UI chancellor: Chicago initiatives will add resources for C-U, not drain them

UI chancellor: Chicago initiatives will add resources for C-U, not drain them

CHAMPAIGN — Chancellor Robert Jones reassured community leaders Tuesday that expanding the University of Illinois' presence in Chicago won't drain resources from Champaign-Urbana, arguing that two new initiatives there will do "just the opposite."

He also committed to expanding the "wildly successful" UI Research Park in Champaign — with its 100 companies, 2,000 employees and $60 million payroll — arguing that it will be a major draw for Chicago innovators looking to develop startups and use the UI's expertise to become more competitive globally.

Jones was referring to the proposed Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago, a public-private research partnership led by the UI that would anchor a statewide "innovation network," in addition to a new joint project with the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.

Jones said the university has to find a way to engage the state's largest city and its billions in venture capital while remaining firmly anchored in Champaign-Urbana.

"We're not going anywhere. We're not closing anything. Were not moving anything from here to Chicago. We want assets to flow back here," Jones said, addressing about 100 invited community leaders at the I Hotel and Conference Center.

Chicago is at the heart of a new "technology and innovation renaissance," he said, with a flow of talent and capital from the coasts to the Midwest for the first time in decades. Much of the talent that fueled the growth in Silicon Valley has UI connections, he said, and the university must build bridges to Chicago to "get these innovators and investors and creators to take a look 100 miles to the south and see what amazing opportunities are sitting right here where we are today."

Topping his list is the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, which just accepted its first class of 32 students and will open its doors July 1.

Drawing applause, Jones credited the vision and determination of former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Carle CEO James Leonard "for bringing something to the table that we believe is going to revolutionize health care, how medicine is taught and how medicine is practiced."

He predicted the medical school could be the catalyst for a new medical district, "a robust biomedical and health sciences research and innovation ecosystem second to none on the planet."

On other topics:

— Enrollment: With more than 40,000 applications for fall 2018, Jones predicted the next freshman class could be a record, falling somewhere between 7,500 and 7,600 students. A total of 7,518 freshmen enrolled last fall, just below the 2016 record of 7,592.

— Hockey: Asked for an update on a proposed hockey arena downtown, Jones said the university has to make sure that adding hockey makes sense programmatically, academically and financially. With startup costs estimated at $50 million, its future hinges on donor support, he said.

"We're excited," Jones said, but added, "It's not going to happen next year."

— Advisory council: Jones plans to finalize his new community advisory council in a few weeks, made up of civic and business leaders. He said membership will rotate to ensure broad perspectives are included. He hopes it can address economic development as well as larger challenges such as homelessness and access to education and health care.

"A great university must start on the shoulders of a great community," Jones said. "We're investing in the community, but we need to do more.

"We must work together. The university must make a difference in the world, and that difference has to start here in Urbana-Champaign."