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    U of I celebrates its sesquicentennial and looks forward to the next 150 years

    “You cannot go a day without being impacted by some innovation from the University of Illinois,” related Dr. Robert J. Jones, chancellor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, during remarks made at The Chicago Farmers’ December 11th holiday meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago. The university has a history of excellence and innovation, but it will not rest on its laurels, he noted.

    “The university is very good across a wide spectrum and is excellent at a massive scale,” he said. “I am surrounded by excellence at the University of Illinois in every field of study. Most universities would die for what we have.” He noted he was proud to be in the midst of the university’s 150th anniversary, which will extend through graduation 2018, but it is necessary to ensure that it will be a strong and sustainable University of Illinois for the next 150 years.

    “To reach our goal, we must include a strong and sustainable agriculture foundation. Everything I have done has been shaped by my experiences as an agriculturist and provided me with an understanding of the mission of land grant colleges,” said Dr. Jones.

    He related that he was the son of Georgia sharecroppers who made it clear to the landowner that their children would not lose a day of school to work on the farm. Dr. Jones said he was grateful for his parents’ view. Interested in science since an early age, Dr. Jones worked with his high school vocational ag instructor and saw how science and agriculture are related. He was a member of 4H and was impacted by his association with the Future Farmers of America, he said.

    After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, Dr. Jones embarked on a 34-year tenure at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served as president of the University at Albany, State University of New York, from 2013 to 2016 when he was named chancellor at the University of Illinois. He isan experienced and accomplished scientist and research university leader.

    Noting that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was ranked14th overall in the country this year by U.S. News and World Report, he said that 22 of the university’s programs rank in the top five in the country and 75 of its programs rank among the top 25 in the country.

    He said that there were 39,000 freshmen applicants last year for 7,500 slots. The university welcomed 7,581 freshmen who had a strong profile with an average ACT score of 28.5. It also is a diverse class, 22 percent of whom are first generation college students. “The class demonstrates that the university can be an elite academic institution, but not an elitist university,” said Dr. Jones. “Also, 5,500 of the students are Illinois residents. We educate a large number of students from the state and will continue to do this. This is what the land grant mission is all about.”

    Dr. Jones also expressed pride in the core academic faculty, which includes 1,190 tenured and 1,000 specialized faculty members. The faculty generated more than $600 million in research and development expenditures. “For the sixth consecutive year, we are the top university in receipt of National Science Foundation awards. Our students and our faculty are our assets,” he said.

    Dr. Jones went on to say that to keep the university strong and deliver on its land grant obligations, it must have a presence and deep engagement where most of the state’s citizens live, which is Chicago. “We won’t diminish anything we do at Urbana-Champaign, but we have to be more strategic about our connection with Chicago,” he said. “To that end, the university wants to work with The Chicago Farmers because it has a critical and long historical presence in the city.”

    Dr. Jones said the university was charged with enormous potential and he shared with Chicago Farmers the university’s vision for the future. “We have to activate that potential for impact and change,” he said.

    He shared that the university has faced challenges: budget stalemates, changes in leadership and a climate of social and political unrest on the campus.

    “If you look closely, you will see what we have done to prepare us for the worst of times,” said Dr. Jones. “We can’t be held hostage by a budget crisis, and we can’t sustain excellence without proper funding. Our 2018 appropriation was our 2015 base, minus 12 percent. We are working diligently through this budget impasse. We continue to work on reforming the budget model, but it is a challenge. Despite implementation of a $67 million permanent reduction to the budget, we are increasing our financial aid to $92 million for the next year. We have to be financially prudent and resilient to meet the challenges of the next 150 Years.”

    Dr. Jones briefly reviewed the framework of the measure of success in the strategic process for “The Next 150 Years” and a glimpse of things to come:

    • The University of Illinois will be ahead of the game, be innovative, and lead to discovery.
    • The creation of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the first engineering-based medical college; students will be immersed in clinical experiences from the first day of school.
    • Improve food production to feed the world. “The work we are doing now is Nobel-like research focused on feeding the world,” said Dr. Jones.
    • As a foremost leader in science and data analytics, the university has been sought out by the Mayo Clinic to create a partnership to advance the notion of individualized medicine for Mayo’s 100,000 patients annually.
    • Efforts are focusing on creating new ways to engage with the population of the state outside of Urbana-Champaign, while maintaining the anchor campus. The building of Discovery Partners Institute will create a presence in Chicago on a 62 acre parcel at Roosevelt Road along the Chicago River. Through the institute, college partnerships with Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the Fermilab will be created. Some 1,800 students will attend classes there with 90 faculty members. The students will graduate from the Urbana-Champaign campus, but they will have the opportunity to have internships in Chicago to encourage them to return to Chicago-based companies for work after graduation.
    • The 53rd Street Project, initiated in conjunction with the University of Chicago, which will offer public engagement activities and research on advance materials and advance analytics.
    • A campaign to raise $2.25 billion in the next five years for the Urbana-Champaign campus. Dr. Jones said, “It is an ambitious goal, but a critical one to meet to carry out the University of Illinois’ mission.”