A University of Illinois fund established earlier this year to help victims of the Japan earthquake has been reworked and instead the money will be used for scholarships for students.
A few days after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, causing a tsunami and devastation throughout the east side of the manin island of Honshu, the Japan House on campus organized a press conference and announced it would set up the Illinois-Japan Disaster Relief Fund. Organizers said they wanted to provide direct support to the people of Japan.
However in the weeks following that announcement, university legal counsel advised the College of Fine and Applied Arts, of which the Japan House is part, that such a fund did not comply with the bylaws of the UI Foundation, the private fundraising arm of the university.
Money raised through the university "has to benefit the educational mission of the university ... support students, faculty, something to do with campus infrastructure. ... not transferred to an organization outside of the foundation," said Roger Laramee, assistant dean for development at the college.
At the time of the announcement, organizers said they planned to work with the consulate general of Japan in Chicago and the Japan-Illini Club on how to distribute the money.
"We just wanted to do the most we could and try to help the Japanese people as much as we could," Laramee said.
Legal counsel wasn't consulted until after the announcement.
"We've had to make a little bit of a change in the plan," he said.
The university considered sending UI students to Japan where they could directly help with the recovery efforts but with the continuing concerns about the nuclear reactors, "we couldn't justifiably send young people into that situation," Laramee said.
"The next best thing is to meet the needs of the university and the foundation and create the scholarship fund," he said.
The fund was renamed the Illinois-Japan Disaster Recovery Fund and money raised will go to establish scholarships to support incoming or current University of Illinois students whose families have been financially or physically devastated due to the event.
Letters have been sent to donors explaining the situation and the university has offered to refund their donation if they wish.
As a result, the university refunded about $6,000. The fund currently has about $30,000 in it.
Most of the money raised was received within the first couple weeks of the actual earthquake. People throughout Illinois donated; most were from the Champaign-Urbana community.