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Contact: Joe King, Office of Public Affairs
April 26, 2005
DEKALB, Ill. -- Northern Illinois University paid tribute today to its former president, William Monat, by re-naming the university office building at Third and Locust in his honor.
“Bill Monat's contributions to Northern Illinois University have been numerous, important and enduring,” said current NIU President John Peters. “Throughout his career here, he did so much to improve the university that it is only fitting that we honor him in this substantial and lasting fashion.”
Monat's contributions to NIU span four decades and came as he worked in a variety of roles.
He first came to NIU in 1969, as chair of the Department of Political Science. Though his time in that post was brief, it was marked by great success, most notably securing state approval for a master's in public administration program, one of the university's most prestigious programs to this day.
When he left, Monat never expected to return to DeKalb, but in 1976 he was lured back to NIU to serve as provost. In that role, Monat did much to energize the university's academic mission. However, after just two years on the job, he was installed as acting president, and five months later the appointment was made permanent.
As president from 1978 until 1984, Monat is perhaps best remembered for his leading role in creating two new colleges, the NIU College of Law and the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. During his tenure, the university also secured the approval for doctoral programs in geology, biological sciences and mathematical sciences, as well as undergraduate programs in meteorology and business systems.
His time in office also saw dramatic physical changes on campus, including construction of the Martin Luther King Commons and the Student Recreation Center . He also created several commissions to deal with issues related to women and minorities, and established support centers for African Americans and Latinos. He also undertook the university's first efforts at creating a fundraising arm.
“The initiatives he launched allowed the university to project itself to the next level of prominence,” said Eddie Williams, NIU vice president for Finance and Facilities. “To this day, we are enjoying he benefits of Bill Monat's work.”
It was also during Monat's time in office that the university acquired the building that now bears his name.
Opened in 1927 as the Rice Hotel, the building was an important part of the DeKalb business and social scene for many decades. In addition to being a favorite lodging place for travelers, particularly salesmen, the building was also a popular spot for weddings and other social occasions, and was utilized as a meeting place by many local clubs and organizations. The dining room in the lobby was also a favorite spot for family celebrations and Sunday dinners, and many people enjoyed the miniature golf course that for years was located in the basement.
During its run as one of the premier hotels in the region, the Rice played host to several celebrities, including Amelia Earhart, Ronald Reagan and Eleanor Roosevelt. Later in its history the building also served as a dormitory for Peace Corp workers training at NIU.
By the early 1980s, however, the hotel's glory days had passed and it had become home mostly to transients. In 1982 the city declared the building a public health hazard and voted to close it.
Rather than spelling the end for the building, however, that opened the door to a new chapter.
Local developer Tom Rosenow purchased the building, restored the lobby to its former grandeur and converted the hotel rooms to offices. He then leased the building to NIU, which had a serious need for office space at the time. President Monat designated the facility as home to a collection of the university's most prominent social science research programs.
Monat left NIU in 1984 to become chancellor of the Board of Regents, the former governing board that oversaw NIU and two other state universities. While there, he was instrumental in securing the final approval for the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology that he had helped plan while at NIU.
He returned to campus in 1986 and continued teaching in the public administration program until he retired in 1992 with the title of Regency Professor Emeritus.
He and his wife, Jo, live in DeKalb, splitting time between here and Florida .
In naming the building after Monat, President Peters said the honor was an appropriate and lasting tribute to an admirable career spent in the service of the university.
“While the best interests of NIU were always foremost in Bill's mind throughout his time here, I know that the social sciences and public policy have always held a special place in his heart, so I cannot think of a more appropriate building here at NIU to bear the name of my dear friend who did so much for this university.”