An alumnus of the university, President James J. Stukel became the 15th president of the University of Illinois in August 1995. He earned his bachelor's degree in engineering from Purdue University and his master's and doctorate degrees in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His career at the Urbana campus included positions as teaching and research assistant and professor of engineering. He then moved to the Chicago campus, holding positions as dean of the graduate college, vice chancellor for research and chancellor.
At the beginning of his administration, Sangamon State University not only celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its founding but also became a part of the University as the University of Illinois at Springfield. Stukel also inaugurated the four-year Capital Scholars Honors Program at the Springfield campus, featuring interdisciplinary and collaborative learning designed to develop creative thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills for academically well-prepared and motivated students.
Stukel restructured University administration to reduce administrative overhead by 25 percent. He organized senior management into cross-campus functional teams and initiated the first University strategic planning process for administrative services. Additionally, he developed a comprehensive all-university academic priorities plan, the first in two decades.
Federal research grants and contracts nearly doubled and fundraising was at an all-time high. He established Illinois Connection, a legislative advocacy and public engagement program, to strengthen the link between the University and state citizens. He was dubbed "the people's president" as he logged 200,000 miles for community visits across Illinois to directly interact with the people on behalf of the University.
The acreage of UIC's east campus expanded by about 50 percent. Stukel supported a south campus development of more than $1 billion. Other initiatives during his administration were the establishment of the Office of Vice President for Technology and Economic Development, the Research Park LLC, IllinoisVENTURES LLC (a seed and early-stage investment firm) and University of Illinois Online.
In January 2004, Stukel announced his retirement after 43 years of service. In 2007, UIC opened the James Stukel Towers, a residence hall with space for more than 700 undergraduates, named in his honor.