Describe your university in three words.
Bold. Creative. Visionary.
What makes your university great?
I believe the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign truly exemplifies the endless possibilities that open up when you put the power of knowledge and education in the hands of people who honestly believe they have a responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone. In 1867, we started with two faculty members, 77 students, and one previously unwanted building located in the middle of a muddy field. In the 151 years that have followed, the individuals who came to Illinois have been regularly and steadily forcing the world to redefine the word “impossible” across the breadth of the disciplinary spectrum. From being the birthplace of modern physical accessibility standards to the starting point of the field of special education to a new branch on the Tree of Life to the foundational research that gave us the MRI, the modern internet browser and the visible LED – the faculty, students and alumni of this university have, without any exaggeration, changed the way everyone on this planet lives, works and thinks. There is a spirit of independent exploration and collaborative discovery that really seems to be embedded in the walls and bricks of the institution that inspires the people who come to Illinois to attempt great things and to tackle the kind of problems many others have written off as “unsolvable.”
If you could go back and give yourself advice on the first day of your job as a university chancellor, what would you say?
“Run, Forrest, Run!” are the first words that come to mind. But to be completely serious, looking back today, I think the advice I’d offer would be to remember to take care of myself and to be prepared for the enormous physical, emotional and intellectual demands that come with our evolving higher educational landscape. And when I started here at Illinois on September 26, 2016, I wish I’d have had some way of foretelling the dramatic changes in national tone and climate that would be coming just a month or so down the road. These have been challenging days for higher education, and it is important for those of us in these leadership roles to keep a personal balance in our own lives.
What is your favorite way to spend free time?
My favorite activity when I have the chance to get away is downhill skiing – preferably in Colorado. It is the closest thing to flying that I’ve ever experienced.
What is the last concert you attended?
The last concert I saw was the O’Jays at the historic Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign. It’s pretty inspiring to see these guys who have been performing for more than 50 years still have what it takes to bring a full-house audience to its feet.
If you could travel to one place you’ve never visited, where would it be and why?
I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands. The combination of their unique place in scientific history and the chance to stand in one of the least disturbed natural environments on the planet put the Galapagos on my life-list of destinations.