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.