Main navigation | Section navigation | Content

The Lincoln Hall Project « College of Liberal Arts & Sciences « University of Illinois

Lincoln Hall Project

Coming of Age

Stability through Change


If a single image defined the University of Illinois’ coming of age in the modern era, it might not be a shovel or construction hat but the soft glow of a computer screen.

To be sure, since the 1980s the physical profile of campus has changed dramatically, from new libraries, research institutes, and classroom buildings to high-rise apartments on Green Street. The change in everyday life brought on by advancing computer technology, however, is unparalleled.

Methods of data management, communication, research, education, and entertainment have been turned on their head as computer technology has taken a larger and larger role in our lives—even as computers themselves have shrunk in size until they can slip into our back pocket.

And yet a look back at campus life during the past 30 years reveals not just a shift into a new era. Many attitudes and beliefs that have shaped and defined campus since the construction of Lincoln Hall a century ago have been strongly reaffirmed.

Steering through Uncertain Times

The U of I was ushered into the 1980s by President Stanley Ikenberry, one of the University’s longest serving presidents. Known for several initiatives such as the Beckman Institute and National Center for Supercomputing Applications, he was followed in 1995 by James Stukel, remembered for reorganizations in technology initiatives and pushing for increases in federal research funding and private giving. Ikenberry returned to the presidency temporarily in 2009 when the U of I faced uncertain times at the helm. Today the University is led by President Bob Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise on the Urbana-Champaign campus.


Economic Arguments in a Tough Economy

Means of funding the University have changed. With state support for the U of I falling to roughly 15 percent of its annual budget, the University has more reliance placed upon tuition, research grants, and private giving. The trend has been occurring for many years, and in 1983, with students facing high inflation and falling student aid, President Stanley Ikenberry linked the U of I to economic development. “A strong University of Illinois is indispensable to any plan to lead this state toward sound, long economic recovery,” he wrote in a release. “A strong University is indispensable as this state moves toward an economy with greater reliance on new knowledge, on science, and technology.”

Major Debate

With hard economic times hitting the U of I in the early 1980s, many in the humanities felt under fire to justify their programs against the physical sciences and engineering. The late Richard Scanlan, the widely popular professor of classic civilizations, handled the issue memorably. “It’s important to give students a well-rounded education,” he said, as reported by the Illio in 1986. “You can work 8 to 5 as an engineer, but there has to be more to life than building bridges.... Students see that the people at the dawn of civilization were asking the same questions they are today: ‘Why is there evil? Why do good people suffer?’ Mythology is the oldest source and contains truths as the Greeks saw them. It attempted to explain the world around them, and the powers greater than them. We can learn from them through the questions we’ve yet to find satisfactory answers to.”