Northern Illinois University paid tribute to its 10th president in a ceremony today celebrating the naming of a key building on campus in his honor.
The former Faraday Hall West is now known as John E. La Tourette Hall. Located in the heart of campus, the building houses state-of-the-art physics and chemistry laboratories, lecture halls, classrooms and offices.
Constructed at a cost of $27.7 million, the four-story building first opened its doors in the fall of 1995, during the midst of John La Tourette’s tenure as NIU president. It was dedicated the following spring in a ceremony attended by Gov. Jim Edgar, who noted the facility cemented “NIU’s commitment to science in the cradle of Illinois’ high-tech corridor.”
“John La Tourette certainly left his mark on all corners of this campus,” NIU President John Peters said. “It couldn’t be more fitting, though, to name this building, this hub of scientific activity and learning right here in the heart of our campus, in his honor.”
The university’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously in December to change the building’s name as a tribute to La Tourette, who traveled with his wife, Lili, from their home in Prescott, Ariz., to attend today’s ceremony.
“The current Board of Trustees wanted to honor Dr. La Tourette because the fruits of his service and hard work are apparent just about everywhere on our campus,” said Marc Strauss, chair of the NIU Board of Trustees. “He guided this university through a tremendous period of growth, both in terms of academic programming and our physical campus. He also helped put the destiny of NIU in its own hands, leading efforts to establish the university’s independent Board of Trustees.”
La Tourette came to NIU in 1979 as provost and served as president from 1986 to 2000. Under his leadership, the university doubled its landholdings and embarked on more than $200 million in capital improvements. NIU established three major off-campus education centers and secured funding for the restoration of historic Altgeld Hall and the construction of the Convocation Center. New buildings erected during his tenure included the Campus Life Building, the Engineering Building, the Campus Child Care Center and Faraday West, which now bears his name.
La Tourette also established the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and nurtured the growth of the College of Law. He added more than a dozen major academic offerings, including Ph.D. programs in physics, mathematical sciences, biological sciences and geology and environmental geosciences.
President Peters noted that La Tourette was “a champion of graduate studies” and a leader who brought together “teams of great people who could work together to get things done.”
“He saw the opportunities that lay ahead for expanded collaborations with our nearby national laboratories, Fermilab and Argonne,” Peters said. “In fact, he lobbied two decades for the physics Ph.D. It was among his toughest battles, waged during an era when academic programs were being taken away from state-run universities.”
Ultimately, it was the addition of La Tourette Hall, which provided state-of-the-art facilities for the sciences, along with the creation of an independent NIU Board of Trustees, that helped spur state approval of the physics Ph.D.
After NIU’s own Board of Trustees was established in 1996, founding trustees including Myron Siegel, Bob Boey, Manny Sanchez and George Moser carried the torch for a physics Ph.D. to the Board of Higher Education and state legislature. It was the continuation of an effort that involved many university employees and had begun even before La Tourette first came to NIU.
“It took 30 years of persistent articulation of the strength of the faculty, the department’s strategic relationship with Argonne and Fermi, and the program’s contributions to the Illinois economy to bring the program to this building,” La Tourette said.
Today La Tourette Hall stands as a symbol of the university’s commitment to research and graduate studies in the sciences.
Both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Physics are flourishing, with about 60 graduate students each. The departments have nurtured young and talented researchers and have been major suppliers to the high-tech workforce in the greater northern Illinois region.
“It is probably difficult for current members of the faculty and staff to realize how hard the university fought to achieve its mission in the sciences and to retain its other doctoral programs,” La Tourette said.
“It is especially gratifying for me to be here today and accept this honor on behalf of all those many people who made this building and the doctoral mission of the university possible.”
Media Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Media Relations and Internal Communications
Phone: (815) 753-3635