John G. Peters
Contact: Melanie Magara, NIU Office of Public Affairs
September 10, 2009
DeKalb – In a ten-year period characterized by reduced state support and increasing student demand, Northern Illinois University has expanded its reach, improved facilities and student services, increased external funding and delivered on its promise to become one of the nation’s leading regional public universities. That according to NIU President John Peters, whose annual State of the University Address today provided a sweeping overview of the last decade and a view of the challenges that await his university in the next ten years.
Peters, who came to NIU in June 2000, said that a record number of student applications this year yielded a fall class of 24,424 undergraduates and graduate students – a slight increase over last year. More importantly, Peters noted, the university met and exceeded its targets for new freshmen and transfer students, while also increasing enrollment in its Graduate School and College of Law.
“It’s a great vote of confidence in NIU to see event modest enrollment gains in a period of such economic stress,” Peters said. “It’s clear that NIU continues to offer a very desirable experience and a very valuable degree to the citizens of this region.”
Throughout his address, Peters expressed concern about what he termed the state’s “disinvestment” in higher education, and called on faculty and staff to redouble their efforts in obtaining other forms of funding.
To that end, Peters announced that the university’s first-ever capital campaign, “True North,” has met and exceeded its $150 million goal a year early.
“When I came here, we were raising a few million dollars a year, awarding a handful of large scholarships, and had exactly one endowed chair,” Peters said. “Today, we’re raising five times as much in private donations, and since 2000 we’ve awarded 13,700 scholarships and established 20 endowed chairs. That’s progress we can all take pride in.”
Peters praised the work of NIU researchers who have brought in millions of dollars worth of federal grants, some of which have transformed their academic units. And he reiterated his call for more multidisciplinary research – a cornerstone of NIU’s now-two-year-old strategic plan.
While taking the occasion to celebrate many NIU accomplishments, Peters also warned the university community against complacency with respect to impending budget woes.
“When I came here, the state portion of our budget had plummeted to about 40 percent. Today it is less than 26 percent. There is a breach in the social contract that has for 150 years defined higher education as a public good. Today, as battles rage in state capitals across our nation, higher education is cast as a private benefit instead of the best possible investment we all can make in our future,” he said.
NIU’s current fiscal year budget has been described as “flat,” or equal to the previous year’s budget, but Peters said that is not accurate. Propped up with $4.5 million in one-time federal stimulus money, the state portion of NIU’s budget could well plummet even further next year.
But Peters saved his harshest words for what he termed “neglect of our state’s neediest college students.” Facing a complete elimination of spring semester funding in Illinois’ Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, NIU could see as many as a third of its current undergraduates unable to return to school in January.
“Nothing in my ten years at NIU has made me angrier – or more alarmed – than this,” he said. Peters and other Illinois university presidents continue to lobby state lawmakers to reverse the MAP cuts, taking their case to the public airwaves, newspaper editorial boards and to the state capitol.
“This is not something the universities can fix,” Peters said. “In a state struggling to rebound from recession, enhance educational attainment and create the skilled workers who attract new businesses and investment, this is about the most counter-productive move I can think of.”
In other announcements, Peters praised the work of a baccalaureate review panel that is overhauling NIU’s core curriculum; celebrated a new “engagement” designation from the Carnegie Foundation; and acknowledged the work of university faculty and staff who are expanding broadband internet access throughout the region.
A complete copy of the 2009 State of the University address is available on the NIU homepage at www.niu.edu.