restricted access Chapter 6. Plans, Partners, and Big Ideas: 1985-2015
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64 Chapter 6 Plans, Partners, and Big Ideas 1985-2015 On a cool and overcast Saturday morning in the autumn of 1985, scientist-inventor-entrepreneur Arnold Orville Beckman stood at the front of the slightly shabby law school auditorium at the University of Illinois to accept thanks for his $40 million gift to the Urbana-Champaign campus. Nearby stood his wife of sixty years and partner in philanthropy , Mabel S. Meinzer Beckman. The son of a blacksmith from small-town Cullom, about sixty-five miles north of Champaign-Urbana, Beckman earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the U of I in 1922 and 1923 and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1928. He met his wife in New York—he was a Marine based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and she was serving the 1918 Thanksgiving dinner at a local YMCA— and the couple lived and worked the rest of their lives in California. In their later years, together they were determined to give away a half-billion-dollar fortune made over a lifetime of invention and hard work. “I don’t know whether my payoff in philanthropy is to help humanity or prevent the IRS from getting it,” Beckman told Business Week in March 1986. U of I President Stanley O. Ikenberry (1979-95; 200910 ) had made the formal announcement of the Beckman gift, believed to be the largest single donation to a public university from a private individual to that date, October 5, 1985. Then-Governor James R. Thompson, a Republican known as “Big Jim” during his record fourteen-year term as Illinois’s chief executive officer not only for his six-foot, six-inch frame, but for his gregarious and outsized personality, committed a $10 million match from the State of Illinois. Ikenberry successfully lobbied the four state legislative leaders to deliver on the governor’s promise. The gift (and match) to establish the interdisciplinary Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology , astonishing in its own right, was, however, profoundly important to the University of Illinois for another reason: it ignited a surge of campus planning theretofore unseen in more than half a century. Finding the right location for the new institute, programmed for about 330,000 square feet, provided the perfect opportunity to look closely at the north, or engineering, 65 —— Pl a ns, Partners, a nd Big Ideas  —— book Bridging Divides: The Origins of the Beckman Institute at Illinois, the Beckman campus visits included time with interesting and productive faculty members, including Beckman Fellows and others working under Beckman Research Awards. Brown was at that time campus vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate College; he became the founding director of the Beckman Institute (1987-93) and spearheaded the proposal that led to the Beckman gift. The executive director of the University of Illinois Foundation , Lewis Barron, had told Ikenberry that the Beckmans wanted to liquidate their substantial estate and give it away during their lifetime. Earlier, in 1983, Barron had urged campus officials to employ a strategy common among private universities in approaching major donors for new facilities. He called for “sweeping, imaginative new projects that would move the campus to the forefront in promising research areas, and which were of such a scope and character that the state would almost certainly not provide funding for them,” Brown wrote of Barron’s idea. Brown took leadership of the elaborate effort, and throughout 1984 a select group of faculty developed the proposal , which first went to the Beckmans that fall. A supplement —making the case that the Urbana-Champaign campus was a proven winner in interdisciplinary research—went in summer 1985. The “ask” was $50 million, nearly twice as much as Ikenberry had first calculated. “It was hard for me to conceptually put my arms around that,” Ikenberry said in 2008. The “big idea” was born. Facility Crisis But the Beckman Institute did not develop in isolation. Independent of the prospect of a huge gift was the stark reality of what Ikenberry termed a facility crisis. While the campus’s student enrollment had not increased dramatically, the size campus, which would host the new building and several others already in the works. Within six months, warp speed by academic measure, Sasaki Associates Inc. of Watertown, Massachusetts, had prepared a sixty-six-page North Campus Master Plan, and Ikenberry and Chancellor Thomas E. Everhart (1984-87) had moved the plan to approval by the University Board of Trustees on...