Paul Simon Public Policy Institute hosts summit to revitalize Illinois


Carson VanBuskirk | @carsonvanbDE

Former SIU President, Glenn Poshard, addresses issues concerning higher education on Friday, March 29, 2019, at the Summit to Rebuild and Revive Illinois.

By Emily Cooper and Jacob Lorenz

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute hosted a summit to revitalize the state of Illinois between March 28 and 29.

The summit brought college students from around the state to help identify issues the state has, while encouraging new ideas on how to tackle them. Following the summit, a report highlighting the main discussions and conclusions will be presented to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“There’s a need for fresh voices, new insights, people who have a stake in this state and haven’t been heard from before,” John Shaw, director of the institute, said.


He said that was the genesis of it, and then they started thinking about it practically, as in how could it be done?

The institute’s three primary focuses for the summit were the state budget, the future of higher education in Illinois and Illinois’ political climate.

“The idea of the summit was more of a collective effort,” Joe Locher, a senior studying political science, said. “We tossed around different formats for it, and we wound up with doing a summit.”

Locher said they wanted to do something solid and meaningful in the future.

Shaw said he wanted to get a small group of 35 to 40 people from up to 10 universities to come to the summit, not a huge extravaganza.

“Let’s have some big-picture talk so people have the same kind of broad sense of where we are at, but then also spend a lot of time in small groups discussing specific aspects of the states problems,” he said.

Shaw said he has been back in Illinois for a year, and one of the things that struck him upon returning was how much the political culture had changed.


“I don’t quite know exactly what happened, but to me the most interesting question is what can we do about it?” Shaw said. “In an aspirational sense, but also practically, what are things we can do to encourage more students to stay in Illinois and go to college, rather than go to other states?”

He said he has been to a lot of conferences over the years, and the thing that is the most frustrating is when people are not working from a common set of facts.

“Jim Nowlan, one of the key speakers, drafted this small booklet that explains the facts about our budget, transportation, [and] higher education system, just so people have a common set of facts that will guide their deliberation,” Shaw said.

The institute wants to play a really constructive role, Shaw said.

“We want this to be the first of a number of them,” he said. “We have a whole program that we are developing called Renew Illinois, and this is one aspect of it.”



The Institute wants to have a historical component where they look back on the state’s history. Next year, they’re going to have a conference to celebrate the Illinois Constitution. There would be regular events with demographers to talk about the state’s biggest challenges.

“This is part of what is an ambitious effort for us to find constructive ways to rebuild the state and make it better,” Shaw said. “The institute really wants to be one of the leaders of that effort.”

Locher said if some of the issues are changed by next year, the participants will reevaluate their positions on them.

“There will always be an issue, there will always be something to talk about,” he said.

Locher said for now, the institute likes it here and will market it from our perspective. But he isn’t opposed to branching out to other campuses.

“If it takes off and every campus starts hosting their own, I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing.  The more we are talking about these issues the better,” Locher said.

“I think it’s good for the school itself,” Ava Garcia, a junior from Illinois State University, said. “I would have never come down here, if it weren’t for this.”

Megan Chlumecky, a junior from Illinois State University, said the summit participants tried to emphasize the importance of higher education. She said seeing SIU, one of the state’s really good directional schools, trying to advocate for this is really awesome.

“We developed the idea, and thought it would be a good way to implement here, especially with the platform of the Paul Simon Institute,” Locher said. “Paul Simon was a problem solver and higher education was a really big deal to him. There is a reason he put his institute here.”

Locher said he thought the summit worked really well to start out.

“I hope the elected officials that we send it to really take it to heart,” Locher said. “We’re talking about some really serious stuff from the perspective of students.”

Staff reporter Emily Cooper can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ecooper212.

Staff reporter Jacob Lorenz can be reached at [email protected].

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