U of I president: Capital program needed

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11460875975871.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘University of Illinois President B. Joseph White speaks April 18 at Forest Hills Country Club. "Money invested in the University of Illinois is the wisest investment the state can make," White said.’);

According to University of Illinois President B. Joseph White, an Illinois alumni described the institution as the platform to his higher achievement.

That alumni was basketball star Manny Jackson, the former owner of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Asserting the university’s commodity helps unite people, White talked about the challenges of keeping that platform viable during an April 18 Rockford Area Illini Club and U of I Foundation event at Forest Hills Country Club.

“It is education that divides,” White said.

White said he was grateful the university provides an Ivy League education at a more affordable price. He said students pay between $7,000 and $10,000 annually for an education valued at $25,000 to $30,000 a year at the Ivy League schools.

“We need great public universities,” White said.

He said University of Illinois produces great discoveries that lead to new jobs and industries. White noted research geared toward turning pig manure into fuel is part of the university’s cutting-edge research.

He also touted how the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford faculty put together a program that raised the quality of care for Winnebago County Jail inmates, while lowering health care costs.

Decrying how lower state funding has forced the university to find other ways to remain vital and viable, White said he’d pounded the pavement in search for more financial aid.

“I spent a lot of time in Springfield,” he said. White said he’d spoken with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones about the university’s needs. “I think the leadership wants to help the University of Illinois,” he said, but added the state’s financial health has affected its ability to offer more support.

“That’s led to some lean years,” White said. But he said things could be improving. A 1.4 percent increase in the university’s operating budget is on the legislative table. “I hope the General Assembly supports it,” White said.

While the proposed operating budget increase would help sustain the university’s day-to-day operation, White said help with a long-term project is needed. He said a capital program should be implemented to maintain current buildings and finance new construction.

“Money invested in the University of Illinois is the wisest investment the state can make,” White said, adding it’s the state’s “single more important asset.”

Obviously, private investments are more than welcome. In fact, University of Illinois Foundation President Sidney Micek said donations are becoming practically essential because “Private support is more than just icing on the cake.”

White stressed any investment isn’t just about supporting athletics.

“The core of the University of Illinois is academics, not athletics. That’s our reason for being. We work every day to maintain the quality of the University,” White said.

Quality comes from acquiring great faculty and recruiting great students. White said recruitment hasn’t been much of a problem. More than 20,000 potential Illinois students applied for more than 7,000 open spots. “It’s very tough to get in,” he said.

Some audience members wondered out loud whether the school’s national popularity would keep more state residents from attending. White down-played a university report that called for increasing the number of nonresident and international students. He said that wasn’t an attempt to shortchange potential students from Illinois. White also noted 90 percent of undergraduates are state residents.

Other notable Illinois alums in attendance were Illini basketball star Jerry Hester and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, a graduate of the U of I Law School.

White gave each a sporting “shout-out” of sorts. He commended Morrissey for accepting the challenge of leading an American city. “We’re really proud of you,” White said.

He also had some kind words for Hester, a former Rockford Lightning player. White said to Hester, “Thanks so much for representing us on and off the court.”

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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