AIN Blog: Saving an Aviation Institution

 - July 19, 2011, 5:33 AM

I was rearranging the contents of one of my bookshelves to make room for a stack of books that had been read but had no permanent residence. As I rapidly made space reassignment or discarded decisions about the flotsam and jetsam of 20 years of life in the same house, I came across my pilot log book from the late ’60s and early ’70s. 

I was a student in the University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation at the time, and leafing through the pages brought back a lifetime of memories. Other students, mere mortals enrolled in pedantic majors such as engineering, education or marketing, were always awestruck when you mentioned you were a flight student at the Institute. Even faculty were impressed.

“I’m going to the library to study. Want to come with?” some fetching coed might ask.

To which I would reply, “Love to, but I’m scheduled to fly to Chicago and Indianapolis this afternoon. Perhaps you’d like to come along for the ride?”

This played well with the fair maidens, who thought I was pretty cool. It fit into the overly macho Vietnam-vet image that cute hippie chicks were drawn to, but only when their friends were too busy singing “Kumbayah” and burning incense to notice. The 1970s were good to me.

The Institute was challenging. You didn’t merely learn to fly or be a mechanic; you were challenged to think critically about what you were doing. Psychology, statistics, rhetoric, business and philosophy courses were intermingled with aviation. The faculty mantra was “We’re developing tomorrow’s aviation leaders,” and that’s exactly what they did.

For more than half a century, the Institute of Aviation has been recognized as a premier spawning ground for aerospace industry leaders, with its graduates rising to the highest levels in the airlines and major corporate flight departments all over the world. They have started and run what would become the country’s most prestigious aviation-research programs, formed companies that would become major successes, distinguished themselves in the military and gone into space.

Now, Michael Hogan, the university’s president, sees the Institute of Aviation and its undergraduate and graduate programs as a quick way to cut $500,000 out of its annual budget. Both the faculty and student senates voted against closing the program, but Hogan remains steadfast.

Hogan apparently doesn’t share the faculty’s belief in the value of developing tomorrow’s aviation leaders. From the lofty tower of academia, it appears pilots and mechanics are just technicians, not real academics.

Speaking of leaders, Hogan’s annual salary as president of the University of Illinois is more than $620,000. So here’s a thought: eliminate the guy with limited vision and run the Institute of Aviation on the money saved.

Heck, I would even be willing to take his place for the $120K that’s left over. I’ll bet there’s some cute, 60-year-old, hippie grandmothers roaming the campus, who’d think I was pretty cool all over again.

If you would like to support the effort to save the Illinois Institute of Aviation, please click here.