When the Center for Advanced Study was established in 1959, it had no physical location. Instead the Center consisted of four University of Illinois distinguished professors who were recognized for the scholarly and creative contributions they had already made to the University and beyond. This core group of scholars provided the nucleus for a program that in 2017 is unique in the nation.
Today the Center is still charged, as it was originally, with promoting the highest levels of scholarship and discourse. The Center also serves as the primary formal venue on our campus for various types of scholarly interaction and creative activity across academic disciplines. It sponsors workshops and seminars, supports new scholarship, and brings to campus more than thirty distinguished scholars, writers, and artists each academic year, in collaboration with other units of the University.
At any one time there have been as many as 28 active CAS Professors. Since 1959 a total of 89 University of Illinois Professors have held CAS appointments. Each year the Center appoints additional Associates, Fellows and Resident Associates. Much of the uniqueness of the Center lies in the diverse contributions of these appointments.
Several Professors with a long history of involvement in the Center’s work offered their thoughts during its twentieth anniversary celebrations in 1979. Former director Daniel Alpert noted the Center’s key role in helping “to make the campus a very special place . . . to create networks of friendships and collaboration between scholars in various departments.” Professor Alpert later established a lecture fund benefiting the Center. Charles Slichter, CAS Professor of Physics, observed that “All scholarly activity—and the conditions of it flourishing—are very delicate. It needs nourishing. It is the university’s responsibility to create an environment to nourish it. The role of the Center in the University is as a symbol of that nourishment.”
In 1972 the Center took on responsibility for the George A. Miller Programs, including the Miller Visiting Professor and Scholar Program and the CAS/MillerComm public events series. Since that time, more than 250 Miller Visiting Professors and Scholars have visited the University of Illinois campus, and approximately 1,700 speakers have participated in CAS/MillerComm events. A 1995 report from the Research Policy Committee of the Graduate College said, “. . . the process used by the CAS to stimulate, select, and implement events in the MillerComm series is admirable.”
When the Center was evaluated in 1997 by the Committee on the Mission and Structure of the Center for Advanced Study, CAS Professor Donald Burkholder said, “Currently, [the Center] is making a major contribution to the campus in quite a wide variety of ways. Its original mission, in my opinion, is still as important as ever: encouragement, recognition, incentives. It has succeeded and continues to succeed in ‘. . . the encouragement of creative achievement and scholarship by providing recognition to scholars of the highest distinction and by providing incentives for the highest level of scholarly achievement.'”