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Clarence Shelley to receive Chancellor's Medallion

Kesha Green, News Bureau
(217) 333-1085;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Clarence Shelley, a former dean of students and associate vice chancellor, will receive the Chancellor's Medallion today for his 33 years of exemplary service to the University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana community.

The medallion, the third the UI has awarded, recognizes outstanding work on behalf of the campus. The award is given to exceptional people whose contributions to the campus go beyond expectation and precedent. Shelley's legacy of work includes not only the mentoring and counseling of thousands of students, but also his calm leadership when the UI instituted a ground-breaking equal opportunity program during his first year.

"The Chancellor’s Medallion honors the courage and leadership Clarence Shelley displayed during a critical period in Urbana-Champaign campus history," Chancellor Nancy Cantor said. "It also recognizes the decades of service he gave to Illinois students, encouraging them to believe in themselves and to retain their focus on earning a degree at a world-class university. He deserves the highest honor we can give him for his past service, but I'm also thrilled that he will continue to serve the university, its students and alumni."

The presentation will take place tonight during an invitation-only dinner on campus at Temple Hoyne Buell Hall in Urbana.

Shelley, 70, came to the UI in July 1968 as the director of the Special Educational Opportunities Program (SEOP). About that time, Jack Peltason, who then was the chancellor, decided to increase the number of African-American students at the UI by 500 for the 1968-69 academic year. The university was given four months to recruit the students.

The SEOP, otherwise known as Project 500, succeeded in tripling the African-American student population, but the university lacked a comprehensive support system to accommodate the new students.

Because Shelley had no staff resources at his disposal, his duties involved those of an entire office. And because the African-American Cultural Program did not exist at the time, he quickly became the students’ only support system on campus.

Most of the African-American students who arrived on campus found that the UI had yet to deliver on its promises of housing and grants. They also experienced culture shock as they adjusted to a place different from their urban and primarily
African-American communities. Shelley not only helped alleviate the students' concerns, but he also worked to garner support and assistance from Champaign-Urbana residents.

Shelley served as a mediator between the administration and students, beginning with a student protest at the Illini Union the Sunday before classes started. Shelley struggled to help people understand each other's concerns and perspectives during other potentially volatile situations that year.

"The university owes a great debt to Clarence Shelley for having the wisdom and the fortitude to face the situation and persist in bringing change," said Patricia Askew, the current vice chancellor for student affairs.

True to his role as a problem-solver, Shelley realized that addressing the needs of the African-American students would require an inclusive community effort. He pushed for every staff or faculty member to feel accountable for the success and personal development of the students. Likewise, he encouraged the students to value their education.

"A frequent question Dean Shelley would ask students who visited him in his office was, 'Do you know where the library is?' "Askew said. "This simple question conveyed the point that Shelley wanted the students to remember – above all else – that earning a college degree requires tremendous personal effort."

Shelley held multiple roles on campus, including serving as dean of students for 11 years, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs for seven years and associate dean of students for nine years. He was the first African American to hold all those positions on campus. After its first tumultuous year, the SEOP has become one of the largest comprehensive support programs in the nation. It has since expanded to serve students from various ethnic backgrounds.

Even in retirement, Shelley has not stopped working as an advocate for minority students. This year he became a special assistant to the chancellor. He works directly with her on projects that focus on campus diversity initiatives and related issues. Shelley will develop an ongoing campuswide program that features discussion groups about diversity issues. He also will work as an ambassador to minority alumni.