About John G. Peters

State of the University Address 2005

President John G. Peters
October 6, 2005 

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Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.  For those of you who keep track of such things, this occasion falls just a few months after my fifth anniversary at NIU.   I began my presidency at the start of the new millennium, and that has provided something of an historical context for observations about both NIU and the state of higher education in general.   

Before I begin my address, please allow me to exercise a point of personal privilege and share with you a story that I believe speaks volumes about the character of NIU:

Two weeks ago at the NIU-Akron football game in Ohio, sports reporter and NIU alumnus Rick Armstrong of the Aurora Beacon-News suffered a massive heart attack in the Akron press box. Fortunately for Rick, the Northern Star had sent reporter Sean Ostruszka to cover that game. Sean performed CPR for a full ten minutes, pulling Rick back from the brink of death. NIU Athletic Director Jim Phillips rode in the ambulance with Rick and stayed with him at the hospital most of the night. You see, Rick’s family was back home in Illinois, and commercial flights between Chicago and Akron are few and far between. Jim didn’t want Rick to be alone. Jim’s wife Laura Phillips contacted friends in DeKalb who have a private airplane, and by 8 o’clock that evening, Rick Armstrong’s wife, Debbie, was at his side. Rick underwent bypass surgery that night, and his prognosis for full recovery is good.

Many of you have already heard this story. Others may be wondering why I chose to mention it today. Here’s the answer: In the blink of an eye, life as we know it can be unalterably changed. The victims of Hurricane Katrina know that. So do the survivors of September 11th, and the families of service men and women overseas who have had to endure the dreaded phone call or knock on the door. The point this story makes is simply this: At NIU, we take care of each other. We care about each other. And we put aside all other priorities when one of us is in need. I’m very, very proud of that.

Sean and Jim, will you please stand and be recognized?

Thank you, Sean, Jim, Laura and all of the members of our NIU family who take care of each other every day.

My thanks as well to all of you for believing in NIU and working on our behalf to keep this institution afloat and moving ahead in the new and turbulent waters of public higher education in the 21st Century. 

I want to say before I begin that my five-year review of significant NIU accomplishments turned up far more than I could possibly list in an hour. At the same time, I am well aware and greatly appreciative of the many hours our faculty, staff and students devote to teaching, learning, discovery and service.  Nearly every week I read an article, hear about a new program, see a new book, or hear about a well-received presentation, and I feel tremendous pride in the way this institution and its people contribute to important bodies of knowledge and improve the quality of life in our region.   

Each year as I prepare my remarks for this event, I review the previous year’s speech to see what progress I can measure on key issues.  This year, I took a different tack and looked instead at my first address, delivered five years ago on October 12, 2000.  I expected to find very different issues, or to see the passage of time alter my perceptions about NIU and its priorities.  To my surprise, however, I found that all of the major issues I spoke about five years ago remain at the top of our list in 2005.  More to the point, we’ve made substantial progress in all these areas:  enrollment management … student services … external funding … outreach and engagement … and enhancing institutional stature both regionally and nationally.  In spite of our budget crisis we’ve also made headway on such critical initiatives as raising faculty and staff salaries … rebuilding the ranks of retiring senior faculty … and maturing our research and graduate program agenda.   

I’ll talk more about each of those issues, but first I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned about NIU over the past five years.   

Institutions are as different as the people who work and study there.  When I arrived at NIU five years ago, I quickly became convinced that Northern Illinois University was almost without peer in terms of its amazing complexity.   

Five years later, I’m sure about that.  Here’s what I mean: 

We are both metropolitan and rural.  The vast majority of students and organizations we serve are suburban.  Yet look around our main campus:  We are unmistakably located in a rural, agricultural setting.   

We serve both traditional and non-traditional students.  That’s not unusual in and of itself, but at NIU, the mix of traditional 18-24 year old residential undergraduates and every other category is nearly 50-50. 

Our student body includes people who have benefited from preparation in well-funded and progressive school districts, as well as a substantial number of students who, through no fault of their own, are far less well-prepared for the rigors of college life, both academically and personally.     

More than a quarter of our students are African-American, Asian or Latino.  Outside Chicago, that makes NIU the most diverse state university in Illinois. 

Our academic offerings and contributions to the workforce reflect both our beginnings as a teachers college and our evolution into a comprehensive research institution.   

Illinois has the largest community college system in the country, and about 80 percent of those colleges are located in our service region. Nearly half of our undergraduates transferred here from community colleges.

About 75 percent of our undergraduates live on or near campus, while about 25 percent commute here or take NIU classes at off-campus locations. 

And in the nation’s third-largest metropolitan region, home to eight-and-a-half million people, NIU is the only public university outside Chicago.   

I’ve worked in public higher education for more than 30 years, and believe me, this is a very unique profile.  Certainly there are other public universities located near major metropolitan areas around the country, but I have yet to find one with such a broad range of identities.  I’ll give you just a few examples: 

When I tell university presidents from far-away states that NIU is a regional, public, four-year university an hour west of Chicago, I know that a certain image comes to mind.   I can assure you that image does not include national leadership in next-generation particle accelerator research.   

It probably doesn’t include world-famous music ensembles or theater alumni starring on Broadway, network television or in Academy Award-nominated movies.

And I doubt that their top-of-mind knowledge about this regional university with the compass-point name would include its membership among the nation’s top recipients of targeted federal grants for high-priority work in the physical and social sciences. 

Beyond the unusual demographics … apart from scholars and programs that exceed traditional expectations … and putting aside the uniqueness of the Chicagoland region … it seems to me that NIU’s complexity is best explained by one word:    Opportunity. 

The single most amazing thing I’ve discovered about NIU over the past five years is that its greatest triumphs come out of a culture that encourages new ideas and rewards innovation.   

Somehow over the years, NIU found a way to encourage entrepreneurs and reward people who take chances.  NIU provides opportunity.  Make no mistake, creative people with good ideas are everywhere – but institutions that encourage and nurture risk-takers are rare.  The institutional complexity I’ve tried to describe probably has more to do with this single aspect of NIU culture than with any other characteristic.  Our belief in the power of opportunity is visible everywhere – from the make-up of our student body to the often-unexpected pockets of expertise in rarified scholarly endeavors.    

As I look back over the past five years, I see opportunities offered and taken in every measure of our performance.  Looking forward to the second half of this decade, I see continuing success in key areas – IF we continue to invest in people and ideas … IF we provide opportunity. 

Allow me to start with a category I’ll simply call “students.”  

Five years ago, I called on our leadership in Academic Affairs to develop and implement a meaningful enrollment management program.  I was concerned about the need to keep our numbers manageable in an era of reduced state funding, but I also felt that we should take more control over the make-up of our student body.    

Thanks to the hard work of Provost Ivan Legg and his staff, we now have that ability.   Not only were we able this year to match our enrollment goals and projections with final overall numbers, but we did so while simultaneously building a new entering class that reflects every type of diversity in our region.   

Our projections allowed for a modest overall increase, and at 25,200, we kept that increase to just over one-and-a-half percent.  We adjusted slightly the mix of new freshmen and new transfers in an effort to reduce pressure on upper division classes.  We continued our efforts to attract more new honor students, and we succeeded:  In fact, we’ve almost reached the goal I established five years ago when I called on NIU to double its number of honor students.  When I issued that challenge, we had 738 students in our Honors Program … This fall we have just over 1,200.   I’d like to thank Dr. Michael Martin, director of the Honors Program for all his efforts on behalf of these talented students.

Enrollment management is absolutely critical for NIU’s long-term success.  Today I’ m happy to report that we’ve implemented it, and it works.  For that we have many people to thank, but I want to particularly acknowledge the work of our first-ever director of enrollment services, Don Larson.  Don, thank you for all your contributions to NIU, and we wish you the very best in your latest endeavor – retirement. 

One of the best results of effective enrollment management is the ability to build a student body that reflects the diversity of our region.  It helps us attract the type of student who will do well at NIU – because diverse as they are, our students do share some common traits.   

NIU students are almost universally hardworking, striving, first-generation college attendees with strong connections to family, faith and the Chicagoland region.  Ninety percent come from that region, and nearly 90 percent return there to live and work after graduation.   

And one more characteristic they share:  They are expecting a lot out of their NIU experience. 

Our students tend to be practical and outcomes-oriented.  And like their peers across the country, many have come of age in the “No Child Left Behind” era of standardized testing.  In fact, the most visible” generation gap” on today’s college campus involves faculty who stress critical thinking skills and students who just want to know if it’s going to be on the test.   

One more trait our students share is a strong desire to leave this university with a degree.  No one wants them to succeed more than they do themselves.   

Staying in school and persisting through graduation is, not surprisingly, at the heart of national discussions about accountability in higher education.  Twenty-five years ago – when college was still considered optional and most college students came from more privileged backgrounds – a high ‘flunk out’ rate was considered a mark of institutional academic rigor.   

Today, with 85 percent of new jobs requiring some college education, graduation is a make-or-break imperative.  It’s not enough to simply provide access – we need to ensure success.   

We’ve taken a number of major steps over the past several years to improve student academic support … I’d like to mention three that have come together or been greatly enhanced during the last year-and-a-half:   Residence hall tutoring centers allow students to drop by for group help or individual assistance.  Last year more than 1,000 students took advantage of that program, receiving more than 5,000 hours of tutoring.  We expanded the Grant Hall tutoring center this past year, adding an emphasis on the 100- and 200-level courses that often challenge struggling new students.   

Another program we’ve enhanced tremendously during my time here is the First Year Connections program – better known to most of us as University 101 or 201.   I’ve participated in these programs every semester I’ve been here, and they are greatly rewarding experiences.    

Many students who fail to return for their sophomore year are those without a declared major.  While most “undecideds” discover a calling and narrow their academic focus in a timely manner, the number who simply give up is much higher than we should be willing to accept.    

We recently opened an undergraduate advising office that primarily focuses on undecided students.  The new Academic Advising Center in our Campus Life Building helps students identify their own skills, clarify their career options and develop an academic program that supports their goals.  I have great hopes for this Center, and I thank all of our faculty and staff involved in its development. 

This year we’ve begun a new effort to identify students who are struggling in their first weeks and months on campus.  The Early Alert Program creates a support network of faculty, staff and student peers who identify and offer help to new students in crisis or obvious decline. 

Incidentally, our studies show that students who fail to return for their sophomore year usually aren’t flunking out:  When asked why they left NIU, these students are most likely to say they did so because they felt lonely and isolated and believed that no one here cared about them as individuals.  We know that’s not true, but we also know we can do better.   

Finally, I am very pleased to announce that this year, for the first time ever, NIU has received a dedicated line item appropriation in support of the Deacon Davis CHANCE program. With the help of Senate President Emil Jones, NIU will now be able to enhance that program by bolstering retention efforts in our CHANCE program. I’d like to thank both Senator Jones and the NIU Black Alumni Council for their support of this new, dedicated funding line for the CHANCE program.

All of the programs I’ve just mentioned have emerged from the partnership known as Academic and Student Affairs ... My thanks to all of the staff in those areas for their excellent work on student satisfaction, retention and graduation issues, including Associate Provost Virginia Cassidy, Vice President Brian Hemphill and Vice Provost Gip Seaver. 

 Last week I received a report from a consortium of higher education organizations titled “Student Success at Public Colleges.” The study took an in-depth look at twelve institutions with excellent or dramatically-improved graduation rates in an effort to identify ‘best practices.’  I’d like to read just a few sentences from that report: 

“What really distinguishes many of these campuses is the pervasive belief that demography is not destiny; that all of the students they admit have the potential to graduate; and that all should be held to high levels of expectation.  Those expectations extend as well to faculty and staff, who are expected to be actively involved in monitoring the academic progress of their students.  Faculty and staff help create the common sense of purpose that binds students to their institutions.  The result is that these universities have created a sense of belonging.  More than anything else, the overarching, shared culture of these universities IS student success.” 

Those are powerful words.  Given the progress we’ve made over the past 18 months, I am increasingly hopeful about NIU “creating and nurturing a shared culture based on student success.”  It’s not enough just to open the door – we have to help them once they’re inside.  We have to give them real opportunities to succeed. 

 Successful students are satisfied students, and few things effect that satisfaction like the quality of living arrangements.   We’ve made great strides in our residence halls over the past several years, but we’re well aware of shortcomings in certain facilities.  That’s why I’ve asked Student Affairs Vice President Brian Hemphill to conduct a comprehensive review of all existing student housing and to develop a long-term plan for residence hall renovation and improvement and other student housing options.   

Anticipating new housing trends and contemporary student needs makes this a very complex project.  And since our residential facilities don’t receive state support, funding issues will add to that challenge.  Nonetheless, I’m confident that by this time next year, we will be actively pursuing a comprehensive, long-range plan for improving residential facilities and life at NIU.    

The facilities in which university life unfolds are more than bricks and mortar:  In many ways, they have lives of their own, constantly evolving to meet new needs.  I’ve been privileged during my five years at NIU to be present at the “births” of more new facilities than some campuses have in their entire building inventories.  Just listen to this list of new facilities that have come on-line since the year 2000: 

  • The 130,000-square-foot NIU-Naperville branch campus
  • The Campus Child Care Center
  • The new Latino Resources Center
  • The $26 million renovation of Stevenson Towers
  • Establishment of the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in downtown Rockford
  • The Center for Diversity Resources
  • The Founders Library basement build-out
  • The College of Business’s magnificent new home, Barsema Hall
  • The Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault
  • The 10,000-seat Convocation Center
  • Renovation of the Duke Ellington Ballroom in the Holmes Student Center
  • Renovation of an existing campus building to house our new Asian American Center
  • Purchase of the former Monsanto Building on Sycamore Road to house our new Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center
  • Renovation of the campus landmark in which we are gathered today – historic Altgeld Hall
  • Re-creation of the former Chick Evans Fieldhouse for a new life as an addition to our Campus Recreation Center
  • Renovation of portions of Swen Parson Hall to house the Chessick Legal Skills Center
  • Within this next week, we will have completed and occupied the much-anticipated Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center
  • And with any luck, we’ll soon be holding a groundbreaking ceremony for the Academic and Athletic Performance Center, commonly known as “the end zone facility” at Huskie Stadium.

This is an amazing amount of facility work, and the fact that all these projects have started or been finished in the same five-year period demonstrates the momentum we have going at NIU. 

And we’re not just putting up new buildings – we’re taking care of the ones we have, and conserving resources in ways that free up funds for other projects. 

We’ve save $644,000 by replacing fluorescent lights around campus with newer, more energy-efficient models.

We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars using an energy hedging strategy for purchase of natural gas and electricity … by forecasting need on a month-to-month basis, we take advantage of price fluctuations and avoid ‘overbuying.’

We’re looking into alternative sources of energy as well, such as solar heating for campus swimming pools and wind power generators.

Probably the most visible example of our ‘green campus’ effort is our move to “hybrid ” cars that use less expensive ethanol fuel.  By the end of this year, nearly a quarter of all NIU vehicles will be hybrids.

Becoming a more “green” campus is a priority we should all embrace – not only because it’s cost effective, but also because we need to set an example about responsible stewardship of our natural as well as financial resources. 

Many thanks to Mike Saari and Bob Albanese for their leadership on “green campus” projects … We are grateful as well for the quiet skill and steady hand of our chief operating officer, Dr. Eddie Williams ... Eddie, to you and all your staff in Finance and Facilities, many thanks for all you do to make NIU a welcoming and safe environment in which to live and work. 

 If buildings are the embracing arms of our campus, academic programs are its beating heart.  And if you’ve been wondering when I might mention our budget crisis, wonder no more, for this is where the loss of nearly $40 million dollars in state revenues has presented the greatest challenges.   

I will admit to more than a few sleepless nights worrying about the loss of so much money, and what that loss might mean in terms of the viability and quality of our academic programs.  We are immensely fortunate to have at the helm of those programs a man whose amazing calm and vast experience gave all of us a much-needed sense of confidence about the future.  I’m speaking, of course, about our provost, Dr. Ivan Legg.  Last week Ivan decided to bring his nearly 50 years in higher education to a close at the end of this academic year.  He will retire at the end of June, 2006. 

I’ve known Ivan Legg for about half that time, and throughout his career, Ivan has been a passionate advocate for faculty … for students … and for equity and social justice at all levels of the university.  I will save the rest of my thoughts for a later date, but suffice it to say that Ivan Legg has made a difference at NIU, and that he will be sorely missed.  Ivan, would you please stand and receive our thanks? 

Thank you, Ivan.   

The division over which Dr. Legg has presided for more than four years has emerged from the worst of our budget crisis as vibrant as ever.  Somehow Ivan and his staff – especially Virginia Cassidy, Frederick Schwantes and Gip Seaver – managed to avoid program cuts and layoffs and found innovative ways to get students the classes they need to graduate in a timely manner. 

In fact, as you listen to some of the accomplishments in our colleges over the past five years, you may forget that those achievements came against a backdrop of the worst financial crisis in NIU’s history. 

Listen, for example, to this much-abbreviated list of accomplishments from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

In addition to being asked to accommodate nearly 1,000 additional students over the past five years, LA&S also made its greatest progress to date in areas that we call “Big Science.” 

The last five years have seen Professor Jerry Blazey of Physics becoming co-spokesperson for FermiLab’s critical “D-Zero  Project” – one of the world’s largest-ever physics experiments involving more than 600 scientists around the world. 

Professor Ross Powell in Geology became co-leader of a team representing eight international universities that will study global climate change in the Antarctic on a $13 million grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Professor Court Bohn in Physics is a major player in development of both the Rare Isotope Accelerator and the new International Linear Collider – huge projects with tremendous scientific and economic prospects for our state and nation. 

Over the course of the last five years, College faculty led by Professor Clyde Kimball received $3 million to establish the NIU Institute for Nanoscience … That’s a cross-disciplinary program with the College of Engineering that will, among other things, help create Engineering’s first Ph.D. program.   

During the same period, Geology received nearly $5 million to establish the Analytical Center for Climate and Environmental Change.  That’s another polar research project – this one directed by Geology Chair Jonathon Berg. 

All of these so-called “Big Science” projects began and succeeded during a time of unprecedented financial constraints … That is unmistakable testament to the quality and dedication of our research faculty, and of the support they receive in LAS.   

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the tremendous growth of science programs in LAS was nurtured and overseen by the late College Dean Fred Kitterle. Fred’s own professional interests were in the cognitive sciences … and one of his last proposals will become reality this year:  establishment of an Intelligent Tutoring System to teach critical thinking skills and develop minority role models in science and engineering. 

Faculty and staff in LAS have been enormously productive over the past five years, and not just in the hard sciences:   

This month we learned of another large grant involving one of our faculty in the History Department:  J.D. Bowers is serving as “historian-in-residence” in a multi-million dollar program aimed at improving the teaching of American history in our public schools. 

Two of our psychology professors are revolutionizing the way teachers assess reading comprehension … Keith Millis and Joe Magliano received a $1.5 million grant to develop an automated test that pinpoints areas where comprehension breaks down as students interpret new material.    

And English Professor Larry Johannsen’s book on the challenges faced by new teachers is receiving accolades for its no-nonsense look at teacher drop-out rates.  “What Makes First-Year Teachers Cry” is becoming required reading for principals, superintendents and other education leaders around the country working to stem the tide of early teacher burn-out. 

Time does not permit me to go on, but suffice it to say that NIU’s biggest college has every reason to be proud of its successes over the past five years.  In addition to everything I’ve already mentioned, LA&S faculty have maintained a publication rate of 85 percent over the past three years, and they’ve substantially increased receipt of awards such as Fulbrights, Guggenheims, NEH grants and other such coveted quality indicators. 

All of the programs I’ve just mentioned advance not only the cause of science, but also the education of our students.  Many of you may have seen articles in the Chicago press recently about an undergraduate student who conducted research in Antarctica as part of our popular USOAR program … A great example of scholarly accomplishments finding their way into the curriculum or, as we are fond of saying, good research informing good teaching.  To acting Dean Joe Grush and all of the department chairs, faculty and staff in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, congratulations on a most productive five years, and many thanks for all your efforts on behalf of our students. 

I’ve been privileged over the past five years to watch the continued growth and maturation under Dean Leroy Pernell of our College of Law, which in 2003 celebrated its 25th anniversary. 

Shortly after arriving here I presided over the opening of the College’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in downtown Rockford.  That facility has provided hundreds of NIU Law students with real-world experience, and has given many Rockford-area residents access to legal counsel that they would not otherwise have been able to afford. 

Over the last five years we’ve seen the College receive numerous awards for excellence in public service law.   

We’ve seen establishment of the College’s popular Summer Institute program, which introduces pre-law students from across the country to the rigors of law school study.   

In 2004, we celebrated the opening of the College’s Chessick Legal Skills Training Center, where NIU law students receive intensive training in the use of technology in the courtroom. 

This year we saw the College of Law ranked third in the nation by the Princeton Review for most diverse faculty and fourth in the nation for being most welcoming of older students.     

Two of Law’s distinguished professors were honored this year with appointments to prestigious commissions:  Professor Lawrence Schlam now serves on the Illinois Supreme Court’ committee on juvenile justice, while Professor Lorraine Schmall was appointed to the Supreme Court’s committee on capital punishment. 

These are impressive accomplishments and I applaud the continued growth and development of the College of Law in the first years of this new millennium.   

A handful of NIU programs have consistently contributed to the national and international reputation of our university, and near the top of that list is our College of Visual and Performing Arts

Under the expert guidance of Dean Harold Kafer, VP&A continues to provide a world-class education to aspiring artists, musicians, actors and educators while also nurturing a number of performing ensembles that act as NIU ambassadors throughout our region, nation and world. 

NIU’s renowned Jazz program, for example, maintained top ten status in national rankings throughout the past five years, while our Art Education program came out in the top five in a survey conducted by Florida State and Stanford universities. Top faculty like Ron Carter, Cliff Alexis, Catherine Gately-Poole Chris Markle, Deborah Robertson, Doug Boughton, Carrie Freidman and many others are helping keep NIU on the fine arts map.

The College’s commitment to connecting artistry and learning resulted in a number of new strategic initiatives during the same time period:  The School of Theater and Dance, for example, is one of only three American programs to sustain a residency at the famous Moscow Art Theater.  Closer to home, VPA alumni continue to contribute in major ways to the cultural landscape of this region, appearing in Chicago theater productions, creating innovative shows for Chicago art galleries and a host of other high-visibility activities. 

One of the “big themes” we’ve been discussing for several years now is realizing the potential for growth and development of programs in the health sciences. There is an enormous need nationally and at every level for more health professionals and health services. There is significant regional infrastructure in the health fields: Chicagoland is one of the world’s top centers for medical care and medical research. And at NIU, we have several highly regarded health programs, as well as partnerships with national and regional providers and labs.

With our recent purchase of the former Monsanto building in the heart of the local ‘health corridor, ’ we are finally ready to begin the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary groupings of services and clinical practice sites.

The prognosis for continued growth in key fields is excellent, largely thanks to the leadership of Dean Shirley Richmond and her faculty and staff in the College of Health and Human Sciences.  

This past year, for example, we welcomed our first cohort of students studying for the College’s first-ever doctoral degree:  The professional doctorate in Audiology is meeting a very compelling need in our state for more top-level professionals in the hearing and speech sciences.   

Health and Human Sciences has also stepped up to address the challenge of Illinois’ serious nursing shortage.  H&HS has begun offering degree completion programs at five off-campus sites, allowing practicing RNs to enhance their education while continuing to work at dozens of hospitals around the region. 

Another new College initiative will tackle the nursing shortage by producing more nursing teachers:  The Masters in Nursing Education is well on its way to state approval, and will provide many new and much-needed nurses for our region in coming years. 

They’ve also created the Bachelor’s of General Studies in Health degree, which helps a wide variety of therapists, technicians and other health professionals with two-year degrees move into more advanced practice by completing a bachelor’s degree.  Many of these programs are being conducted at area community colleges, while others allow place-bound, working adults to complete their studies online.   

The biggest news to come out of the College of Health and Human Sciences in recent years is, of course, the receipt of $8.4 million dollars to establish the Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center in the former Monsanto building on Sycamore Road.  The new Center will allow NIU’s highly-regarded Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic to expand beyond its currently cramped quarters on campus.  It will also marry the services of that clinic with those of our Physical Therapy and Reading Literacy Clinics – a move that underscores the cooperative, multidisciplinary efforts often needed to address the complex wellness needs of area children and adults.   

Congratulations to all of the staff in the College of Health and Human Sciences

for a very productive five years, and for creating a very promising future for your college, your university and your community.   

One of the great strengths NIU offers its students is the opportunity to gain real-world experience in the living laboratory called Chicagoland. And few academic units here take better advantage of that opportunity than theCollege of Business.  

When Dennis and Stacey Barsema donated $20 million for the new College of Business building that bears their name, Dennis talked at length about the difference that NIU made in his career and life.  He said the real-world experiences the College provided during his time here gave him the confidence needed to succeed in the ultra-competitive world of hi tech sales and acquisitions. 

Small wonder, then, that our College of Business continually shows up on national rankings as one of the best in the country:  Accounting has once again made the top 25 in U.S. News and World Report, and Sales ranked in the top 15 in a report issued by the Professional Society for Sales and Marketing.

Last year the College launched a full-time undergraduate business program in Rockford;  

And an experimental program that paired Business students with area companies looking for solutions to real-world problems has evolved into one of the country’s best experiential learning programs. 

Congratulations to allof the wonderful faculty, staff and students in the NIU College of Business … You’ve had a great five years. And a special thank you to Dr. Bill Tallon, who has taken on interim leadership of the College following retirement of former Dean David Graff. Thank you, Bill. 

At many universities, progress in key areas is measured in decades.  At NIU, growth and evolution in our academic programs is more accurately assessed about every six months.  Nowhere is that more evident than in our newest college, the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology

Faculty and staff in Engineering are known for their willingness to pursue new partnerships, learning opportunities or research projects. Under the leadership of Dean Promod Vohra, the College has climbed in national rankings … developed numerous interdisciplinary programs … and partnered with the Division of Outreach to offer several innovative academic, research and service programs.  

Allow me to elaborate on just a few of those accomplishments: 

After just 18 years in existence, our College of Engineering is now ranked 32nd in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. 

Over the past five years, the College developed its first off-campus degree completion program, attracting more than 100 new students in just its first two years of operation. 

Engineering is an active participant in NIU’s P-20 program.  Among the College’s contributions is an innovative program to address the math preparation needs of incoming engineering students … Nearly 80 percent of the students who participated significantly improved their math placement scores.   

Last year the College developed an interdisciplinary curriculum in advanced computing systems that integrates video game and animation technology into engineering study.  This NSF-grant-supported program is a big hit with students and faculty alike. 

Over the past several years, Engineering has developed key, interdisciplinary research interests in areas such as nanotechnology … fuel cell technology and manufacturing.  This work has attracted more than $8 million in funding, as well as key partnerships with national laboratories and area industry. 

As I understand the history behind establishment of our Engineering college, policy makers were heavily influenced by the proposed College’s potential to help declining industries retool for a new era in manufacturing.  Eighteen years later, the College of Engineering is making good on that promise with multiple initiatives, including the popular R.O.C.K. program in Rockford. R.O.C.K. stands for “Rapid Optimization of Commercial Knowledge,”  and with a new $3.5 million grant this year, the program has now attracted nearly $6 million in federal support for its efforts. 

And that’s not all:  Engineering has received $200,000 dollars for study of vibrations and acoustics … $1.5 million for a partnership with Argonne National Laboratory to study fuel cell technology … and another $3 million for micro-machining work at EigerLab in Rockford. 

There is tremendous energy in this college, and I’ve been very impressed with both the steady progress and the entrepreneurial zeal we’ve seen coming out of Engineering over the past five years. Congratulations to Dean Vohra and all of the faculty and staff in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.  

Among the themes you’ve heard repeated here today is partnerships. All of our colleges are involved in partnerships throughout our region, teaming up with business, industry, government agencies and other organizations to extend the reach of our collective expertise into the communities we serve.

Some of the best examples of partnership building – both internal and external – come from ourCollege of Education. Under the leadership of Dean Christine Sorensen, Education has expressed nearly every aspect of its academic, research and service missions through partnerships with school districts and educational consortia throughout northern Illinois. Here are just a few examples:

Thanks to the College of Education and its NIU partners, we now have formal partnerships with ten area school districts representing urban, suburban and rural environments. Those relationships focus on enhancing student performance and the professional development of teachers in Chicago, Belvidere, DeKalb, Elgin, Glen Ellyn, Kaneland, Rockford, West Chicago and several other districts.

Along with the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Education has helped develop and continues to help operate our wonderful Wright Elementary partnership school in Malta. This school is truly making a name for NIU around the country for its focus on integrating fine arts and technology into a curriculum aimed at meeting the many different learning styles of its students.

Over the past five years, Education has received $5 million for an initiative called Project REAL that’ s helping the Rockford school district enhance the skills of its teachers and build a cadre of future leaders for Rockford schools.

They’ve received $2 million for a program that’s helping teachers at partnership schools learn how to use technology for both teaching and assessment.

The new assistive technology lab in Gabel Hall is demonstrating for current and future teachers the latest technology available to help students with special learning needs.

The College of Education is also out front in our efforts to meet the burgeoning need for bilingual teachers and services. Over the course of the next several years and with funding from a variety of external agencies, our College of Education will prepare more than 500 new bilingual teachers to serve our region.

And they’re not done: The College of Education continues to seek out new partnerships, particularly those that bring special focus to districts and schools with specific educational goals. Two of those on the near-term horizon include high schools with special emphases – one with a focus on citizenship and the other with a focus on agricultural technology. I can guarantee you’ll be hearing more about those programs in the coming year.

To all of the faculty and staff in the College of Education, I offer congratulations on behalf of our entire university for an extremely productive five years.

All of the college-based successes I’ve just mentioned received extensive support from some key units that don’t often receive much attention, and I’d like to mention them now:

First, our wonderful University Libraries:

In April of this year, our University Libraries joined some very elite ranks – With the acquisition of their 2 millionth book, our Library now places in the top 3 percent of unive rsity libraries nationwide. 

Under the leadership of Dean Art Young, our libraries have been steadily building capacity for digital storage and presentation of information.  Initiatives like the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project not only preserve priceless historical archives, but also expand access to these treasure troves by making them available on the World Wide Web. Thank you, faculty and staff of the University Libraries.

The second unit I want to mention is our Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. 

 This unit has really come of age over the past five years, helping our entire university community master the art and science of teaching and learning technology.   Murali Krishnamurthi and his staff offer more than 150 programs and train nearly 2,000 faculty and staff each year. NIU’s continued growth in technology-based learning has been and will continue to be very well supported by this important unit, and for that we are exceedingly grateful.

The third unit I’d like to mention is our University Press.

This quiet but extremely efficient operation has published more than 400 books and countless other publications since its establishment in 1965. Last year alone the Press published 23 books … and at a time when many such op erations are struggling financially, the NIU Press continues to operate in the black. Congratulations to Director Mary Lincoln and all the staff at University Press for an excellent five years.

Of the many attributes that attracted me to NIU five years ago, the extent of this institution’s involvement in the region was high on my list.  Within months of my arrival here in June of 2000, I became convinced that we needed a coordinated approach to the development of partnerships and the assessment of emerging needs in northern Illinois. 

By the time I celebrated my first anniversary here, I had created a new division charged with just that task – and five years later, the Division of Administration and Outreach has far exceeded my expectations. Under the leadership of Vice President Anne Kaplan, the Division has both created its own programs and helped facilitate the regional engagement activities of every college on campus.   

Here are just a few examples: 

NIU’s hugely-successful P-20 or Preschool Through Graduate School initiative simply would not exist without the coordinating efforts of NIU Outreach. 

The Division of Administration and Outreach runs our branch campuses in Naperville, Hoffman Estates and Rockford, as well as our Lorado Taft Field Campus in Oregon.  Since taking over those operations five years ago, off-campus graduate enrollment has nearly doubled.

Plans to connect the branch campuses to our high-speed network last year evolved into a much more ambitious project that is extending fiber optic cable all around the region. We’ll soon be “lighting up” that 175-mile fiber optic network now known as “NIUNet.”

Outreach work in Rockford, Belvidere, Elgin, Aurora and other areas with economic problems focuses on revitalizing industry and helping policymakers decide where to put scarce resources in support of economic development. 

NIU Outreach is leading NIU involvement in such key projects as Rockford’s EigerLab, the Neutron Therapy Clinic at FermiLab in Batavia and the Belvidere AgTech Park.  

Last year, Outreach created a new organization called the NIU Regional Development Institute to focus the efforts of several departments on issues ranging from regional land use and urban sprawl to transportation and technology infrastructure.  Units such as the well-respected Center for Governmental Studies and a new Broadband Policy Group have joined together under the RDI umbrella to put the best minds to work on challenges that most effect our quality of life in this region. 

The Division of Outreach and Administration is setting new standards for development of partnerships, including those with community colleges, state and regional education groups, government and industry. 

I’d like to make one more point about Outreach:  The newest Carnegie classification standards include stringent tests of institutional commitment to engagement.  This is not a passing fad – it is a critical component of this university’s and every other American university’s claim to public resources and public trust.  Americans have every right to expect that public universities will extend their expertise into the communities where they live and work. Thanks in large part to the innovation and coordination functions of The Division of Administration and Outreach, we are meeting and exceeding those expectations.

I’ve spent a good deal of time today talking about ways in which NIU is working to become more self-supporting.  While I don’t want to spend much more time on budget issues, I do want to talk about where we are as a university in terms of external support. 

Without the costly trappings of a formal fundraising campaign, we have raised more than $83 million dollars in private support over the past five years. Grateful alumni and other supporters have seen the creativity and momentum of this institution, and they’ve responded by investing their time and resources in us. Ladies and gentlemen, external validation doesn’t get much clearer than this.

When we began our planning five years ago, we decided to focus on three targeted fundraising priorities we believed would best set the stage for future efforts:  endowment support, the alumni and visitors center, and the academic and athletic performance center.   

Five years later, here’s where we are:

We exceeded our $6.2 million goal for the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, and next week many of you will attend the grand opening of that beautiful new facility.

Less than a year after announcing the Academic and Athletic Performance Center or endzone project, we’re close enough to goal to announce groundbreaking ceremonies for that project.

A year ago we had only one donor to athletics who had given $100K dollars or more. This year we have twenty. That is a tremendous testimony to the commitment of our donors and their desire to help us build a successful athletic program.

Donors have responded generously to both of those building projects, but they have even more decisively answered our call for more endowment funds -- $7.3 million, to be specific.

I’d like to say just a few words about our endowment:   

We’ve put a great deal of emphasis in the last five years on getting buildings and programs in place to support a long-term fundraising effort.  With those priorities accomplished or well on their way to becoming realities, we now must turn our attention to the foundation, or bedrock, of an initiative that will spell the difference between good and great – and that is the concentrated and sustained effort to build our endowment. 

Endowments are institutional savings accounts, where earnings are used to support key programs.  A university endowment is one of the most important indicators of institutional health – both because of what it supports and because of what it says about who supports the university.   

A strong and growing endowment nurtures the core of an institution and provides a legacy of student scholarships and fellowships, faculty chairs and professorships, and the lectures, special programs and library collections that stimulate the intellectual life of our university. 

Our reinvigorated development program has taken NIU’s endowment from just $3 million to more than $33 million in less than a decade.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that at $33 million, we rank dead last in the Mid-American conference.  I don’t even want to talk about how $33 million compares to our aspirational peers around the country.  

Building our endowment will be the single most important priority for our private fundraising efforts for the next five years and on into the foreseeable future.  Under the leadership of Foundation President Mallory Simpson and Advancement Vice President Mike Malone, I’m confident about our prospects in this very important area. Thank you to Mallory, Mike and the staff in Development and Alumni Relations.  

Another measure of our overall university health can be found in the size of our external funding for research and service – our external grants and contracts

Five years ago, I set as a goal doubling the amount of external funding we receive for research and service, and today I’m happy to report that we are very close to that goal.  This year’s total of extramural funding is nearly $61 million … up from about $38 million in 2000. 

I’ve already mentioned some of the largest grant-funded programs of the past five years, and time does not permit me to describe many more … I think it is appropriate, however, to briefly mention some key areas identified as having the most potential nationally for significant funding in the next five years.  Those include: 

  • Biotechnology and stem cell research
  • Energy research
  • Nanotechnology
  • Information technology
  • Math, science and engineering education
  • Homeland security

Our Vice President for Research, Dr. Rathrindra Bose, is helping us identify NIU programs that correspond with those national priorities, and I’m pleased to report that we have quite a few. I believe NIU is well-positioned to continue making inroads in the pursuit of external funding for research and service, and I congratulate all of the scholars who are lending their expertise to those efforts. 

No five-year review of external funding would be complete without mention of the resources we’ve obtained through our federal agenda, overseen by Associate Vice President Kathy Buettner. The purpose of our federal agenda is to identify those programs with the greatest development potential and to seek funds for equipment, travel, faculty, staff and graduate assistants in support of those research and service priorities.

These vibrant opportunities attract resources that fuel program growth and help these high-cost projects become self-supporting. We don’t have to look any further than Physics, Geology and Engineering to see the results of this sustained, five-year effort.

In Washington, support for NIU projects has come from both sides of the aisle, and for basic and applied research initiatives that are as diverse as they are important.

Many of the projects I’ve already mentioned – particularly those in the sciences – have been made possible with the major support of our alumnus, House Speaker Dennis Hastert as well as Rockford-area Congressman Don Manzullo; Senators Dick Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald; and Congresspersons Willliam Lipinski and Judy Biggert.

We are extremely grateful for this support, not only because it advances key programs but also because it illustrates the confidence these federal officials have in NIU. During this period of economic austerity, when hundreds of thousands of programs and organizations are vying for federal dollars, our lawmakers have chosen to invest millions in Northern Illinois University. I hope you are as proud of this achievement as I am.

Well, I began my remarks by begging your indulgence for the constraints of time, and I want to reiterate that the impressive list of accomplishments I’ve discussed today does not begin to scratch the surface of all that’s been done here over the last five years.

Before I close, I want to deliver on my promise to describe what I see as the major themes that will guide our work in the five years ahead.

First, I want to underscore the importance of our search for a new Provost. Paul Stoddard and I will, in accordance with our bylaws, co-chair a national search for the next NIU provost , aided by an executive search firm and a committee of appropriate faculty and staff.

As I think about what NIU will be like in the year 2010 and beyond, I see an institution with a five-part identity:

First, I see NIU – The Sustainable University.

The Sustainable University takes a long-term view in all its decision-making. It continually develops new sources of funding, working to become more self-supporting.

As a Sustainable University, we will redouble our efforts to capitalize on the philanthropic commitment of our alumni and friends. We will increase pursuit of external funding for research and artistry. And we will commit ourselves to an active technology transfer program that creates opportunity for citizens and communities throughout the region.

The Sustainable University is efficient in its use of resources, and utilizes strategic planning and benchmarking to measure progress on institutional priorities. The Sustainable University protects and nurtures all its resources, be they human, financial or environmental.

As a Sustainable University, NIU will in the next five years explore and apply alternative sources of energy and construction and maintenance techniques that recycle, renew, and maximize efficiency. We will continue to fight for higher salaries and protection of employee benefits. We will welcome and foster collaboration with our colleagues in the community colleges. And we will continue to invest time and resources in programs of strategic importance to our university and our region.

Second, I see NIU – The Engaged University.

The Engaged University exists not above or apart from its region, but as an organic, intrinsic part of that region. When we engage organizations and individuals as partners, we are not stepping down from a pedestal to offer help – We are working together as travelers in the same boat, each taking our turn at the rudder.

The Engaged University in this region must increasingly be involved with community colleges. When we speak of NIU’s terrific P-20 program, we talk about creating a “seamless web ” from pre-school all the way through graduate school. More people than ever are going to college in 2005, and their numbers will continue to swell in 2010. Look for NIU to step up its partnerships with community colleges to offer more degree completion programs on site, and more online courses for placebound students. Look for NIU to employ new and innovative formats for course and program delivery.

Because the Engaged University is an intrinsic part of the region it serves, it identifies emerging needs and opportunities and works quickly to develop new programs in support of those priorities. NIU can and must engage with our colleagues in the elementary and secondary schools of our region to ensure equal educational opportunity and attainment.

In the next five years, NIU will continue to develop its vision with respect to programs in health and human services. You can see the beginnings of this new emphasis now, with initiatives like the Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center, our Neutron Therapy program at Fermilab, and expanded off-campus programs in the health sciences.

We will continue to build on our strengths in areas such as public administration, land-use planning and transportation to assist area leaders in planning for explosive regional growth and demographic change.

I encourage our faculty to begin to explore ideas and proposals that can stimulate development throughout the NIU service region. With recent federal transportation money appropriated for roads and infrastructure on our far west campus, we can now begin that planning in earnest. Our Far West Campus provides new opportunities for creation of R&D programs with potential to spur job growth and economic development in DeKalb County. We look to our partners in municipal and county government as well as the private sector to join us in this endeavor.

By 2010 NIU will be, to an even greater extent than we are today, an Engaged University.

Third, I see NIU – The Global University.

The Global University is one that makes a conscious effort to internationalize its curriculum. Capitalizing on our proximity to the world-class city of Chicago, we will seek out new opportunities to help our region become a bigger player in the global economy. Many of the opportunities we will pursue will be interdisciplinary, as the emerging challenges of a global environment will not respond to single-discipline attention.

The Global University is one that sends students and scholars overseas to study. Last year I was named to the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Commission. This is a blue-ribbon panel looking at ways to increase international exchange. The Lincoln Commission has as its goal sending one million students abroad for international study by the year 2017. The Commission, created by an act of Congress, demonstrates the importance assigned by public policymakers to increased understanding of world affairs and cultures.

The Global University broadens the horizons of its home campus by hosting more international students and scholars. It develops “sister institution” programs with universities in other countries. And it infuses world views into every subject taught on this campus. I believe the current state of world affairs makes the value of a more global NIU self-evident. Certainly we can take pride in and promote American culture. However, we can grow as a culture and society by being more understanding of the values and traditions of other peoples.

Fourth, I see NIU – The Responsive University

The Responsive University is an institution that constantly evolves to meet changing needs. Among the most pressing needs is for more graduate and doctoral programs. Today you heard me mention several new programs we have adopted or have in the works – the Doctorate in Audiology, the Master’s in Nursing Education, the Ph.D. in Engineering, the Ph.D. in Geography, and so forth. Look for us to pursue additional post-graduate degrees in some of the same, interdisciplinary areas where we’ve enjoyed such success attracting external support: nanotechnology … cancer therapy … biotechnology … paleontology and business entrepreneurial studies. Look for more professors to work on joint appointments, teaching and conducting research on subjects that span two or more traditional disciplines.

The Responsive University also reflects the needs of its current students. Over the next five years, NIU will increase that responsiveness by developing a long-range student housing plan … a new student information system …and enhanced student advising services.

The Responsive University will continually scan its environment and context to identify needs, opportunities and threats. The Reponsive University will foster and support the dreams, visions and ambitions of citizens and communities throughout the region.

Fifth and finally, when I look ahead five years in the life of our institution, I see NIU – The Accountable University.

The Accountable University is one where, to paraphrase a study I mentioned earlier, “the shared, overarching culture is based on student success.” We’ll have a chance to benchmark our performance in this area in just a couple of years when the Higher Learning Commission returns for what they call “an assessment of learning outcomes.” I said it before and I will say it again: student retention and graduation rates are emerging as the top measures of higher education accountability in this new century.

The Accountable University has a record of serving all citizens of its region – and that means those who come here well-prepared as well as those who do not. The Accountable University understands its student base, and works hard to speak its language. And incidentally, in our service region, that language increasingly is Spanish. We absolutely must translate our deep and sincere belief in access to a campus-wide effort to be more welcoming to students whose first language may not be English. And I don’t only mean once they are here: We need to reach out to the burgeoning population of Latino students and we need to do so in the language of their parents and families.

Greater faculty and staff diversity was identified in our latest reaccredidation process as an area that will continue to require our attention in the coming years. Our very diverse student body wants and deserves teachers and other support staff who reflect the demographic makeup of the region we serve.

And one more point: Regardless of the language, the Accountable University speaks to all its audiences with one voice. We will be working hard in the year ahead to clarify the NIU identity and to make it easier for all colleges and departments to promote their programs under the broad NIU umbrella.

In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll be hearing more about our efforts to become the Sustainable, Engaged, Global, Responsive and Accountable University. I’ll be asking specific individuals to take on leadership roles in all these initiatives, and this time next year, we will be talking about measurable progress in each of these areas.

When I came to NIU five years ago, I said that I believed NIU could become the nation’s premier regional public university. Five years later, I have days that I think we may have aimed too low. We are certainly the public university that this region wants and needs. I can’t think of a better way to close than to echo the tagline from our latest radio campaign:

“From Chicago to the Mississippi, NIU Works!”

We certainly do.

Thank you for making it so, and for sharing your time with me today.