About John G. Peters

State of the University Address 2004

President John G. Peters
October 7, 2004

Thank you, Dr. Stoddard. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining me here today in the very first formal event in our “new” campus landmark – beautiful, historic Altgeld Hall. I believe it is appropriate for us to celebrate Altgeld’s rebirth with a formal address that looks at the “state” of the whole university. After all, when this building first opened in 1899, it was the whole university. Every classroom, laboratory, and faculty office, the library, the gymnasium, the art studio and lecture hall, all those facilities were right here, under one roof. In fact, if you were a student at Northern Illinois State Normal School in 1899, you would have begun every school day in this very auditorium – which incidentally would have looked very much like it does today, thanks to our restoration specialists – you would have begun each day here, listening to my predecessor, John Williston Cook, hold forth on the issues of the day. He would tell you how you should dress and eat and carry yourselves; he would read you Bible verses and inspirational literature; and he frequently would take this opportunity to warn you about the evils of alcohol.

And if you were a student in those days, you would receive all that under the watchful gaze of these twelve great men perched on the walls around us: presidents, educators and leaders of various social and educational movements. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, would also be here to inspire you (that’s her on the two large medallions flanking the top of the proscenium) and in case you were spending your time here thinking up excuses for not having your homework ready for the next class, you could gaze upward, above my head, to the top of the proscenium arch, where an open book flanked by angels proclaims “VERITAS” – TRUTH!

I’m having a little fun here with some of these historic details, but truth is, education was a very serious business at the turn of the last century, and it’s just as serious today. The ornamentation we see around us – the castle design of this building, the exquisite architectural details laden with meaning and message – all these features were meant to emphasize the importance of knowledge and of education, and to underscore how the educated person had a special place in our society. It was true in 1899, and it remains true today: education is the cornerstone of a free society, and knowledge deserves a castle.

This morning, we held a short ceremony to formally rededicate this building. I know many of you were there as well, so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but I do want to say that I find great meaning in the timing of this grand reopening. Just as we are rededicating Altgeld Hall for a new century of service, so we find ourselves – as a university community – poised at the edge of another new century. We find ourselves in a position not entirely different from the one our predecessors faced a century ago, looking forward into an uncertain future, knowing only that major changes are ahead, and believing in education as the single best answer to our most pressing societal concerns.

One historical theory holds that major social and cultural changes go in hundred-year cycles. It’s certainly not hard to see some distinct similarities between the circumstances under which NIU was established and the circumstances in which we now pause, with a little more than one hundred years under our collective belt, and look forward into the next century.

At the turn of the last century, the overriding issue of the day was mass movement of people into cities from farms and foreign countries. Suddenly, proficient English, mathematical competency and a common social knowledge base took on new importance. Education was the ticket to success in the cities, and mass education required a huge deployment of new, well-trained teachers.

In the history of American education, the “normal school” looms as large as the Morrill land-grant university, the G.I. Bill, or the explosion of new science inspired by Sputnik and the so-called “space race.” It was an integral part of American public higher education as we know it.

Many of the faces looking down on us today belong to educators who championed new teaching methods and new ways to organize public education. They are heroes of the bold experiment that put castles in cornfields and college-educated teachers in one-room schoolhouses across this region.

The challenge of 1899 – that is, large scale education of the masses to meet new societal needs – returned with a vengeance at the turn of our new century. Like a familiar tune with new lyrics, public universities in the new millennium once again hear the plea for help – and once again, it springs from the need to prepare a nation of learners for a new era. At the turn of the last century, automobiles, electricity, and major medical breakthroughs were about to change the American way of life forever.

Today, it’s the computer chip, nanoscience and cloning. It’s technology, in all its many incarnations, that leaves us breathless at the dawn of another new century. The incredible potential of new science points up the incredible gap between leading-edge discovery and declining educational achievement across the country. Comparing historical snapshots from 1899 and 1999, proponents of the “hundred-year cycle” theory find a treasure trove of supporting evidence.

So as we sit today in this beautifully restored reminder of our beginnings, it strikes me that Altgeld Hall provides a wonderful metaphor for the challenge that lies ahead. Just as we rededicate this building to a new century of service, so must we rededicate ourselves – as a community of scholars and learners – to the purpose for which NIU was founded: that is, elevating the educational attainment and body of knowledge of all citizens in the region we serve.

We can and should embrace our beginnings as a normal school – a college dedicated to the training of teachers. That is a proud and elegant tradition that does not in any way preclude or limit the wider mission which evolved from those beginnings. In fact, it is the basis for all NIU has become. Listen to these words from John Peter Altgeld, more than a century ago:

“The time is near at hand when from this state will go out the most advanced ideas in all fields of human knowledge. In education we have laid the foundations for institutions that will grow stronger with the centuries.”

‘In education we have laid the foundations.’ Altgeld had vision, didn’t he? From this great experiment called the normal school came a culture of experimentation that this institution has taken to new heights in recent years. We have indeed “grown stronger,” as Altgeld predicted, and today, as a Carnegie-classified Research Extensive – Doctoral institution, we are indeed “advancing all the fields of human knowledge.” And we’re doing so in ways that remain very connected to our founding purpose: That is, NIU research is characterized, by and large, by a very strong, direct links to specific society needs.

The other wonderful synergy we find in NIU research is the way it informs teaching and the extent to which it is woven into the fabric of both the undergraduate and graduate experience. When we look at modern-day NIU, can we see those normal school roots? Can we see a commitment to enhanced educational attainment in the way we conduct research? Is it really a stretch to say that our beginning as a teacher’s college finds new expression in what we now call regional outreach and engagement?

I submit to you that the incredible accomplishments we celebrate here today – the tremendous growth of this institution both in size and regional influence, and the amazing resilience of a university that adapts to meet new needs – I would submit to you that all of those strengths can be traced back to our beginnings.

Allow me to offer the following examples. Nearly 7,000 of NIU’s 25,000 students are studying for careers in education. One in four Illinois school superintendents studied here, and more than 25,000 teachers in the Chicagoland region have NIU degrees. Our influence on regional education would be significant even if we never went beyond that snapshot.

But we have gone further – so much further, in fact, that five of our deans were called to Boston last month to tell educators from across the country how NIU has managed to create a national model for school-university partnerships. Under the umbrella of our highly-successful P-20 (or preschool through graduate school) program, five different colleges are working together to improve teacher training, raise student achievement, and smooth transitions across the public education system at every level. Can you imagine? A program so important that five deans came together to work across college boundaries on a singularly-focused initiative? Don’t look now, but I think I just saw some of the plaster heads smiling!

Here are just a few examples of what P-20 has accomplished so far. They’ve planned, opened and are helping operate an innovative new elementary school where the fine arts and technology are integrated into every subject. They developed an interactive school report card to help parents and school administrators make sense of voluminous standardized testing data. This is a product, by the way, that’s now available to 4,000 public schools in Illinois! The P-20 team obtained a five million dollar federal grant to work with struggling schools in Rockford.

The list goes on and on. In all, NIU’s P-20 program has obtained more than $7.5 million worth of federal support in less than a year-and-a-half, and they have another $15 million in the development pipeline right now.

Nor are they laboring in obscurity on these programs. NIU’s P-20 initiative is making headlines across the state and around the nation – so much so that P-20 faculty and staff are fielding calls for help from school districts around the state, each and every day! In fact, on the strength of our growing reputation for P-20 leadership, I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in Washington – at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige – to discuss with a small group of university presidents how to improve math and science education in our public schools. It is no coincidence that, in looking around the country for leaders in teacher preparation and school-university partnerships, Secretary Paige would choose NIU to help advise him on national education policy.

If it sounds like I’m proud of this program – I am. So much so, in fact, that today I’m announcing a new competition for planning grants awarded to programs in which two or more colleges team up to develop new P-20 programs. I’ll announce more details soon, at a reception later this month where we’ll be honoring the deans, faculty and staff who’ve made all this possible.

In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a warm round of applause of the NIU P-20 Task Force and the faculty and staff they represent: Dean Chris Sorensen from the College of Education; Dean Fred Kitterle from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Dean Harold Kafer from the College of Visual and Performing Arts; Dean Shirley Richmond from the College of Health and Human Sciences; and Dean Promod Vohra from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology; Vice Provost Gip Seaver; and from NIU Outreach Vice President Anne Kaplan and Marilyn McConachie. Will you all please stand and be recognized. Thank you, P-20 team, and keep up the good work. It’s what NIU was created to do, and we honor the legacy of our founders when we keep that flame alive.

At the beginning of my remarks, I described a scene from NIU’s early days, when official university interest in students extended to what they wore, ate, drank – or didn’t drink – how they behaved both in and out of class, and so forth. Putting aside the more intrusive aspects of that concern, the picture we are left with is one in which students were treated as complete individuals – a holistic view of student life, the more positive aspects of which live on at NIU today.

“Serving the whole student” is the mission of our student affairs area, and we have many great examples this year to illustrate that approach: the establishment of our new Asian-American Center, scheduled for grand opening and dedication next week; the transformation of Chick Evans Field House from aging basketball facility to modern indoor student recreation center; creation of two new academic interest floors – Business House and Teacher House – both serving the common interests of students with focused professional aspirations.

These and so many other new programs illustrate the ongoing belief at NIU in serving the whole student, both in and out of the classroom. And leading that charge is our new Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Brian Hemphill. Brian, will you please stand and be recognized. Brian, to you and all of your staff, our heartfelt appreciation for all you do to make NIU a welcoming and nurturing environment for NIU students.

Each summer, I meet with hundreds of new students and their parents at orientation sessions, and while I’ve often accepted compliments on behalf of our NIU staff for the great job they do making new people feel welcome, this year I was struck by the number of comments about the beauty of our campus. At a time when dollars are stretched to their absolute limits, our staff in Finance and Facilities have not only kept buildings open and facilities running, but have gone the extra mile in making this physical plant really shine. Beyond that, they’ve found ways in very, very tough financial times to help us reward all NIU faculty and staff with salary hikes, and have kept us in excellent overall financial health. I want to acknowledge the man who makes that happen, year after year, in good times and bad. Dr. Eddie Williams, will you please stand and be recognized.

And while I mentioned this in more detail at our rededication ceremony this morning, I also want to thank Dr. Williams and his staff for their excellent work on this building. Faced with every conceivable challenge – lack of original blueprints, stalled funding, worse-than-expected building deterioration – Eddie and his staff worked some real miracles in bringing this campus landmark back to life, and I want to publicly acknowledge that work. Thank you, Eddie, Patti and all those who breathed new life into Altgeld Hall.

Speaking of new beginnings, we’ve seen new life breathed into our athletic program in recent years, and I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a special welcome to our new Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. For more than 400 of our students here at NIU, Division I-A competition is a life-changing, character-building experience. For thousands more, athletics offers a spirit-building experience – a sense of camaraderie and belonging that greatly enhances their college years. And for alumni, our sports teams offer a rallying point that brings many back to campus and a reconnection with their alma mater. For all those reasons, we value the intercollegiate athletic experience at NIU, and are pleased to entrust that resource into the capable hands of our new AD, Mr. Jim Phillips. Jim, will you please stand and be recognized.

The spirit of experimentation that so pervaded the founding of this university is also alive and well at NIU today. And just as John Peter Altgeld predicted, from the great experiment of research-based teacher education has grown a comprehensive research program that now includes nearly every field of human knowledge.

In the 12 months since my last address, the number of new projects our faculty have undertaken, and the amount of external funding we have been able to attract has been astounding.

Differing fiscal calendars and prolonged budget negotiations obscured some of our progress this year, but even without being able to count some of the largest new projects, NIU attracted nearly $50 million in external research funding in FY04. That’s an increase of $15 million, or 43 percent since I arrived here in June of 2000 – a very respectable accomplishment by any measure, but a tremendous feat in a period of slashed budgets and increased pressures on our faculty.

When we talk about ways in which the outside world measures the value and prestige of universities, federal research funding is near the top of the list. Academy memberships, faculty awards, and doctoral degrees are also important criteria, and in all those fields, NIU has made tremendous progress over the past several years.

And once again, we owe much our success to partnerships – both internal and external. Internally, the partnerships I’m referring to involve our terrific Office of External Affairs and Economic Development, headed by Associate Vice President Kathy Buettner. Kathy has worked very diligently and effectively with all of our deans to identify key federal funding opportunities. Kathy and our new Vice President for Research, Rathindra Bose, have together created a new blueprint for multidisciplinary research funding that has helped NIU land larger and more numerous federal grants. In a few minutes, I’ll tell you about a few of those new awards. In the meantime, I’d like to ask Rathindra and Kathy to stand and be recognized.

Those who have attended these addresses over the past several years will recognize the recurring theme of “partnerships” in all my remarks. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the growing need for multidisciplinary approaches to research. Our society’s most pressing problems call for expertise from many fields. Few solutions can be found in research silos. Few breakthroughs will come from individual scientists working in isolation.

At NIU, we embrace the multidisciplinary imperative – and in so doing, we have attracted unprecedented new funding: Under the leadership of Engineering Dean Promod Vohra and Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Fred Kitterle, NIU has just received its first installment of a five year, $5 million grant to develop emission-free, clean energy fuel cells in a project at Argonne National Laboratory. That project, which has garnered the bi-partisan support of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Congresswoman Judy Biggert and Senator Dick Durbin, will tap the expertise of NIU scientists Bogdan Dabrowski and Anima Bose. Once again, our congratulations to those faculty and to Deans Vohra and Kitterle.

I’d like to say word about our partnerships with two renowned national laboratories – Argonne and Fermilab. These laboratories offer research facilities that are second to none. Our faculty not only advance their own research by working there, but also expose their graduate students to facilities and experts that are the envy of elite universities worldwide.

We have created several joint faculty and staff appointments at both Fermilab and Argonne. One of those faculty members on joint appointment, physicist Court Bohn, recently received nearly $1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Bohn is creating simulation tools for the development of high powered lasers that could, among other things, help our Navy fleets defend themselves against cruise missiles. His work also could lead to a wide variety of scientific studies of new applications for intense laser probes.

Our work with Fermilab has become well known, particularly as NIU’s leadership in the search for the next generation of particle accelerators has attracted numerous headlines and millions of dollars. This year, one of the most respected names in accelerator physics – NIU’s own Jerry Blazey – was re-elected as co-spokesperson for Fermilab’s D-Zero project, one of the world’s most ambitious physics experiments seeking to identify no less than the building blocks of our universe!

Just as the NIU/Fermilab partnership has become well-known in this region, so is our association with Argonne National Laboratory about to attract more attention. Under the leadership of Professor Clyde Kimball, a number of our faculty from Liberal Arts and Sciences and Engineering have developed a blueprint that would formally establish the NIU Nanoscience Institute at Argonne National Laboratory, and would launch a formal doctoral program in this important new multidisciplinary field.

In recognition of NIU’s growing influence in these areas, I’ve been asked to serve alongside the presidents of Northwestern, the University of Illinois, and the University of Chicago on a task force aimed at building support for Argonne as the location of America’s next major accelerator project – the Rare Isotope Accelerator. What an exciting project, and what an honor for NIU to be in the same company with the nation’s top research universities!

Speaking of partnerships, here’s one that brought together politicians, scientists, city officials, industry and the U.S. Military. It’s called “Rapid Optimization of Commercial Knowledge,” or R.O.C.K., and it brings $5.75 million in congressional appropriations to our College of Engineering. The R.O.C.K. program will help Rockford’s manufacturing industry have a hand in creating a new generation of faster, lighter and stronger fighting vehicles for the U.S. Armed Forces.

Again with bipartisan support – this time from Congressman Don Manzullo, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Peter Fitzgerald – R.O.C.K. promises to create both better vehicles for U.S. troops AND new jobs in Rockford. As this project illustrates, our research partnerships today frequently have strong economic development benefits for individual communities and our entire service region. Congratulations, Dean Vohra.

A bit further from home, but with implications for our region as well, NIU Geology professors are studying global warming by looking at changes in the polar ice cap. Thanks to Geology Chair Jonathon Berg, and the support of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, that work and other important projects will soon receive a big boost. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded NIU $2.3 million to establish the “Analytical Center for Climate and Environmental Change.” The grant will allow our geologists to purchase state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation, including a hot-water drilling system and a remotely-operated submarine for exploration under the Antarctic ice sheet. Climate change experts Ross Powell, Paul Loubere, Reed Scherer and Melissa Lenczewski are among the NIU scientists working in the program. On behalf of all of those involved in this important study, I’d like to ask Dr. Berg to stand and be recognized.

NIU’s founding fathers and mothers were responding to very clear societal needs when they created Northern Illinois State Normal School. That very practical, results-based approach has carried through the years at NIU, and still informs our vision today. As we look around this region NIU serves, we continually search out partnerships, relationships, and new programs that help us maintain our relevance as a public institution.

I’ve already mentioned several of those “big themes” – nanotechnology, economic development, environmental science. All of these initiatives meet real needs in our region and our world. And in all of the programs I’ve just mentioned, we have started from a position of strength. That is, we have looked at programs in which NIU has historically been strong. Once we have identified those areas of strength, we look at ways we can apply those strengths to areas of greatest need.

Over the course of my four years at NIU, I’ve seen a number of new programs and emphases emerge this way. Today I’d like to foreshadow one of them – and I apologize in advance for the lack of specificity, but all will become clear over the course of the next few months when final details are worked out and we can announce these new initiatives.

In general, the area I am referring to involves programs in health and family wellness. We have excellent programs in the health sciences, in medically-related hard sciences, in family education and therapy services. Soon, we hope to announce several new initiatives that will allow us to extend our expertise in these areas even further. Without saying much more, I will simply add that the totality of – broadly defined – health and wellness expertise at NIU makes this university a “sleeping giant” in fields that complement and strengthen services in this community and throughout the northern Illinois region. If I’ve raised some interest here – and I hope I have – I invite you to stay tuned as NIU’s historic mission manifests itself in yet another regionally-focused set of partnership initiatives.

Our faculty have done such great work this past year that it’s difficult to find time to mention even a small percentage of their successes in research, scholarly work, and artistry. Here are a few more I’d like to highlight.

From Geography: Phil Young, Rick Schwantes and a team of students created a first-of-its-kind, interactive campus map that allows visitors to see exactly where they’re going before they come to our campus, and let’s students plot out ideal routes between home, classes and parking lots. I’m not doing it justice – this is a fabulous project.

From History: J.D. Bowers received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for a project aimed at improving the way history is taught in our region’s public schools.

From Psychology: Joe Magliano and Keith Millis have received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop new methods for testing reading comprehension.

From English: Amy Newman has just published an amazing new book of poetry, and has been invited to serve as a distinguished visiting writer at Bowling Green University this spring.

Also from English: Princeton University Press this year published five of the Thoreau Edition texts in paperback to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Walden. Beth Witherell heads that project and was recently profiled in the Chicago Tribune for her expertise on Thoreau.

The list goes on – in every field of discovery and every form of scholarship, NIU faculty are putting their unique mark on the body of knowledge from which future generations will draw strength and inspiration.

Not that our faculty are reserving their creative efforts for research and scholarship alone. Indeed, some of the most creative work I’ve heard about this year involved innovative teaching techniques. Dr. Brian Collier, for example, is using a special NSF grant to incorporate the excitement of video games into mechanical engineering courses on computation. The new course will have students competing to create the fastest computer-model cars, based on their understanding of the physics of engine efficiency, suspension technology, tire road contact and other engineering concepts.

In Technology, senior design students are creating those funny-looking trains we see running around campus on game days. This partnership between athletics and academics has added real flair to the technology curriculum, and a lot of fun for Huskie fans.

Over in the College of Business, Denise Schoenbachler and her colleagues are just finishing up the first round of a new class based on the popular TV series, The Apprentice. If you happened to read the Chicago Tribune feature on this class earlier this week, you know that it’s anything but a game to our students – it’s a tough-as-nails course designed to introduce them to the real world of business, and it does just that.

The College of Business motto “Where the classroom meets the business world,” is just one of many legacies of Business Dean David Graf. I want to acknowledge David today as this is his last semester on the job. He’ll be retiring in December and I want to thank him for his leadership of one of the best business colleges in the country. Dean Graf, will you please stand and be recognized.

And of course, I can’t miss the opportunity while talking about teaching innovations to mention that this wonderful building, Altgeld Hall, now houses an instructional technology center second to none: The excellent work coming out of our Provost’s division in terms of training faculty and staff in new classroom presentation technology will be greatly enhanced by this new center, a great example, I would add, of our founding mission – producing better teachers – and our present-day focus on improving the learning experience for all of our students.

Some of that focus is about technology. Some is about extending the learning experience into residence halls, apartments and computer labs. And most recently, some of the focus on an improved learning experience has come down to sheer numbers. I haven’t said much about our budget, and I don’t intend to do so this year, but I will venture briefly into that territory by way of a brief comment about enrollment.

Last year, I spoke at length about the “social contract” under which universities operate. In exchange for public support, we promise our students the best quality education possible. Following three straight years of state budget cuts totaling nearly $40 million, it became clear that NIU’s historic commitment to access would be tested – we simply didn’t have the resources to take more students. Enrollment management efforts implemented last fall were successful in stemming the tide of new student growth – we’re down a few hundred students this year, by design. Demand was up – we received 12 percent more applications this year than last, and I have to confess that I worry about the 1,500 fully-qualified students we had to turn away. But when NIU promises to provide a quality educational experience, we have to be able to provide the classes our students need to graduate in a timely manner. We have to keep class sizes within a manageable range, and we have to make sure that our students have reasonable access to their professors. That, too, is “enhancing the learning experience.”

Many department chairs, faculty and staff have worked long hours to ensure class availability and adequate educational resources. Chief among them, I’d like to recognize Vice Provost for Resource Planning Frederick Schwantes, Vice Provost Gip Seaver and LAS Associate Dean Joe Grush for their hard work, dedication and unwavering commitment to our students and their educational experience. Would you please stand.

Demand for the NIU experience is at an all-time high, and that should come as no surprise. It certainly didn’t surprise members of the Higher Learning Commission site visit team whose recommendations are contained in the final accreditation report we received last month. Beyond the expected ten-year reaccredidation, members of the site visit team recorded many wonderful observations about NIU. Allow me to read just a few.

“Shared governance is clearly an important value at NIU … demonstrated by a high degree of consistency in the vision of its Board, administration, faculty and staff …”

I would note here that the site visit team met with dozens of people here, at all levels of the organization. That they would conclude we share common values and vision across the institution is highly gratifying. Here’s another excerpt:

“Information technology resources and support at NIU are excellent.”

“University Libraries has successfully maintained the quality of its academic services in spite of inflationary pressures driving up the cost of publications.”

“NIU has been highly effective in graduating minority students from its Ph.D. and other doctoral programs.”

“The institution has made visible its commitment to diversity and multicultural values.”

I feel compelled to insert a couple of new achievements here. Provost Legg tells me that our efforts to diversify NIU faculty are meeting with greater success than ever. Out of all our new faculty hires this past year, nearly 10 percent were African-American. And just last month, I received notice from the Princeton Review that NIU’s College of Law now ranks third in the nation for diversity of the law faculty. These are very proud accomplishments for all of us!

Let me go on with accreditation team comments ...

“Team members found surprising consistency of quality and strengths across the seven colleges in faculty, facilities, student satisfaction and engagement, and productivity.”

And finally, the observation that I found most meaningful, coming as it did from a dispassionate group of impartial evaluators, most of whom had never before stepped foot on this campus. They wrote:

“No matter where one looks – athletics, schools and colleges, faculty, staff, students – the institution is seen to benefit from the loyalty and commitment of professionals at every level. This single fact may be one of the institution’s greatest strengths.”

Isn’t it wonderful to hear that type of validation? I would quibble only with the modifier “may be” It is clearly our greatest strength.

I have served on accreditation teams, and I know this type of praise for institutional values is rare. I also know how very well served this university was by those who managed this process for us – in addition to their regular jobs – for the last year. In particular, I want to recognize the outstanding work of Associate Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Development Virginia Cassidy, and Jan Rintala, faculty chair of the HLC steering committee … Jan and Virginia, will you please stand and be recognized. Thank you.

In addition to some of the excerpts I read, the Higher Learning Commission report gave NIU high marks for responsiveness to regional needs. While I think that responsiveness is truly part of the NIU culture, it has received a huge boost over the past two years from the great work of our new Outreach division. Universities today must be agile, risk-taking, entrepreneurial organizations. We need units like Outreach to mine the territory, so to speak and to bring back opportunities that we can match up with available resources and expertise.

When they’re not playing regional matchmaker, Outreach staff are facilitators, providing support and expertise for college initiatives such as the P-20 program. Examples in both categories abound.

They’ve brokered agreements like the RVC-NIU Partnership in Rockford; they’ve helped write successful grant proposals; they’ve convened meetings and helped municipalities reach consensus on key growth and development issues; and just last month, they partnered with their divisional colleagues in ITS to roll out NIUNet, a 175-mile fiber optic network for advanced research, education and economic development throughout the northern Illinois region.

The NIU Outreach tagline, “Connecting – Collaborating – Creating Solutions” goes a long way in describing this new unit’s value to our university and our region. Please join me in acknowledging the architect of this very successful program, Vice President for Administration and Outreach, Anne Kaplan. Anne? I’m very proud of Outreach, and I’m also very proud of another unit that has enjoyed unprecedented success this year in making connections of another kind.

Our development and fundraising efforts have reached a new high this year. Not only have we surpassed old records and new predictions, but we’ve engaged so many more alumni and friends than ever before. Specifically, we experienced a 46% increase in gifts from individuals this past year – alumni, faculty, annuitants, staff and friends of the university. That’s a tremendous one-year increase!

Next weekend, we’ll be breaking ground on our new Alumni and Visitors Center – just one year after announcing the campaign to raise money for that much-needed facility. Many well-known NIU graduates have decided to make their permanent mark on campus with a substantial gift to the center. One such gift that I want to mention, however, didn’t come from an alumnus, it came from a local couple whom many of us know well. Neither attended NIU, but both have served the university loyally over many years. The leadership they’ve shown with this gift will set the stage for many more like it, and they’ve given me permission today to share their good news:

To help make the new alumni and visitors center a reality, a gift of $100,000 has just been committed by a member of our own Board of Trustees and his wife – Bob and Doris Boey. Bob and Doris, will you please stand and be recognized.

Bob and Doris, thank you for your leadership. And as a testament to the power of that leadership, I’m pleased to announce this afternoon that another member of our Board of Trustees, inspired by the Boey’s gift, has also committed a major gift to support the alumni and visitor’s center. Manny Sanchez and his wife, Pat Pulido Sanchez, have also pledged $100,000 to the project. Manny Sanchez is a very proud alumnus of NIU. He and Bob are both founding members of our independent governing board, established in 1996. Manny and Pat couldn’t be with us today, but to both the Boey and Sanchez families, we express our thanks for redefining the word “leadership” at NIU.

And speaking of leadership, I would certainly be remiss if I failed to acknowledge another couple whose support for NIU is much in evidence on our campus today. Not content to simply give us a new College of Business two years ago, Dennis and Stacey Barsema also came forth with the original $2.5 million leadership gift that kicked off our campaign for what is now officially known as the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. Dennis is with us today, Dennis, would you please stand and be recognized. Thank you, Dennis, your presence always seems to herald good news for NIU.

And on the good news front, I want to take just a moment to acknowledge those who help us share our good news, deliver our bad news, and shape the image we project to the outside world. I’m talking about the communications professionals in Public Affairs, Publications, Media Services, Outreach Services and in colleges all around campus. NIU has never enjoyed such a great reputation for excellent faculty, programs and services. My thanks to all of you who work so hard to tell the NIU story.

All of which brings me back to where I started with these remarks. From the beginning, the NIU story has been about purpose, and vision, and the spirit of giving. If you’ve read Earl Hayter’s book about NIU, you know that we sit here today on land donated by local benefactors. We work at a university that owes its very existence to volunteers and community leaders and visionaries who understood the role that Northern Illinois State Normal School could play in the life of their region, visionaries like John Peter Altgeld, in whose namesake building we gather. “In education,” he wrote, “we have laid the foundations for institutions that will grow stronger with the centuries.”

What would Altgeld think if he could see the university that NIU has become? What would he make of its reach, breadth and complexity? Would he find Northern Illinois University in 2004 a completely foreign construct? Given what we know of the man, I think not. I imagine him instead taking it all in with a wink and a nod and an “I told you so.” At least that’s what I’d like to think.

In any case, we owe him and all our predecessors a debt of gratitude. As you walk through this beautiful building, enjoying the sights and sounds of time gone by and time yet to come, take a minute to think of them, the education pioneers, who could imagine a future filled with knowledge, and who built a castle in the cornfields.

Thank you.