Khan to give UI commencement address

Khan to give UI commencement address

CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois engineering graduate, National Football League team owner and philanthropist Shahid Khan will be this year's commencement speaker at the University of Illinois.

Campuswide commencement ceremonies will be Sunday, May 12. Khan will speak at both ceremonies that day.

Khan, a native of Pakistan who graduated from the UI in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in engineering, is president of Flex-N-Gate. The Urbana-based automotive supplier has locations across the country that manufacture bumpers, interior and exterior parts, and other components for several different auto makers.

Khan also is being considered for a possible honorary doctorate degree, The News-Gazette has learned.

The academic senate on the Urbana campus discussed the awarding of honorary degrees at a closed-door meeting on Monday afternoon. Chair of the honorary degrees committee, electrical and computer engineering department head Andreas Cangellaris, declined to talk about the meeting or the status of the honorary degree for Khan.

Senate Chair Matthew Wheeler also would not discuss the matter. UI trustees meet later this week in Urbana.

A prominent local figure for years, Shahid Khan gained national attention in 2011 when he bought the Jacksonville, Fla., Jaguars football team. His story was chronicled on the TV news magazine "60 Minutes," and Forbes magazine last year published a cover story on him titled, "Face of the American Dream."

"Shahid Khan is an example of how far one can go in life when you combine educational opportunity with personal determination, creativity and plain old hard work," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler. He arrived on campus in 1967 "with an admission letter and a room at the YMCA. This is a story that I think will resonate with our graduates and one that embodies the fundamental spirit of Illinois. We are proud to call him a member of the Illinois family and are excited that he accepted our offer to speak at the 2013 commencement," she said.

Khan is a member of the University of Illinois Foundation Board of Directors. He and his wife, Ann Carlson Khan, have been major donors to the university over the years, funding professorships in the College of Applied Health Sciences, a "healthy aging" annex at Huff Hall and the outdoor tennis complex.

In 2011, he was inducted into the Lincoln Academy, an organization that includes notables such as James Lovell, Nick Holonyak, Jean Driscoll and Studs Terkel.

Although lauded for his success story, Khan's company has come under fire in recent years for alleged anti-union activities and violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

Last month, the United Auto Workers organized several rallies outside non-union Flex-N-Gate factories around the country. About 50 people rallied outside the Guardian West facility in Urbana and called for better pay and working conditions. At the time a company spokesman said the vast majority of employees were happy with their employment.

Khan will not be paid for the speaking engagement. Most of the UI's commencement speakers have not received speaking fees, according to the campus commencement organizer Babette Hiles.

Last year's commencement speaker was Cokie Roberts. Ray Ozzie, a UI graduate and former Microsoft executive, was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.

Two honorary degree recipients who already have been approved by the senate and UI trustees are Professors James Thomson and Fred Volkmar.

Thomson, professor and director of regenerative biology at the University of Wisconsin, will receive an honorary degree of doctor of science. Thomson, a UI graduate, is the biomedical researcher who led the group that reported in 1995 the first isolation of embryonic stem cell lines from a non-human primate. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fred Volkmar is director of the Yale Child Study Center and professor of child psychiatry, pediatrics and psychology at Yale. Volkmar, also a UI graduate, is a neurobiologist who researches treatment of autism and related disorders. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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vcponsardin wrote on March 05, 2013 at 9:03 am

Ah, yes.  The corporate university looking for some more corporate big bucks from one of its most successful corporate graduates.  Why not...  Mercenary education at its best.

TheChiefLives wrote on March 05, 2013 at 10:03 am

Ah, yes.  Shun the successful.

UIUCHoopFan wrote on March 05, 2013 at 11:03 am

Ah yes....the man who bought a football team one day and furloughed Flex-N-Gate employees the next.  I'm certain we could all learn a tremendous amount from this illustrious UI grad.

Trapper wrote on March 05, 2013 at 11:03 am

Yes JEALOUSY is a UGLY emotion. These Mr. Khan and his wife Ann are the most down to earth people I have ever met. They help so many people and charities in OUR town that no one even knows about. They do it because they care and not for print. It is truly asame that when people do well it is somehow evil. Even when those folks help enrich OUR town.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 11:03 am

No one is jealous of Mr. Khan.  They are disgusted with his treatment of his employees across the country.  The Forbes article, the 60 Minutes piece, and the U of I disregard his cheap workplace safety record while holding him up as an example of success.  Do a Goggle search on him.  Look at all of the OSHA, and EPA violations that he has racked up across the country in his plants, and closed plants.  He does donate money; but it is earned at the expense of his workers health, and lives.  The U of I is not paying him to speak.  He is paying them.  It enhances his image.  He will have to pay a lot more to put a facade of chrome on his dirty image.  Of course, there will be boot lickers who defend him.

ronaldo wrote on March 05, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I personally know 5 people who either work for Flex n Gate now or worked for them in the past.  None had any complaints of anything above and beyond what a factory worker would typically have.  Obviously this isn't representative of every worker in every plant, but a) it's a random sample and b) how many have you heard directly from?  Sorry you feel this way, Sid.

On the other hand, there may have been some secret legislation passed which forced people to work there....I gotta plead ignorant on that one.  I'll ask them.

Yes, indeed, this is a clear example of the squeeky wheel getting the grease.


Oh, and while you're at it, google ANY large manufacturing company's name followed by "osha violations" and see what you come up with :)  I just did it with Kraft.  Wow.


Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Sorry, ronaldo; but the "they all do it" excuse doesn't cut it.  You know 5 workers with few complaints "above and beyond what a factory worker would typically have".  Hardly, a survey as you admitted.  Did you even read the OSHA, and EPA violations that Khan has admitted to doing?  He gets a violation, and pays a $25,000 fine or more; and continues doing what he was fined for doing.  Why does he do that?  Because it is cheaper to pay a fine than make the required corrections for worker safety.  The workers are handling chromimum.  Google chromimum while your at it.  After that; question why the emphasis on worker safety, and environmental protection.  Check on the communities where chromimum has contaminated the land, and water.  Like I said; there will be boot lickers who will come to Khan's defense.

TheChiefLives wrote on March 05, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Second or third subsequent repeats of major violations usually lead to a fine ten times the amount of the original fine.  It would not be sound practice to be a repeat offender.  The fines skyrocket if you whacked with the same violation twice.  Not to mention the fact that OSHA will increse their scheduled and unsheduled visits to job sites with "bad actors>.  Many times the OSHA inspectors will pick the low-hanging fruit, but they are usually issues that are relatively easy to clear up.  And they usually are cleared up.  Where did you read that these chromium issues were a repeat offense?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 3:03 pm

For goodness sake, TheChiefLives,... read!  Read the News Gazette articles of 06/14/12, 10/31/12, and 01/16/13.  Also, read at plus the OSHA website.  Read about the Indiana plant also.  Instead of disputing it, read it.

TheChiefLives wrote on March 05, 2013 at 3:03 pm


#1.  There were no repeat offenses there.   They were different violations each time.

#2.  A worker who does not don appropriate PPE, even if it is on hand, is not liable.  The fault will always fall back on the company.  Example:  Roofing guy doesn't feel like putting on harness today.  OSHA sees roofing guy on roof.  OSHA fines roofing company.  2 citations, not just one. The first:  Proper PPE not available/supplied for employee use.  The second:  Proper training on use of PPE not conducted.  They always make it sound horrible, but that is how it happens.

#3.  Safety is a moving target.  The same legal rules you played by last year may get you a fine this year.  Rules change.  It is an employees' responsibility to protect themselves and bring it up to management.  If management won't listen, then there is a problem, and OSHA needs to be called in.  Hold the companies accountable, I'm fine with that, but many businesses get a bad name because they didn't know a rule changed, or because they made a safety policy for their company, but some of the employees refused to follow it (e.g. Dillman Brothers).

I work for a living.  I am not siding with people who make more money than I'll ever see.  But I'm also not siding with people who cry foul every time a company gets in trouble for something. 

I will not base my opinion on what I see on a UAW website.  That organization has been crying wolf for years.  I try to stay as objective as possible, but that is one union that, over the last 30 years, has completely destroyed their credibility. 


Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 5:03 pm

You must not be reading everything.  The company got the violations, and fines because of the workers?  Blaming the employees for the company's lack of safety, and not reading the regulations does not make much sense.  Sure... your trying "to stay objective as possible". 

By the way; do you work nights?  You said that "you work for a living".  Were you commenting from work?  We all worked for a living.

TheChiefLives wrote on March 05, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Yeah, you've never taken a shortcut...

I'm done with you.

P.S.  In reference to your very last sentence:  I doubt you ever have.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 06, 2013 at 11:03 am

Ooooooo..... someone got their panties all bunched up.

Joe American wrote on March 05, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Please be a bit more well-rounded in your indignation.  That website is nothing more than a union run hatchet site bitter at their inability to unionize. 

I'd get into the declining union membership nationwide, but we'll save that discussion for another day.

Joe American wrote on March 05, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Are you aware that he voluntarily surpassed ALL EPA chromium containment requirements at the local facility?  I do, and you do now.  He built that plant so I can't speak for the others.  When I hear the chromium contamination argument I roll my eyes....which I'm doing right now.

ronaldo wrote on March 05, 2013 at 6:03 pm

My point was not that it's ok because everyone else is doing it - my point was that OSHA has gone from a worker protection agency to a self-perpetuating, revenue-generating bureaucratic far-reaching arm of the goverment and for a manufacturing facility of that size it's all just another day at the office.  They HAVE to find and fine in order to justify their existence.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 06, 2013 at 8:03 am

That's not how OSHA works at all.

ronaldo wrote on March 07, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Whatever you have to tell yourself.

Wingman wrote on March 05, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Sad Sid.  I worked at Guardian for several years.  right now they have the UAW so busy trying get into that plant that it is nearly impossible to not get OSHA fines.....And right now you are thinking I am making excuses for them.  No I am not.  Let's be truthful here Sid, If a cop followed you around EVERYDAY ALL DAY how long would it be fefore you got a ticket of some sort.  They are unnder a microscope right now.  Is Guardian West the safest place in America?.....No, It's a factory.  Metal forming and stamping is is very dangerous.  Chrome plating is very dangerous, E-Coat and painting is very dangerous, hand and auto polish is very dangerous, driving a car is very dangerous.............why would I throw that one in you ask......because more poeple have gotten hurt on their way to and from work to Guardian West than people getting hurt at Guardian West.  Sid give it up....Everytime there is any post about Mr. Kahn you are all over it talking about how bad of a guy he is.  Why don't you ask him to dinner and talk about your differences with him....Ya know, he is the kinda guy that would actually show up with an invitation. 

Local Yocal wrote on March 05, 2013 at 11:03 am
Profile Picture

Setting aside the class warfare accusations, the controversy in selecting this successful individual is not that they have been successful, for any one and every one is granted such a right, or privilege; it's the common decency lacking far too many times in this man's career we all should expect from the successful: you treat those that made you successful with respect, dignity and fairness.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Local Yocal;  Good comment.  Basically, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

Trapper wrote on March 05, 2013 at 2:03 pm

With the exception of Ronaldo you folks are very sad little people. Maybe each of you can take the place of one of the legal appointments made to the labor board by mr Obama. Then you maybe could do more to hurt the job makers of our country instead of sitting in your little black holes commenting on news articles all day. Sad little people!

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 3:03 pm

What the heck does President Obama's appointments have to do with Khan's violations of OSHA, and EPA regulations?  Going political now in Khan's defense?  It has nothing to do with politics.  It is about worker, and community safety regardless of who is president.

"Sad little people!" indeed.  All you have is "It's Obama's fault!"?

JRR wrote on March 05, 2013 at 4:03 pm

You're pretty sad yourself. It's always entertaining to see how quickly the wingnuts bring up Obama and suggest that he's to blame for anything you don't find right with the world.

I suppose to you and your ilk, today's snowstorm is Obama's fault as well. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 05, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I am not blaming Obama.  Heck, I voted for him once.  Try reading the comments slowly.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 06, 2013 at 8:03 am

JRR's comment was not in response to yours. It's weird how the NG's threading works.

Danno wrote on March 05, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Okay, let's just flip a coin:

Heads = Shahid Kahn,

Tails = Dennis Rodman

'K? ;)

yates wrote on March 05, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Yea Sid, if you voted for Obama just once I must have voted for him just twice.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 06, 2013 at 11:03 am

yates;  If you voted for Obama twice, good for you.  You have me beat.   I did not vote for him the first time.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 06, 2013 at 11:03 am

For Senator?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 06, 2013 at 1:03 pm

No.  I did not vote for him in his first election for president.  I voted for McCain.  My reasoning at the time was that I would never vote for an Illinois politician to become president even if Old Abe Lincoln came back from the grave, and ran again.  My experience with Illinois politicians was that they are all corrupt.  I voted for Obama in his second election because I felt he was a better option than Romney with his 47% theory.  I consider myself to be a conservative democrat if that makes any sense.  I am sure that most of the right wingers who comment do not see it that way.  I long for the return of "Moderates" in politics.  People who are willing to compromise for the greater good.  I see the threat to this country coming from the inside rather than the outside.  Extremists on the Left, and the Right are the danger.  People who see conspiracies everywhere, and the government elected by the people as being evil are the threat.  Couple that with "guns for everyone" leads to more internal violence against innocents. 

ronaldo wrote on March 07, 2013 at 1:03 pm voted for him THE SECOND time??

See if you can't have that post deleted.  It says more than any other post you've ever made.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 07, 2013 at 2:03 pm

ronaldo;  Yes, I did not vote for him in the first election between Obama, and McCain.  I did vote for him in his second election against Romney.  Evidently, you have a problem with that.  I am not so partisan in my politics as you are evidently.

Given the hand that Obama was dealt prior to his becoming president, I felt that he did a good job making a start toward a financial recovery.  He did not get us into two wars.  One of which was over "weapons of mass destruction" that never existed.  He did not allow Halliburton, and other corporations to gouge the taxpayers with "no bid contracts" for creating "democracy" in Iraq.  Where did all of the Iraq oil revenue go that was supposed to pay for the wars according to George the Second?  Yeah, I voted for Obama in the last election.  I voted for William Jefferson Clinton twice.  I would have voted for him a third time if he could have ran again.  I never voted for Nixon though.   Maybe, you should see about getting my post deleted?

By the way; did you vote in previous elections?

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 06, 2013 at 10:03 am

All I know about Khan is what I saw in his interview on 60 minutes and he seems like a pretty successful guy and a likeable sort. There are plenty of people who leave this University and don't really try to do anything with their lives.

On the Chemicals issue we need to keep pressure up on his operations so we don't end up being another PG&E Hinkley case. You can't undo it once it's in the groundwater and in your body. I have never been impressed with OSHA as a real affective entity. I worked at Solo cup about 20+ years ago and a guy got crushed in a stamping machine and died on second shift. There were supposed to be safety kill switches on the access panels but they had been removed so they could enter to make adjustments without the hassle of shutting the machine down. They had been removed years earlier which tells you how frequently OSHA inspections take place. OSHA usually shows up too late after someone is poisoned, maimed, or killed and hands out a fine until the next incident.

We have our own safety issues right here at the University which is one of the reasons I'm glad we are unionized. People only respect what is inspected.

I am sure he will be panhandled for money by the University as soon as the microphone gets turned off.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 06, 2013 at 11:03 am

Bulldogmojo;  Good comment.  The evident defenders of Mr. Khan's business practices would be opposed to unions though.  OSHA does show up after something bad happens; but once it does show up, it does not go away for a long time.  I would suspect those commenting with inside knowledge of Flex-N-Gate, and defending Khan are management employees.  

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 06, 2013 at 11:03 am

I just didn't want to throw the baby out with the Hexavalent chromium

aantulov wrote on March 07, 2013 at 5:03 am

The facts speak for themselves.  Jesse Jackson Jr. excess, disregard for the lower employees as if there was a shame in honest work. This man stands accused, will no one offer but being wealthy as an answer? 

Is this man a part of the same force of class ans status wishing to bring further larger "projects" that will pay no taxes to the public schools for the next 30 years? Because well "taxes are for little people."

Why is it that Americans continue to assume that anyone arriving here from a country where life is cheap, is coming from poverty? Could it be he is just another one of these guys on campus earning $200,000 a year because they simply followed a path they were born to?

Our town is quickly turning to a place where bank robbery, shootings, rape and robbery at gun point are monthly occurances. Where the community college is out of reach for the sons of those who work at factory jobs.  

"Reap and run" business practices as the founder of Costco stated at the democratic convention - are standard now.  I would have like to hear of a different speaker to the youth of a "big ten" university.

But then again its "big ten" not "top ten", I hear we are 47th, and we are wearing that label without knowledge like the invisible suit of .....


aantulov wrote on March 07, 2013 at 5:03 am

Where are the Milton Hershey's of tommorow? Can any of the class of 2014 site why he was worth emulating ?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 07, 2013 at 9:03 am

I doubt that the students had much to say about it.  Based on today's story on the "closed meeting"; it would appear that the "powers that be" on campus sold the honorary degree to Mr. Khan.  Heck, if Kim Kardasian donated enough money to the U of I; she could achieve an "honorary degree", and be the speaker at the 2015 graduation ceremony. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 07, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Well I need to make some money.

spangwurfelt wrote on March 07, 2013 at 12:03 pm

The text of his commencement speech has been leaked.

"I am rich. I have money. Money, do you hear? Money money money. I was chosen to give this talk simply because of my money, money, money, money. I have given lots of money, money, money to the University, and that means that the Administration thinks that I should give this speech, because all they think about is money, money, money, money. That is the Administration mantra. Money, money, money, money. You could say it with me, except that you are part of the middle class that people like me are impoverishing with our business practices. This practices are great for me. If they are not great for you, that doesn't matter even slightly. In fact, I don't have anything to say that might be of the slightest interest to the graduating students or their parents. But I have given the University lots of money, money, money, money. In fact, you might consider this speech to be nothing more than a commercial announcement, considering how much I paid for the opportunity. And in conclusion: money, money, money, money. If this isn't the most important thing in your life, don't ever go into university administration."

Aurelius wrote on March 08, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I suspect personal success will be the topic at commencement albeit absent of most of the relevant details how he achieved it. Yes, money does by priviledge and Khan is no exception. However, he did work for it. Granted there are some who have worked for him who I know personally who would not stop if he was stranded on the side of the road. Yes, to have achieved such success there are many skeletons in the closets.

No doubt such success may eventually find someone of an investigative mind to write about the rise of such a man who came to this  country, as it is told, with minimal resources, only to find a path to such wealth on his own? The reality may be enlightening.

60 Minutes did leave out much...but no matter what one says, he has the money and no good capitalist or charity/university in need can deny him that.

...and all those donations to charity and the U of I? I suspect it was for tax deductions. Khan is not known for "giving" anything away unless there is value attached. Then again, he did have some issues with taxes despite denial of knowing where his investments were going.

Yet having read what there is about Khan I admire the fact he made it. No one can deny anyone who obviously had to work for such success. Yet if ever there was a book to be written on those earlier years with family and business and all involved who helped him get to where he is could be entertaining to hear their side of the coin.

read the DI wrote on March 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

So this will be The Rap of Khan, then? hahaha, that's fresh!