It’s Birthday Party Time at the University of Illinois


URBANA — It’s time to party like it’s 1867.

The University of Illinois will launch a 15-month celebration Tuesday(02/28) honoring the 150th anniversary of its founding with new musical compositions, historical books and a kickoff featuring performances by famed baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Ollie Watts Davis.

The kickoff falls on the day the Illinois governor signed legislation establishing the Illinois Industrial University as a land-grant institution on Feb. 28, 1867. The first students enrolled a few months later, and classes started on March 2, 1868.

The sesquicentennial runs through commencement in May 2018, marking the completion of 150 years of continued instruction at the university.

The celebration is intended to highlight the accomplishments of the university in its first 150 years and its vision for the next century and beyond.

“Over the past 150 years, our faculty, staff, and students have transformed the social and economic landscape of our world. As a leading institution of higher learning, we will continue to expand our global presence through supporting public policies that address the grand challenges of a global society, to lead advancements in information and medical technology, and to catalyze economic development,” the website says.

A campus planning committee led by Pradeep Khanna, associate vice chancellor for corporate relations, came up with some ideas for the celebration, and others were contributed by the broader campus community, he said.

The lineup includes major projects and events commissioned for the sesquicentennial — books, musical works, exhibits and speaker series — as well as other events throughout the year. The idea was to “create pieces that will last well after the celebration,” he said.

“Every major event that the campus is holding during the next 15 months will have sesquicentennial elements to it,” Khanna added.

This year’s commencement, for instance, will feature a sesquicentennial logo embroidered on the stoles that graduates wear, he said.

The University Archives and Spurlock Museum will feature sesquicentennial exhibits. A new “welcome center” is planned at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. The UI has also produced sesquicentennial T-shirts, coffee mugs and pins.

The planning committee is also putting together a research conference next April at the I Hotel and Conference Center, highlighting “the excellence and breadth of interdisciplinary research at the university,” Khanna said. It will include four to six concurrent symposia, each on a different research theme, with shared events featuring prominent keynote speakers. Faculty will be asked to write research proposals for the conference.

Here are some of the major features:

Kickoff celebration

Tuesday’s(02/28) kickoff event is scheduled for 3 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.

The program will feature a keynote address by Chancellor Robert Jones; speeches by President Tim Killeen, Deputy Governor Leslie Munger and Board of Trustees Chairman Tim Koritz; a joint proclamation from Champaign-Urbana’s mayors; and musical performances by various UI musical ensembles.

After a short reception in the lobby with a giant birthday cake, the award-winning world music group Funkadesi will give a free performance in the Krannert lobby from 5 to 7 p.m.

Both events are open to the public. Seating for the program is first-come, first-served, with a live webcast and screens in the lobby for overflow crowds.

“The university belongs to the community,” Khanna said.

Science becomes music

The bells of the Altgeld Chimes and the McFarland Carillon on the south Quad will ring out at noon Tuesday with new musical works created for the sesquicentennial.

Music professor and conductor Stephen Taylor composed “Archaea” based on the third domain of life discovered by UI microbiologist Carl Woese. The discovery led to a new understanding of evolution and is considered one of the most important scientific discoveries made on the UI campus.

Interim Provost Ed Feser asked Taylor, a 2014 Guggenheim fellow, to compose a piece for the sesquicentennial, and Taylor decided he wanted something that involved both carillons. He has made other musical pieces out of science by turning data into sound or DNA into music.

Taylor used the genome map made by Woese and his team of researchers of Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, a tiny microbial organism living in extreme environments such as the hot springs of Yellowstone or icy Antarctic seas. Its genes are arranged in a circular chromosome, and Woese color-coded each set of genes according to their function. Taylor gave each color a separate musical motif.

His main composition, about 16 minutes long, will be played on the McFarland Carillon, whose 48 bells are controlled automatically. To represent the circular shape of the chromosome, the composition works its way from the top bells at the highest octave down to the lower bells at lower octaves at the halfway point.

Taylor also wrote a shorter piece to be played by a human bellringer on the Altgeld Chimes. It represents plasmids, or the smaller circular chromosomes with extra genes.


A larger musical composition will be played at the conclusion of the sesquicentennial in May 2018.

The idea came from the School of Music’s band and choral departments. Professor Stephen Peterson wrote the proposal, which involved asking acclaimed author Richard Powers to help draft it, Khanna said.

Powers, a National Book Award winner and a former UI professor, wrote the libretto. The composer is Dominick DiOrio, an Indiana University music professor,

“Gathering” uses the words of three famous UI alumni: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Yalow (Medicine/Physiology), and Fazlur Khan, one of the most influential architects and engineers of the 20th century who created the modern Chicago skyline. Powers describes the three as “a downstate Catholic farm boy, a New York Jew and a Muslim immigrant,” who were all champions of liberal education.

The libretto, he said, touches on “education, aspiration, inclusivity, the links between art and science, and the centrality of imagination.”

The work will be performed at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, in New York City, and at the Krannert Center by the UI Wind Symphony, conducted by Peterson, and the UI Chamber Singers, conducted by Andrew Megill, director of choral activities.

History of innovation

One of the committee’s first ideas was to have a commemorative book. Khanna approached the Department of History several years ago and Professor Fred Hoxsie agreed to take on the project.

The result was “The University of Illinois: Engine of Innovation.”

“It focuses on the great things that came out of this campus both in terms of science and technology and certain social issues, something that lasts well beyond the celebration,” Khanna said.

The book recounts the creation of the university under the federal Morrill Act that established land-grant universities, and the fight between Urbana and the communities of Jacksonville, Bloomington and Lincoln to host it. At one point, Chicago proposed splitting the agricultural and mechanical missions and creating a polytechnic institute in the city. But the state’s farm community won out.

Divided into three parts — “Singular people,” “World changing inventions” and “Places of innovation” — the book chronicles the advances of men and women who changed the world.

Some are familiar — the Morrow Plots, the invention of the MRI, Nobel Prize winner John Bardeen, accessibility pioneer Timothy Nugent. Others are less so, such as Thomas Cureton, “the father of physical fitness,” or environmental pioneer Victor Shelford.

“(I)nnovations produced here have changed lives, opened countess doors, and improved communities across the globe,” the book says.

‘An Illini Place’

A new book, “An Illini Place: Building the University of Illinois Campus,” traces the evolution of the university through its buildings.

Written by journalism lecturer and former UI spokeswoman Lex Tate and author John Franch, the book uses oral histories, official reports, dedication programs, master plans and more than 100 color photographs to explain why the university looks the way it does. There are also special chapters on campus icons and the buildings, arenas and other spaces made possible by donors and friends of the university.

‘A Campus Home of Our Own’

This video will recount a time when African-American students were not allowed to live on campus and local black families stepped up to help and support them.

“It has been said that black students were at the University, but not of the University,” the video’s description says.

In the 1940s, local African-American families, area churches and community leaders joined forces to provide meals, housing and a sense of community for the black students who yearned for a college education at the UI. The students lived in boarding houses, black fraternities and sororities and with African-American families.

What’s on tap

Among the upcoming sesquicentennial events:
“The First Years of University of Illinois Student Life with Reflections on Today(02/27) 1868-2017,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, UI Archives, Room 146 Library, 1408 West Gregory, U. As part of a University Archives speaker series, Master’s University Professor Gregory Behle will share his research on student life in the UI’s earliest years. Renee Romano, vice chancellor for student affairs, will reflect on the UI student experience in 2017.
“The African American Student Experience at Illinois: The Early Years,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 29, UI Archives, Room 146 Library, 1408 West Gregory, U. African-American students enrolled at the University, starting in the late 1880s, though in small numbers for many years. Professors Tamara Hoff and Vanessa Rouillon share their research on the African-American experience in these earliest years of the UI.
“University of Illinois at 150 Exhibit,” April 10 though May 2018, Champaign County Historical Museum, 102 E. University Ave., C. This exhibit delves into daily life in 1867, 1917, 1967 and 2017, with objects and stories that depict world and local events and explores how those change impacted campus life.

Source/Julie Wurth/The News Gazette