Lecture celebrates the legacy of former University

By Christina Merced

Winton Solberg, University professor emeritus of history, spoke about the historical conflicts and resolutions of the University at the YMCA’s Latzer Hall, 1001 S. Wright St., Tuesday afternoon. The lecture, titled, “Creating a Great American University: Edmund J. James and the University of Illinois 1904 to 1920,” is part of the YMCA’s Tuesday lecture series, Know Your University.

Solberg discussed how the University lost 10 years of development between 1894 and 1904 under the presidency of Andrew Draper.

“He was a bad choice,” Solberg said of President Draper, adding that he was inexperienced within higher education administration.

Following Draper was the induction of Edmund J. James, president for 16 years and for whom the University’s James Scholars award is named. Solberg praised James because he revitalized the idea of, and set the foundation for, a public institution. Under James’ academic administration, there was a bigger emphasis on research, state funding grew, more women enrolled, the curriculum broadened to include the humanities, and the University built the current library.

After being asked to write about the history of the University in one volume, Solberg found it “impossible” because the outcome would have been too general and what he called “house histories … public relations things,” which are set up to satisfy the Board of Trustees and administration.

“As a historian, I’m out to tell the truth,” Solberg said.

Once Solberg researched the University archives, he realized that more than one volume was going to have to be published. During Tuesday’s presentation and in his writing, Solberg chose to lecture and write about James because he “laid the foundation for a great University.”

Steve Shoemaker, executive director of the YMCA, said the lecturers are asked to present on various topics about the University so that professors from other disciplines and students can be aware of their surroundings and other curriculums.

Eric Anglada, a local resident and personal friend of Solberg, attended the lecture for support. He said that Solberg “is clearly passionate” about his research and the University. Anglada also added that even though he is not a University student he enjoyed the lecture because he learned more details.

“I feel connected (to the University) even though I’ve never taken a class,” Anglada said.

Becca Guyette, program director of the lecture series, said Solberg’s lecture had a good audience turnout and estimated that about 55 people attended. She said that the average turnout is about 25 to 55 people. Even though Tuesday’s attendance was above average, Guyette said that the lectures usually lack undergraduate students because the lecture time is “competing with classes.”

Before answering various follow-up questions about James, dormitories and religious courses, Solberg said he was “saddened by how the University doesn’t acknowledge James,” compared to other presidents such as David Kinley, who has a building named after him.

As Solberg concluded, he touched on the other University presidents that followed James, saying there was a downfall among the Illinois campuses for the next 25 years.

“I’ll stop at that point, I don’t want to get too close,” Solberg said, referring to more contemporary University presidents and their administration.