U of I trustees endorse Obama library bid

From the Office for University Relations at the University of Illinois

CHICAGO —The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday, Nov. 13, unanimously endorsed the University of Illinois at Chicago’s bid to land the Obama Presidential Library and Museum.

In September, UIC was chosen as one of four finalists for the 44th president’s library and museum, along with the University of Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii.

Final proposals must be submitted by Dec. 11 to the Barack Obama Foundation, which will finance construction of the new facility and share site recommendations with the president and first lady. The Obamas will make the final decision, expected in early 2015.

University officials say UIC would be an ideal home because it’s the only public research university in Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago and reflects the expected social justice legacies of his presidency, with one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse campuses and a health-care enterprise that is committed to underserved populations.

The Obama library promises rich dividends for both the University and the people of Illinois – a global attraction that would add to UIC’s growing reputation for excellence while also supporting the state’s economy through the many visitors that it would draw,” President Robert Easter said.

The new facility will be the nation’s 14th presidential library and, if Chicago is chosen, would be the second in Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield has hosted more than 3.5 million guests since it opened in 2005 and pumps an estimated $26 million into the local economy every year.

UIC has proposed three potential sites for the Obama library, which would preserve papers, records and other historical materials from his presidency and make them available to the public. Two sites are on campus — Harrison Field at Harrison and Halsted streets and a location in the Illinois Medical District at Taylor Street and Ashland Avenue. The third site is in the North Lawndale neighborhood, offered in partnership with the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee. The city-owned property is in an area bounded by 5th Avenue, Kildare Avenue, Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.

If UIC is chosen for the project, Board of Trustees approval would be required before the campus can enter into final negotiations on agreements with the Obama Foundation. The library would operate through an endowment provided by the foundation, along with federal funding.

Urbana College of Medicine

Trustees directed Easter to study a proposed engineering-centered College of Medicine on the Urbana campus, along with a counterproposal from the existing UIC-based College of Medicine, and make a recommendation to the board at or before its March 2015 meeting.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise has proposed a medical school that would be created in partnership with Urbana-based Carle Health System, combining traditional doctor’s training with engineering, computer science and technology to foster innovation that provides better care at lower cost through new medical devises and procedures.

Wise said the college also is needed to recruit and retain top faculty and to remain competitive with peers who have their own, fully functioning medical colleges. Currently, Urbana’s medical school is a branch of UIC’s College of Medicine.

Preliminary plans call for enrolling the first 25 students in 2017 and increasing admissions gradually to 50 a year by 2023-24, when the college would educate more than 200 students annually.

A financial plan developed this month shows that the college could operate without state support, and would be established through $135 million in gifts from donors and a 10-year, $100 million commitment from Carle.

The UIC College of Medicine has proposed an alternative plan, with estimated start-up costs of about $70 million. The plan would create a bioengineering research institute in Urbana to pursue technology-based advances, in partnership with the campus’s College of Engineering, and would integrate engineering and technology into training for all of the University’s 1,300 medical students.

Trustees directed Easter to further study the proposals, as well as the current operations of the university’s overall health-care enterprise, which includes a hospital, clinics and seven academic colleges in Chicago and satellite medical campuses in Peoria, Rockford and Urbana-Champaign.

The review will examine the existing health-care enterprise’s service to the state, the university and its campuses; the challenges it faces and how to overcome them; and how it might be impacted by any restructuring to incorporate engineering-based education and research.

Easter also was asked to provide recommendations to the board on Urbana’s medical school plan and UIC’s counterproposal, and to follow University procedures by seeking input from faculty Senates at UIC and Urbana and from the University Senates Conference, an advisory panel comprised of faculty senators from all three campuses. Easter also was asked to seek input from the chancellors at UIC and Urbana.

Building renamed to honor Carl Woese

Trustees approved renaming the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) in Urbana to honor the late Carl R. Woese, a pioneering Urbana microbiologist and biophysicist who overturned one of the major dogmas of biology with his discovery of a third domain of life.

Woese is regarded as one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century and was a founding member of the IGB, which now will be known as the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. The institute was created in 2003 to advance life sciences research and opened its $75 million building on the Urbana campus in 2007

In 1977, Woese and a colleague published research challenging a universally accepted principle that there were two branches to the evolutionary tree of life – eukarya, such as animals, plants and fungi; and bacteria, which include all other microscopic organisms. The microbial life form he discovered and named archaea are the most primitive cells, and has contributed to finding the common ancestor of all life on earth.

His pioneering breakthrough was originally met with skepticism, but is now universally accepted and taught in classrooms around the world. Scientists say the implications of his discovery are wide ranging, and could aid study of climate change, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” and fundamental questions about the origins of life.

Though acceptance was slow in coming, his discovery later earned him the 2003 Crafoord Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in microbiology, and a 1992 Leeuwenhoek Medal, microbiology’s highest honor. He also earned a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1984, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988.

Woese was a professor on the Urbana campus for 48 years and worked until about a month before his death at age 84 in December 2012.

Posted Nov. 13, 2014

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