Alumni Blog: Hard Times and What the Past Tells Us

Illinois Alumnus, Retired Navy Commander, and now "emeritus" Vice-President of UIAA Membership, Joe Rank looks back into the University's past to find that what happened before has happened again as Illinois deals with hard economic times.

  By Joe Rank '69, MS '73,  Vice-President of Membership (Retired), University of Illinois Alumni Association


If you are like me, you are probably wondering when this roller coaster ride will finally come to a stop. We’ve certainly experienced some of the most unsettled times in our collective memories. It has been no different here at our alma mater. New University leadership coupled with State of Illinois budget shortfalls have caused the University of Illinois to take a critical look at how it does business and how it can best adapt to the challenges – and opportunities – of the future.  

It wouldn’t be the first time. I recently ran across a speech former U of I President Harry Woodburn Chase made in 1932. The circumstances were eerily similar to those of today. As the 1932 world, nation and state faced an economic crisis of epic proportion, our University took bold steps to adapt to the new realities while strengthening its core missions and values. The result, of course, was the world class institution from which we proudly earned our highly regarded degrees. (Enclosed is a copy of President Chase’s address. I think you’ll find it interesting.)

Despite the sometimes gloomy outlook, the University will endure and thrive as it has before. We have a lot to be proud of. The University's research mission is an economic engine for the state – it has already brought in more than $700 Million in separately funded research in FY 2011, and ranks 8th among all public research universities in the total federal research grants. We have the largest medical school in the country. One of every three Nobel Prize winners has a connection to the University of Illinois. Discoveries at the University of Illinois include transistors, the first Web browser, LEDs, plasma technology for televisions, contemporary methods for building skyscrapers and MRI technologies.   


From the March 1932 issue of Illinois Alumni News

Presidential Messages

President Harry Woodburn Chase, 1932By Harry Woodburn Chase*

President of the University 

At a time when every enterprise, private and public, has tightened its belt to come through this period of depression it is interesting to know that the University of Illinois is no exception.

The University is trying to do two things. First, it is making every emergency adjustment in its power in order to meet the immediate financial situation in the State. Until this is clarified the University is cutting back on every possible expenditure. In the months between January and July it will be several hundred thousand dollars under its allotted budget from the State and this is in addition to the postponement of the construction of the new medical and dental unit in Chicago for which the legislature appropriated $1,400,000. I want to say that the faculty of the University is exceedingly cooperative in all these measures and that we are all working together in good spirit and morale.

The second thing which the University is trying to do is of more permanent character. It is beginning to turn the searchlight on its own internal processes and activities. It is trying to evaluate what has happened during the very rapid period of expansion through which it has been passing. Such things as the sizes of classes, the number of courses given in various departments, the teaching hours of instructors, the number of hours required for graduation, the value of university requirements affecting everybody – all these things and many others will be studied.

This is really the beginning of another stock-taking which the University has been making of itself. Last year we undertook to study the machinery by which we do things and the result, as I indicated last month, was the adoption of a new series of statutes intended to make possible various changes in university procedures and practices. That was, of course, foundation work.

Each college in the University has now freedom and flexibility sufficient to make possible a study of its problems and methods. The University as a whole has such machinery. It is my conviction that institutions for higher education are going to be obliged to discriminate a little more searchingly between primary and secondary values in education. In the period which lies ahead increases of students and funds will not be so rapid and economies of operation are going to be highly important. Universities must conserve their fundamental values. The University is undertaking to scrutinize itself anew in the light of such a situation.

 *President Chase will speak to alumni in Chicago March 17 at 12:15, ninth floor of Mandel’s, (private dining room)



Joe Rank currentlly serves as a consultant to the University of Illinois Alumni Association. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Joe Rank.






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