Prospective Students Current Students Business & Industry Faculty & Staff Alumni Visitors

Past Annual Reports & Selected Speeches
Past Presidents
IIT Magazine Tribute

Inaugural Speech:
Building a Future from One Hundred Years of Experience

October 26, 1990

I am proud to accept the presidency of this university. I am proud of its history. I am confident of its future. Let me tell you something about both.

Today is a dual event for this university--it is an inauguration and a centennial celebration. We are honoring the 100 years since the Reverend Frank Wakely Gunsaulus founded IIT as Armour Institute.

Although a century is a long time for an institution, it is a short time in human history. In the course of history, institutions come and go. The ones that are with us the longest have the resilience to deal with an ever-changing world and at the same time remain focused on the core values of their founders.

Founders of successful institutions are usually people of great vision, individuals who see a need that is unfulfilled, and strike out on a new path to meet that need. Fidelity to that dimension of the founder's spirit, to that drive to transform the institution and the world, is the source of continuing renewal.

Dr. Gunsaulus was a minister--renowned for his oratorical skill as well as his vision. In 1890, when Philip Armour heard him describe the school he would start if he had a million dollars, Armour was so moved that he offered to provide the money. He asked Dr. Gunsaulus whether he would put into practice what he was preaching. He wanted only to make certain that Gunsaulus himself would head the enterprise.

Reverend Gunsaulus set about creating Armour Institute with the belief that education ought to train hand and heart as well as head. He saw two fundamental tasks: one, to develop character and the other to prepare for performance. He believed that education must furnish not only what young people need, but also what the community needs from them.

Gunsaulus clearly saw that education, technical education, had to be broad in order to prepare citizens of society.

Today, when the body of technical knowledge is larger than ever and growing rapidly, the pressure to de-emphasize the broader aspects of education is great. Yet the need--the community's need--for liberal education--for people who can think and reason, who can understand ideas outside their discipline as well as within--that need does not diminish with the advance of technology.

We must have scientists and technologists who are also citizens, who are so sensitized that they can recognize opportunities and problems and so motivated that they want to solve them. To produce such graduates remains the fundamental mission of IIT.

Merger of Armour and Lewis

Such a mission was clearly in the mind of Henry Heald, a great educator who headed our institution from 1937 to 1952 before moving on to become president of New York University and president of the Ford Foundation. Heald saw the university as a center for professional training but felt it was important to broaden its educational base. He felt it was important for students to have an awareness of the world and their place in it.

In order to accomplish this, he constructed the merger of Armour Institute with Lewis Institute. Exactly 51 years ago today, the chairman of the boards of Armour and Lewis announced to their respective faculties that the two institutions would join to become Illinois Institute of Technology.

Heald's vision in merging these two institutions set the course for a major expansion of the university. Literally, as well as figuratively, he built upon the foundation that Gunsaulus and Armour had established.

Commitment to neighborhood, city, and country

This transformation had a striking physical manifestation, which continues to this day. Our original seven-acre campus has grown to 120 acres. Decaying buildings have been replaced by blocks of steel, glass, and brick which so well express the vision of master architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Our campus is considered one of the most important architectural works in the world.

IIT's investment in the campus reflects a long-standing commitment to our neighborhood, our city, and our country. Our faculty and students fuel economic growth and social progress.

Our research work is important to this nation. The annual research volume of the university and the IIT Research Institute place us in the top 2% of American colleges and universities.

Yet we are not just a stand-alone institution. IIT cares about our surrounding community. Our campus serves as home base for collaborations ranging from the Chicago Area Health and Medical Careers Program to the Academy for Math and Science Teachers in Chicago. The Academy, a new initiative which we are proud to host, will ensure that future generations of Chicago students are captivated by science and mathematics.

Our reach has expanded far beyond what our founders envisioned. IIT Research Institute has established centers throughout the country, and the university now boasts four campuses: a research campus in Bedford Park, a downtown center, a West Suburban campus, and the Main Campus where we are today.

The influence of the university that Gunsaulus and Armour launched now extends well beyond our national boundaries. We have a body of more than 35,000 alumni who contribute to the betterment of the world.

God is in the details

These alumni, as well as our faculty, administrative and professional staff, students and trustees, share a commitment to the philosophy that Mies van der Rohe expressed simply and eloquently. Mies, in addition to having been one of the century's greatest architects, was also a great teacher. He served for 20 years as director of our Architecture Program.

Mies continually told his students "God is in the details." Generations of architecture students can tell you what Mies meant by that, for they spent countless hours drawing each brick in their sketches in order to understand the relationship of every brick and its importance in the grand scheme that was to become the building. What Mies taught was that excellence requires more than great plans--it requires careful, attentive, rigorous execution. In short, Mies was a perfectionist!

That ethic also speaks to what I see as IIT's educational mission: We must not only Dream Great Dreams, but we must also be obsessed with developing the strategies and techniques that will transform those dreams into reality. Like Reverend Gunsaulus, we must persuade others to believe in what we envision and have the determination to make things happen.

Excellence flows from this commitment to doing things better. That is the heart of the educational philosophy, the heritage of Illinois Institute of Technology. It is what we honor in our past.

This philosophy and drive to find a better way, our obsession with details, our restlessness that comes from being perfectionist, puts IIT in a position to educate the citizens urgently needed by our society now and in the future.

But what of the future?

Need for a technical-based education

Clearly, our nation today faces many challenges in ensuring its economic well being. Higher education finds itself in the midst of changing circumstances; a period of self-assessment and transformation is imminent throughout our system of colleges and universities.

We face a time where IIT must once again build upon the foundation laid by its past leaders. We must recommit ourselves to the vision of Gunsaulus, Armour and Heald and focus that vision to meet the challenges of today.

If predictions hold true, America will face a shortfall of 700,000 engineers and scientists by early next century. Clearly, we have a national crisis looming on the horizon. Our educational system, starting with kindergarten, will have to get much better. Significant improvement is necessary if we want to maintain and improve the quality of life in this country. We cannot risk becoming what Allan Bromley once termed the first fully industrialized third world nation.

The lesson of the automotive industry should be etched in our minds. If Mies van der Rohe were alive today, he would know that the people at Honda and Toyota have understood "God is in the details."

The United States, which led the automotive industry for most of this century, has in the past decade and a half lost significant market position. That change has a message of broad significance.

What we learned from the competition over the past 15 years is that our assembly line system, our mass mentality, was not enough to compete in the new age. We learned that if advanced technology is coupled with better management techniques that empower and inspire workers, the result is a manufacturing process with more rapid production schedules, greater flexibility and products with far fewer defects.

At IIT as in the auto industry, it is time to take a new look at the way we do things. We need to open our minds to new possibilities. We must step up our drive for perfection. We must renew our commitment to details.

Flexible, personal education

This new age of flexible production permits, what Patrick Whitney, who directs our Institute of Design, calls "de-massification." Industry can respond quickly to the needs of individuals and small markets. As educators, we too must de-massify. We must tailor our teaching to the needs of individuals and we must use technology--and develop new technologies--to make education more flexible, more personal.

We must become more flexible--not in our standards, but in our thinking and in our curriculum.

The IIT interactive television network that delivers continuing education courses right to the workplace is a start. Our planned wideband fiber-optic network will be another advance. But we must do more.

In particular, we must pay more attention to how we educate students about manufacturing. The quality of our products will play a major role in determining the quality of our economic life.

We have already begun. In seven months we will open a state-of-the-art factory on the IIT campus, a cooperative venture financed by government and industry. We may well be the first university to build and operate a factory on campus. We will do this to demonstrate how to produce higher quality precision gears--which are so critical to manufacturing efficiency.

This facility will be a model that will enable us to teach students the importance of manufacturing quality; to demonstrate to industry the competitive advantages of quality; and to teach both students and industry how to improve and assure quality.

Inspiration of Marvin Camras

Similar quests must go on across all of our campuses. We must find new ways to inspire our students whatever their field of study. About 50 years ago, one of those students, Marvin Camras, invented magnetic recording. Camras' inventions spawned what has become a $500 billion a year industry. Next month, Camras, who is now a professor here, will go to Washington to be honored by President Bush. Somewhere in our classrooms today is the next Marvin Camras.

Our job is to encourage each of our students to try and, if they fail, to try again. We must challenge them to think. We must motivate them to pursue excellence in every endeavor. We must enable our students to become path-breaking scholars, creative managers, enlightened entrepreneurs--leaders in their fields.

We as teachers and administrators must set an example. Each of us must pay greater attention to the operational details of every aspect of our university. We need to make sure our institution itself stands as a model.

When we gather here for a celebration in the year 2000, I expect to report to you that IIT has completed a decade in which we have seen great curricular innovation, outstanding research advances, extraordinary philanthropic support.

Commitment to IIT's future

My agenda for the coming decade is simple: I am committed to providing our students with excellent teachers. I am intent upon providing for everyone at this university--not only as students but faculty and staff--the finest facilities and the most stimulating intellectual opportunities.

Let every friend of this institution whether alumnus, neighbor or government leader mark this as a day of renewed commitment to this university.

Let every member of the administrative staff mark this as a day of renewed commitment to better serve students.

Let every member of the faculty mark this as a day of renewed commitment to creating intellectual excitement in the classroom.

Let every student mark this as a day of renewed commitment to the quest for excellence.

Let every trustee mark this as a day of renewed commitment to our most noble mission.

Let us all mark this as a day of renewed commitment to the tradition we have inherited from Armour, Gunsaulus, Heald and Mies. And let us begin today to create tomorrow's traditions.

© 2008 Illinois Institute of Technology 3300 South Federal Street, Chicago, IL 60616-3793 Tel 312.567.3000