UI chancellor discusses his key takeaways from Chief conversations

UI chancellor discusses his key takeaways from Chief conversations

URBANA — He's still weighing the feedback, but University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones said a couple of suggestions have stood out from the recent conversations about Chief Illiniwek: developing new traditions for the campus and finding a way to commemorate the Chief's history at the university.

"The most important thing is trying to find some way to make sure that, in a historical context, the history of the Chief is captured in a way that's appropriate, so people can kind of feel that the university is not trying to cover over that," Jones said in a brief interview Monday.

"It was part of the university for 80 years, whether people like it or not," said Jones, who has made it clear that the Chief isn't coming back.

"So there's some interest in trying to find some way to capture that historical context in a way that is thoughtful, respectful, in a way that would allow us to move on without Chief Illiniwek being part of our daily or weekly lives or whatever cameo appearances may occur."

Overall, he said the April 10 "Critical Conversation" and follow-up open house last week, which drew about 400 people, provided a chance for "folks who have yelled at each other perhaps to really have an opportunity to talk to each other. And it's been quite gratifying or refreshing to see the degree to which those dialogues or conversations are starting to appreciate the other, at least kind of understand where the other person is coming from. And that's all you can hope for through all of this."

Jones hopes to continue the dialogue — and the "education and the reconciliation" — which seemed to be something almost everyone involved in the first two events agreed on, he said.

"I know firsthand there were some people who came to that event who kind of left with a different perspective about where this needs to go," Jones said. "Most people seem to be very much on board with the notion that it is time to move forward from where we've been, and that perhaps this is the best way to move forward, where people feel at least engaged in the dialogue, even if they don't necessarily agree with every idea that's put on the table, so they feel part of the process regardless of where it goes."

They can provide perspective on the "big ideas that we have to try to find some way to start implementing in the months and years ahead," Jones said.

Campus energy efficiency

The chancellor spoke after a meeting of the UI Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee, where an item calling for a $32.5 million investment in energy-conservation projects across the Urbana campus came under scrutiny.

The program is designed to pay for itself, with the contractor promising that the UI will recoup at least that much in energy savings over a certain time period. If it doesn't, the contractor makes up the difference, officials said.

But Trustee Don Edwards, and later, Trustee Ramon Cepeda questioned the time frame for the payback and said they needed more documentation before they could vote to approve the contract with Schneider Electric of Homewood.

The projects — new windows, heat-recovery systems, occupancy sensors, upgraded air-handling units and other improvements — would be done at the Chemical Life Sciences Laboratory, Roger Adams Lab, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Beckman Institute and other labs.

They were identified through an energy audit, and officials analyzed the list of projects to ensure there would be adequate payback, said Michael Bass, senior associate vice president and deputy comptroller. He promised to provide more information to trustees before next week's full board meeting.

UI President Tim Killeen said one project at the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011 led to a $900,000 annual energy savings.

Without these kinds of projects, he said, it would be difficult for the Urbana campus to meet its long-term goal of drastically reducing carbon emissions, as called for in the Illinois Climate Action Plan.

"It does translate, in the short term and the long term, into real savings," Jones added.