Professor's son keeps the University close to home

By Lillian Barkley

For most students, Dads Weekend is a time for fathers to cheer on the Illini and see their kids for the first time in months. But things are a little different for Sam LeRoy, who is always within walking distance of his father’s office on campus.

“Some weeks it could be a quick, ‘Hi, bye,’ in Huff Hall, or I drop into his office and there we are an hour later talking about who knows what,” said Sam, sophomore in Business.

His father is Michael LeRoy, professor of labor and employment relations and of law. Professor LeRoy was an undergraduate at the University and graduated with a master’s degree before returning to teach in 1986.

“It was strange when I came back, because I was in a very different role,” he said. “I had to be a different person and figure out how to be a professor.”

His son’s enrollment at the University has allowed him to see things from another perspective.

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“Whatever the controversies are at the campus level, especially at the undergraduate level, life thrives here and student culture is constructive and positive,” he said. “It’s helped to ground me in a very important way.”

After seeing the honors courses Sam was offered, Professor LeRoy started his own course, which Sam’s roommate and friend took.

“I felt guilty that my colleagues were offering these wonderful programs and I had not stepped up to the plate,” he said.

Sam and his father also participate in traditional Dads Weekend activities: They both said last year’s Iowa game was one of their favorite memories.

As a member of Block I, Sam invited his parents to join the card section, and his dad bought him a hot dog.

“We shared the hot dog, and I went back to my seat. It was perfectly good,” LeRoy said.

Sam’s Illini pride isn’t surprising — he grew up close to campus, both literally and figuratively.

“Growing up around here and having my dad on the faculty gave me an early insight into how the University ticked at a level that most students wouldn’t be aware of,” Sam said. “(My dad) never divulged any secrets, but I paid attention to what was going on because I knew that it mattered in my household.”

Sam and his siblings all went to Uni High, so seven years of his education have been at the University.

“It’s only matched by Ph.D. students, and that’s kind of insane, except I don’t get a Ph.D.,” he said.

When the time came for college, LeRoy said Sam’s options were never limited to the University — Sam’s brother went to Michigan and his sister went to Indiana. Sam wholeheartedly agreed.

“It was because of the relationship I have with both of my parents that I was comfortable being able to come to the University of Illinois and be so close to this campus,” he said. “They respected that it was my college career and not theirs.”

Sam’s parents wanted his experience to be independent, and they were too busy with their own lives to micromanage their son’s, LeRoy said.

“It’s kind of fun when something positive happens for Sam, and we’re the last to know,” he said. “It speaks to his independence and our respectful distance from him.”

However, when Sam compares his experience with how often his peers see their parents, he doesn’t feel much distance.

“I don’t view it as a bad thing, I just view it as saying, ‘Hello,’ and not compromising that autonomy,” he said. “It’s a small campus.”

Last spring, Sam and his father got to spend time together on the Illinois State Senate.

“That was a pretty neat experience to be able to sit together in that setting as a dad and son and be able to talk about the most important issues on this campus,” Sam said. “He and I just really deeply care about the U. of I. It’s just a hobby that we share.”

Though Sam will schedule lunch with his dad, it’s not unusual for them to see each other on the street, at games or at services for Jewish high holidays.

“I think that almost makes it more special that it is spontaneous,” Sam said.

Some of Sam’s independence comes from living away from home, which he and his dad said was never even questioned.

“The most essential part of the college experience is not in the classroom: it’s engaging with your fellow students,” Professor LeRoy said.

Sam echoed his father’s sentiment: “The most important things I’ve learned in college are not from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

LeRoy’s appreciation of residence halls dates back to his time in the dorms.

“My dad had the reputation of ‘Pass-the-tray LeRoy at FAR,’” Sam said. Sam’s mom and her friends would wait and talk in front of the dining hall before it opened. His father “would be one of the first ones there and pass all the trays out to the girls as they were walking in, and that’s how he met my mom.”

Though Sam said he isn’t sure what he’ll do after graduation, he would be glad to have a third LeRoy generation go to the University.

“My parents met here, my brother and sister went here for grad school and now me,” he said. “University of Illinois is a part of my family.”

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Editor’s note: a previous version of this story stated that Sam’s sister went to Michigan and his brother went to Indiana. The Daily Illini regrets this error.