Rick Schoell, executive director for government relations and director of federal relations, University Office of Governmental Relations, has spent his 16-year career as a liaison between the university and state and federal legislators. Schoell earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and master’s degree in political science from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, Schoell enjoys reading about American history and political and government leaders. He also is a fan of jazz and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What does the office of government relations do?
Our principal job is to promote the university’s interests at the federal and state levels. I work very closely with the [university] president and the three campus chancellors’ offices and with a host of national organizations.
We monitor legislation and lobby legislators about laws and issues that affect the university. We work aggressively to structure laws in ways that most benefit our students. We’ve been involved in issues such as student aid, budgetary matters, reporting of campus crime statistics and changes to immigration laws because of Sept. 11.
In December, President Bush signed a bill that will double the National Science Foundation’s budget. How might this affect the Urbana campus?
It’s particularly important to the Urbana campus because it is the number one recipient (in terms of universities) of NSF support.
For the fiscal year 2001, we got about $80 million in NSF research funds. Last year, it was more like $90 million to $100 million. If the NSF doubles its research budget, it only stands that we would compete successfully for those additional resources, whether they are in the form of individual investigative grants or support for centers like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
What are going to be the priorities for your office for 2003?
To obtain the best operating and capital budgets we can, once we see what the new governor’s agenda is, and find ways to advance the interests of Illinois, from agriculture to transportation and everything that falls in between. We’ll also be working at the federal level to augment our research and student-aid programs.
In a recent Faculty-Student Senate meeting, some of the senators expressed concern that homeland security and immigration legislation will adversely affect the numbers of prospective faculty members and students. Could you comment?
On the immigration side, the federal government is requiring universities to be much more vigilant and comprehensive in their monitoring and administration of foreign faculty [members] and students. With that presumably comes some sacrifice of convenience and maybe civil liberties, and that’s where the tensions are. It’s going to be more difficult to travel and get extended stays for research purposes. I think they are potentially right – that it may be more difficult to attract foreign scholarship and education.
On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any alternative right now. We’ll just have to watch and work with our foreign student and student aid offices to do our best to ensure that if there are problems, they get communicated to Congress so we can improve the system.
What’s the biggest challenge in your job?
Staying on top of all the initiatives and teaming our best and brightest with the new opportunities at the federal and state levels. Gov. [Rod] Blagojevich and the new legislators are going to have to learn about us and education, a process we will undertake aggressively. We want to ensure they understand all the ways the UI can help the state and will ideally support us in the most meaningful material ways. As we roll into the new year, we’ll be enlisting a lot of people to help work with state and federal legislators. I think that’s going to be the real challenge: to establish that rapport and articulate that message.