The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Q&A with new UI trustee Jesse Ruiz

Jesse Ruiz graduated from the University in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He was appointed to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees by Gov. JB Pritzker on Oct. 27.  

Ruiz received his juris doctor from the University of Chicago Law School in 1995 and has served on the board of many Chicago and Illinois organizations. Most recently, he was the president of the Chicago Bar Association from 2019-20 and the president of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners from 2016-19. 

From 2019-21, he worked as the deputy governor of education at the Office of the Governor in Illinois. Ruiz currently works as a general counsel at the Vistria Group, a private equity firm focused on social good. Ruiz’s appointment as a member of the Illinois Board of Trustees will last until 2029. 

The Daily Illini sat with Ruiz to discuss his background and plans for the University system.

 

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    This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

     

    The DI: How has being an alumnus of the University shaped your life and career?

    Ruiz: It gave me the educational foundation for my career. I earned my undergraduate degree in economics and then went into business for a number of years (at) both Inland Steel Company and Ryerson Steel Company. I got that first job out of undergrad at a job fair in the Illini Union, so I can directly point to the University for helping me obtain my first job out of college and then sparking my interest in law school since my undergraduate job was working in the Undergraduate Law Library. 

    Particularly as the son of Mexican immigrants, my dad only got to go to school through the third grade in Mexico … (I am) very grateful for the educational opportunities their hard work got me at the University of Illinois. I always point to the University’s motto of “Learning and Labor.” I think about the labor my parents had to do, … so as a first-generation college graduate … it’s not lost on me. An experience like obtaining a degree at the University of Illinois can help shape your life and change the trajectory of your life.

     

    DI: When the governor appointed you as a trustee, what was your initial reaction? You’ve also had quite a diverse background, so why this position? Why now?

    Ruiz: I’m grateful that the governor and the governor’s office thought of me to fill that vacancy. I was previously his deputy governor for education and have had a lot of experiences while being a practicing attorney, involved more so at the elementary school level. I was chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education for almost seven years. I was on the Chicago Public School Board as the interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools briefly, spring and summer of 2015. 

    I’ve had some background in education, but not so much at the higher education level until working as deputy governor for education in the governor’s office. I’ve known (Pritzker) personally for almost 30 years. It was an honor to get the call, and he knows I’m passionate about the University, especially when I was in the governor’s office.

    I try not to be biased. There are 12 great public universities in our state. I tried to help all of them, but I’m also loyal to my alma mater. I know what it did for me and continues to do for many other students, particularly students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who don’t have high educational attainment levels in their household. So, how can we change that for their households, for their families? Because I think my extended family is impacted by my ability to obtain a degree from the University.

     

    DI: Do you have any other goals for your tenure as trustee?

    Ruiz: A big focus is making sure the University is always serving all the citizens of Illinois. It’s a great economic engine for our state and also has an important role for first-generation low-income students to welcome (them) and give them that opportunity. 

    As a lifelong Illinoisan and lifelong Chicagoan, I want all our graduates and all our talents to stay here in Illinois. The problem is that we create a lot of great students and graduate a lot of great students who are in demand globally. I hope we can keep them all here and continue to make our state even better.

     

    DI: You have a lot of experience in a lot of different places. How has that impacted you and what you hope to achieve as a trustee?

    Ruiz: It’s given me some different vantage points from slightly different career paths. I’ve been in corporate America, in sales. I’ve done management consulting, I’ve done public sector work briefly. I’ve been in private law practice at a law firm for 22 years. Now, I’m back in private law practice, but as a general counsel of a private equity firm. 

    And so, it’s a diverse career path. It’s given me insights into the demands of the different industries that have different workforces. … I’ve seen what universities must do to prepare students to contribute to an ever-evolving and changing world. 

    Earlier this afternoon, I was at our firm’s AI work group meeting, and (with) AI coming into the workforce, it’s going to change the world of work in our period. We need institutions like the University to prepare our graduates and help them stay competitive but also be a contributor for helping think about pressing global issues, like climate change and public safety.

    There’s a myriad number of challenges that we face in Illinois, the United States, and across the world, and the University can be a leader to its graduates and impact a lot of those challenges.

     

    DI: At the most recent board meeting, there were calls to divest from companies supporting Israel and here on campus, we have students calling for divestment from companies that profit from fossil fuels. What’s your reaction to that and what do you think?

    At the bi-monthly Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 16 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, dozens of pro-Palestine students and community members interrupted the meeting and called on the administration to divest from Israel, per CBS News.  

    Ruiz: They are challenging issues and I’m accustomed to those as a State Board of Education member and a Chicago Public School Board member. Those are issues that the board has to address with the administration and do what is responsible and what’s in the best interest of all the stakeholders of the University. 

     

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