Herman: ‘The answer is simple’

By Courtney Klemm

Chancellor Richard Herman focused on improving the University in a variety of areas during his speech at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., on Tuesday afternoon as part of the YMCA’s “Know Your University” series.

“I ask you the question, why does a great institution strive to be better?” Herman said to his audience. “The answer is simple: because it is a great institution. Drive, ambition, yearning and an obsession with always being better are bred in a great institution. These are human traits that we breathe into our institution.”

Herman was named the University’s chancellor in May 2005 after serving as interim chancellor for a year. He first came to the University in 1998 as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Becca Guyette, program director for the YMCA, said she felt it was significant to have Herman speak as part of the “Know Your University” program.

“It’s always important to get the perspective of the chancellor as chief operating officer of the University,” Guyette said. “It’s good to know what his visions for the University are.”

Herman spoke about giving students a variety of opportunities as they complete their college experience.

“A life well-lived is about more than making a good living,” he said. “I want our Illinois students to be touched by the widest range of insights. I want our Illinois students driving through life always creative.”

Creation of knowledge breeds confidence, creates humility and fosters social justice and compassion, Herman said. He emphasized using “old-fashioned ideas for new-fashioned times.”

“It’s the vision, not the reward, of praise, hope and glory,” he said. “Dreams unleash the imagination. We will always dream big to make our community, country and world a better place.”

Attendees also asked about Herman’s viewpoints and experiences of topics like traffic safety on campus, University employment and the current budget and tuition.

Herman discussed his recent program, “Illinois Promise,” which makes it possible for poverty-stricken students to graduate with no debt. He also expressed concern at the tremendous burden placed on the lower middle class in terms of higher education costs.

“It’s my intent to reduce the loan burden on those individuals to continue to make this University accessible,” Herman said. “We are that access point, and we must fulfill that obligation.”

Another issue Herman addressed was the recent measures taken to improve campus safety after the death of University student Sarah Channick on Sept. 29. Channick was killed after being struck by a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus at the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers streets.

“We came to the stark realization that the present state of affairs is unacceptable,” he said. “We have begun to take steps with the cooperation of both cities and the Mass Transit District.”

Some of the steps taken have been the voluntary reduction of speed by the MTD buses, more than 600 jaywalking warnings and new crosswalks drawn on campus streets. Herman said he felt students were beginning to realize the danger of listening to mp3 players or talking on cell phones as they walk to and from class.

The MTD is planning “new routes cutting down on the number of turns made and decreasing traffic in the most heavily trafficked areas,” he said. He also said he is working with the Champaign and Urbana mayors to bring in a consultant to examine the traffic safety on campus.

Steve Shoemaker, executive director of the YMCA, said he was impressed by the goals that Herman addressed during the question-and-answer portion of the program. One of the actions Herman said he wanted to take was community-based learning in which students could give back to the community for academic credit, such as working in a government organization in Washington, D.C.

“I was glad to hear he is setting up a civic task force,” Shoemaker said. “Hundreds of students volunteer through the YMCA, for example, doing service projects. I’m glad the chancellor sees that as important.”

Herman said he feels individuals have been forced to recognize they are only a small part that makes up society by events like Sept. 11 and Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Now, society needs “to transform mountains of information into knowledge, power and action,” he said.

Throughout his speech, Herman centered on a quote from a University alumna who is now providing medical care for the underprivileged in Kenya.

” ‘I can see some good coming of it’,” he read. “Isn’t that the prayer we all hope to say when our time is done?”