UIUC was established on one of the original thirty-seven public land-grant institutions created by Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. It was chartered in 1867 as the Illinois Industrial University, and opened the following year. Originally, the majority of the university was located north of Green Street; in later years, the university slowly migrated south to its current configuration, in which land north of Green is primarily used by the College of Engineering.
UIUC is located roughly 140 miles south of Chicago, 120 miles west of Indianapolis, and 170 miles northeast of St. Louis. It is bordered by Champaign on the east and Urbana on the west. As of 2001, it consists of 213 major buildings, spanning 1,451 acres. The university consists of sixteen separate colleges and instructional units, including those of agriculture, aviation, education, law, and of course engineering.
Despite being a state-funded university, UIUC is consistently among the top ten schools in many fields of engineering, including civil, electrical, and computer, as well as excelling in the arts as well. On or near campus are such establishments as the Digital Computer Lab (birthplace of the Illiac, an early supercomputer), National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Beckman Institute, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and Krannert Art Museum. As of early 2002, construction is progressing on the Thomas M. Siebel Center, one of the most advanced computer science buildings in the world.
UIUC was one of the first universities in the United States to offer Internet connections in student dormitory rooms, starting with a pilot program at the Illinois Street Residence Halls in 1985. As of 2001, every dorm room is equipped with ethernet access, and the university maintains fourteen dorm computer centers open twenty-four hours a day.
UIUC is part of the Big Ten sports conference. Its sports teams are named the Fighting Illini, and the team mascot is a Native American chief dressed in full costume regalia. Needless to say, this has evoked intense debate, with one side claiming the Chief demeans Native Americans, and the other calling it a "dignified tribute to our heritage". As of 2002, there are no official plans to retire the Chief.
UIUC also has its place in fiction: in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ship's computer HAL was built in Urbana, and became operational on January 12, 1997. (This date was celebrated in the DCL with a birthday party for HAL.) In addition, the university's Quad was used for the graduation ceremony in the movie With Honors.
Finally, a correction to another writeup (which has since been eaten): while it is true that the university library holds one of the largest collections in the United States (over nine million volumes), it does not span most of the campus underground; that would be the steam tunnel system. However, the Undergraduate Library is located entirely underground (save for the entrances). It resembles a sort of inverted building, built like a three story, square donut set into the ground, with the hole in the center open to the sky. It is said that the library was built this way so as not to cast shadows on the Morrow Plots, the United States' oldest experimental fields. Shadows would have changed the conditions of the fields, and thus rendered decades of experimental data worthless.
Sources: About the UIUC Library (gateway.library.uiuc.edu/geninfo/history.htm), Campus Facts 2001 (http://www.uiuc.edu/admin2/facts.html), and three and a half years of my own experience there as a student. :) Stop back often; I'm always revising and adding to the writeup as I gather more information!