CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois men’s golf coach Mike Small earned the longest contract extension of all the coaches on the UI Board of Trustees’ agenda Thursday — no surprise given his record in the position.
As if the golf team’s 13 Big Ten championship titles under his leadership weren’t enough, board Chair Don Edwards said the athletes’ success off the field made Small “everything” the UI wants.
Edwards and Small were teammates for four years and Big Ten champions together.
“We’re thrilled that Mike has built this into a national powerhouse in an inhospitable climate and thrilled that he is committed again to the University of Illinois for another five years,” Edwards said. “We just want more coaches like Mike.”
While the trustees approved Small’s contract along with all the rest on the agenda, including for assistant football coach Jim Leonard and cross-country coach Helen Lehman-Winters, a larger portion of the meeting was dedicated to discussing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s contributions to the university system — in front of the governor, who was in attendance.
UI President Tim Killeen called Pritzker’s presence in Champaign “historic,” as it was the first time a governor has attended one of the meetings in around a decade.
“Governor Pritzker is among our most valued and important partners, and it’s deeply gratifying for him to join us to share his vision,” Killeen said. “He also challenged us to do more. I take that seriously.”
Celeste Weuve, chair of the University Senates Conference, presented a letter of appreciation to the governor on behalf of the faculty for this year’s financial allocation.
“After many difficult years, our hopes for the future are raised through the advocacy and support we have received,” Weuve said.
Pritzker praised increasing enrollment, innovation and entrepreneurship across the UI system, particularly praising advancements in artificial technology.
Mohammed Haq, student trustee from the Chicago campus, took the opportunity to ask the governor about affordability for both undergraduate and graduate students.
“I think anybody that wants to go to college and has the grades or scores should be able to go to college for free, or at least if they can’t afford it themselves they should be able to go for free,” Pritzker said. “We aren’t quite there in the state of Illinois, but overcoming each of the steps that it takes to get there is what I’m focused on.”
Pritzker said that while those challenges could not be solved overnight, one of the steps he’s looking at now is determining what income level should determine significant amounts of financial support.
“The reality is that today, even more than median income is the level at which people really do still need support,” he said.
Big-ticket items on the trustee’s agenda, all of which were approved, included the operating budget for the 2024 fiscal year, appointing Jamelle Sharpe as dean of the law college and a host of appointments across the faculty and staff for the entire system.