Opening remarks at media availability, July 2, 2012
Thanks to all of you for joining us today.
Importance of the moment
Since I first joined the University as a graduate student in the mid-‘70s, I’ve always been proud to introduce myself as “Bob Easter, of the University of Illinois.”
So I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am to introduce myself today as “Bob Easter, president of the University of Illinois.”
I’m deeply grateful to our distinguished Board of Trustees for giving me the opportunity, for their trust and support.
I’d also like to thank President Hogan for sharing his wisdom and experience over the last three months, and for his dedicated leadership over the last two years.
I’m indebted to the faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who have been so supportive and so welcoming during my transition to the presidency.
And a special thanks to the woman who has been my first lady of my life for more than four decades and who is now the university’s new first lady … my wife, Cheryl.
Her comment was simple-- "this is an opportunity for us to work together."
I’ve worked on the Urbana campus for nearly 40 years, and it has been my only professional home. I thought I knew our operation inside and out, but what I have learned in my three months as president-designate has given me even greater appreciation and respect for our power and potential.
I have learned of the incredible size and impact of our medical colleges on the Chicago... the fact that we educate and train about 1 of every six health care professionals in Illinois—physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, we do cutting edge research and have a unique role in addressing health disparities in our state.
On UIC’s east campus, we have world-class programs in fields like physics, urban studies, mathematics and business.
The Springfield campus is a true jewel-- with a large and growing role in leading the online educational efforts of our University and with unique programs focused on government and policy.
I’ve spent time on each the three campuses, I've learned about their strengths, their worries and their hopes for the future.
I’ve been meeting with leadership on each campus … administrative, faculty and staff … working to build an effective and collaborative team with a shared sense of purpose … expanding our rich legacy as a world leader in education and discovery.
And I’ve spent time building relationships with legislators and public officials in Springfield and Washington that are so critical to our future.
My journey over the last few months has taught me a lot.
Last week, leaders of land-grant and public universities from across the nation gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.
In 1862 - at a most difficult point in the American Civil War, the US Congress passed legislation to grant public lands to each state... that land was in turn to be sold and the proceeds used to build a public university in each state.
The early focus was agriculture and mechanical arts but more broadly... and I quote - "to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes...” the common people.
I believe, the Morrill Act did more to enable the great social and technical progress of the past 100 years than any other single legislative effort through the transformative power of education. Public universities are committed to bringing this transformative power to all citizens across the full diversity of our population.
Our celebration in Washington was tempered by a reality that the fundamental creed of these great institutions -- affordable education for all young people, excellence without parallel in research and effective public service -- is being tested as never before.
In the face of these challenges, we can allow ourselves to drift to mediocrity blaming our decline on a host of outside forces....or we can define a different future- a future that is consistent with our history and our core values.
In my conversations over the past three months I have found a pent-up passion to overcome obstacles and to advance the academic and research excellence that have made the University of Illinois the envy of our peers.
A desire to make tough decisions-- adult decisions.
Our trustees, our academic leaders and our faculty are committed to academic programs that prepare our students to become leaders of the next generation.
They are committed to breakthrough research that moves society forward, and creates both jobs and economic growth.
They are committed to diversity … with campuses that mirror our nation’s rich ethnic and cultural variety and prepare students to succeed in a workplace that has become increasingly global.
And they are committed to access, giving every deserving student the life-changing opportunities that a University of Illinois education provides.
We have never lost sight of that mission, and working together we will ensure that it endures for generations to come.
Thank you again for your time, and now I’m happy to answer your questions.