December 03, 2010

Eugene Trani to discuss town-gown relations

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A discussion on the role that universities and communities share in fostering economic and social development is set for February at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Eugene P. Trani, president emeritus and university distinguished professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, will present "Town-Gown Relations in the 21st Century" at 7 p.m., Feb. 1. The event will be in the Student Center ballrooms. Admission is free, and the public is welcome.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is sponsoring Trani's visit, which is one of the Institute's first spring 2011 offerings.

In his nearly two decades as VCU president, Trani, who retired in June 2009, was widely recognized for his efforts to link the university and Richmond, Va., in numerous community outreach and economic development efforts. VCU was one of two universities highlighted in a 2002 national case study, “Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda,” by Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and CEO’s for Cities. In addition, VCU ranked eighth nationally in a 2006 report from the New England Board of Education in a list of the top 25 “Best-Neighbor” urban colleges and universities.

Trani is co-author of a 2010 book, “The Indispensable University: Higher Education, Economic Development, and the Knowledge Economy, ” which looks at the roles that universities play in not only their communities, but also with regional economic development efforts.

Institute Director David Yepsen said Trani’s visit is timely, and will provide a good background for upcoming municipal elections, particularly in Carbondale’s mayoral race. Five candidates will square off in a Feb. 22 primary for four slots to compete in the April 5 general election. In addition, 16 candidates in Carbondale are vying for three seats on the city council.

“Carbondale has a wide-open mayor’s race this year for the first time in eight years,” Yepsen said. “I think his lecture will help set the stage for the debate on what ought to be the relationship between the city and the university and how it might be improved for everyone’s benefit.”

From 1967 to 1975, Trani was on the faculty in SIUC’s Department of History. Trani was among SIUC faculty to help Institute founder Paul Simon during Simon’s 1974 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1975, he wrote a chapter for a then-planned book tracing Simon’s political life from 1950 to 1973. Trani’s work, “The Man and the Land: The Politics of Paul Simon and Southern Illinois, 1950-1973,” is paper No. 21 in the “The Simon Review” series on the Institute’s website,

Trani and John S. Jackson, a visiting professor at the public policy institute, were friends when Trani was at SIUC. Jackson also worked on Simon’s 1974 campaign and wrote two chapters for the planned book on Simon.

“He’s bright, energetic and creative and it’s not surprising to me that he became the leader of a major university and was very successful for 19 years in that role,” Jackson said.

“He’s studied cities; he’s studied universities,” Jackson said. “He’s deeply experienced after 19 years of leading a large university that is not unlike ours.”

Using various universities in varying-sized communities, the book explores what those “Town-Gown” communities will look like and “the role of the university in creating that city of the future,” Jackson said.

VCU became the largest four-year public university in Virginia in 2006, and in-state enrollment increased 34 percent between 1997 and 2007. Several university-related projects resulted in Richmond’s continued growth.

The book also looks at how universities relate to their settings, and Jackson said that Trani also will offer some insight of how he sees that applying in Carbondale. Jackson notes much of Chicago’s recent downtown development in the last 20 years is attributable to building efforts of several local universities there.

“I believe everyone recognizes around here the University is by far the biggest economic engine in Carbondale and all of Southern Illinois. And if the University is healthy, the region is healthy,” Jackson said. “Of course, recently, the University has had grave financial difficulties and that is bound to have a detrimental impact on Southern Illinois.

“We need to look toward the future where we establish closer and stronger ties that will benefit both the region and the University,” Jackson said.

Jackson hopes after the lecture that people “get a sense of how valuable the University can be in creating the kind of community” that people not only want to live in, but also is attractive to small business and manufacturing firms.

Prior to coming to VCU in 1990, Trani was vice president for academic affairs of the University of Wisconsin System and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, according to his biography. He was vice chancellor for academic affairs and professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 1980 to 1986. From 1976 to 1980, Trani was assistant vice president for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska. Prior to coming to SIUC, Trani was a history instructor at The Ohio State University.

Trani is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.

For the 2010-2011 academic year, Trani is a visiting professorial fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London. He is author or co-author of 10 books, including, “The Presidency of Warren G. Harding,” and “Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century.”

For more information on this program, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009 or visit