said. “I think when people here see a problem their instinct is … really to lean in and try to fix whatever it is, and I find that incredibly energizing.”
Though the coronavirus has disrupted higher education, Spiller said the situation allows UNL’s community to demonstrate a commitment to the university’s mission every day.
“In that sense, for all of us, COVID-19 has been a profound and radical change,” she said. “On the other hand, almost everything that we are doing in our response to COVID-19 ultimately and very fundamentally reaffirms all of the strategic goals that we had.”
Chancellor Ronnie Green said Spiller has also come in at a time when UNL has paved a path forward with its N2025 Strategic Plan, which will help define UNL’s trajectory in reaching goals for the next five years. Green also mentioned that Spiller has helped with the transition to a Responsibility Centered Management budget model, which will provide more transparency in creating budgets. Spiller said she will help UNL implement both.
Additionally, she said she wants to ensure faculty and students both can succeed and are celebrated for their work. She will collaborate with colleges and departments at UNL to create experiential and innovative curricula to adapt to the future’s workforce demands.
“The disciplines we study are not static things; they’re endlessly evolving, and they evolve faster and faster,” she said. “If you think about coming in as a freshman and then you think about graduating as a senior, that’s, in a way, a lifetime of a world that’s changing very quickly.”
Green said Spiller puts academics first and has high expectations, but she has helped make needed adjustments so students can be successful, including extending the “Pass/No Pass” deadline for the spring semester.
“It’s critically important we have a leader with that vision at this point academically that gets it, and Elizabeth gets it,” he said.
As a dean at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Spiller said she worked to promote value in the liberal arts, such as learning Shakespeare or joining the school’s marching band, in addition to its engineering focus. In 2016, she was a finalist for the newly created executive vice chancellor position.
After serving as a dean at the University of California, Davis, she comes to UNL with an additional four years of experience, devoted to helping it continue its commitments.
Through the challenges, Green said Spiller has proven capable of helping UNL commit to its educational mission.
“She has gotten her arms around this very quickly and has already proven to the university leadership and the faculty in particular that we’ve hired a very impressive leader,” he said.
Though she completed her first month at UNL remotely, Spiller said she looks forward to prioritizing students and assisting their educational experiences.
“I am endlessly engaged with, curious and committed to all of the parts of our enterprise,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to meeting, in person, everyone, but in the meantime, I’m here on Zoom and really looking forward to working with everyone.”