SIUC Arena holds first fund-raising campaign

By Gus Bode

Friday night became as much a time of celebration as it did for nostalgia, as SIU A-listers and generous alumni gathered to mark the launch of the University’s first fund-raising campaign.

As invited guests mingled in the SIU Arena drastically disguised with lavish tents and other settings, it was a connection of past, present and future.

The past is that of a small teacher’s college in the late 1800s, one that has now transformed into a university with more than 20,000 students. And the future, said administrators and successful alumni Friday night, will be formed through the comprehensive campaign, “Opportunity through Excellence.”

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Randy Daniels, a 1986 alumnus who most recently served as the Secretary of State for New York, said his SIUC education has taken him around the world and back to Carbondale, where he implored people to join the University’s campaign effort.

“Tonight marks the beginning of our season of opportunity at Southern. SIUC needs to take its rightful place in the front ranks of American higher education,” Daniels said during his keynote speech. “Today we embrace a new era on this campus.”

Daniels was born on the south side of Chicago in the Altgeld Gardens housing project, grew up in Harvey and attended Thornton High School. He said early on his family understood the value of education.

“We realized that education led to opportunity, and opportunity was the great equalizer,” he said.

The second person in his family to go to college, Daniels came to SIUC to study broadcast and political science. He called every part of his SIUC experience an education.

“I remember the protests,” Daniels said, “but what I remember the most are the parties. … Boy, do I remember the parties.”

This campaign, he said, will be the path of success with the help of public-private partnerships.

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As state support dwindles, the University must increasingly rely on the private sector, through gifts and pledges, to continue to move forward. Daniels reminded the audience that American higher education began in the private sector with the Ivy League schools.

Yet, fewer state dollars could help SIUC in the end, he said.

“Have you ever noticed that threats or perceived threats can be opportunities in disguise?” Daniels said. “Quality matters, and if you don’t provide quality, you will see the best and the brightest go somewhere else.”

By June 2008, SIUC plans to raise $100 million. This is scheduled to be the first of three campaigns, and the University has already raised $54 million toward the goal.

This five-year campaign, for which the University has already raised $54 million, is a major step toward achieving the goals laid out in “Southern at 150,” said Chancellor Walter Wendler during a news conference Friday afternoon.

“Southern at 150” is the long-range plan designed to make SIUC one of the top 75 public research institutions by its 150th birthday in 2019. The goals include increasing faculty and student diversity, encouraging teaching excellence and raising University fund raising to $50 million annually. Last year, SIUC recorded a slight dip in fund raising with $14.8 million, but since 2000, fund raising has increased overall.

Board of Trustees member Keith Sanders said he plans to contribute money to the campaign, which will go toward scholarships for what he called SIUC’s poorest students. Wendler said the donors have already earmarked much of the donated money for certain areas.

“I think it is a historic moment,” Sanders said of the campaign. “I hear a lot of people believing that we can become the 75th highest ranked research university in the nation, and that’s music to my ears.”

Taheera Randolph, a junior studying integrated marketing communications from Hazel Crest, said she hopes this campaign will also help take the some of the burden off the current students.

Daniels said he believes his SIU can achieve these goals as long as alumni are there to help them form the future.

“This comprehensive campaign will open doors to dreams we cannot even imagine at Southern,” Daniels said. “All we need to do is dare to hope and dream big. Dreams are free, so dream big Southern.”

Reporter Andrea Zimmermann can be reached at [email protected]

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