Thank you for joining us today.
I hope you had a chance to enjoy the opening video. It was requested by Faculty Development and produced by our Media Services staff, as a way to introduce new faculty to our campus and culture. Each time I watch, I am struck by how much NIU has accomplished during a very difficult era.
I don’t want to dwell on the myriad of challenges facing public universities today. But to truly appreciate our accomplishments at NIU, the environment confronting public higher education must be considered.
Nationally, the landscape for public universities is bleak.
Then there are the issues specific to Illinois public higher education.
And this year’s state funding was the same as what we received in 1995.
Yet, despite all of this, NIU thrives.
We have all learned to do more with less, to stretch dollars further and to overcome obstacles.
Furthermore, we have embraced these challenges as opportunities to engage in self reflection and to develop plans to help us navigate these troubled times: the Great Journeys Strategic Plan and the Vision 2020 Initiative.
Too often we forget to celebrate the many ways that you—our faculty, our staff and our students—have risen above the difficult circumstances of the past decade and accomplished great things.
So today, I would like to take a few minutes to celebrate the victories that we often overlook because we are just too busy fighting the good fight.
One recent success we should note is the progress we have made toward embedding enriched and engaged learning into every student’s experience.
Such offerings have always been a point of pride at NIU, and we made it a goal in the Vision 2020 Initiative to build upon that strength.
We are already seeing those efforts pay off. Last year, more than 2,000 students – spread across every undergraduate college – participated in some form of enriched learning.
That is a five-fold increase over the previous year.
We have taken steps to build those activities into our culture. For instance, last year we redrafted the university-wide faculty workload policy to include engagement as an important component for determining faculty workload.
We are also working to transform our curriculum, even in our largest class sections, into opportunities for engaged learning.
Faculty from seven large lecture courses—in areas as diverse as history, biology, physics and information systems—began work this fall on that effort. It aims to augment reading assignments and lectures with small-group activities and interactive online learning . . . and to give students more opportunities to build relationships with faculty and with their peers.
Those revamped classes will debut next fall, and at the same time a new group of faculty will begin transforming other large lecture courses. We expect that process to continue until engaged learning is the norm in our largest classes. $300,000 in Vision 2020 funds have been earmarked to help us realize our goal.
Why such an emphasis on engaged learning? The reason is simple. Such programs cultivate critical thinking, encourage greater creativity and enhance communication skills. Those are the “value added” attributes that set our graduates—and our institution—apart.
Next, let’s take a look at our Research Rookies program. Two years ago, NIU created this program with 17 freshmen who competed for the opportunity to work side-by-side with some of our best research faculty on important projects. This fall, we have more than 40 students enrolled.
And the program’s future is even more promising. In a Map Works survey of about 2,200 new freshman and transfer students this year, 62 percent expressed an interest in conducting research with faculty.
We’re obviously on to something here.
So, let’s take a moment to meet one of our Research Rookies—Evan Wittke.
Evan’s story illustrates the value of Research Rookies, not just to students, but to faculty, to the university, and ultimately to society.
NIU’s University Honors program is another area where we exceeded our Vision 2020 goals.
172 honor students graduated in May, 2012—an NIU record.
Strengthened by a set of new recruitment efforts, Vision 2020 and Strategic Planning initiatives and funding, including relocation of the Honors House to the New Residence Hall, the Honors Program continues to gain momentum.
This fall, Honors welcomed 226 freshmen and 104 transfer students. That’s a dramatic increase.
In fact, the last time our freshman class of University Honors was that large was 1987, when most of our students were not even born yet.
The academic profile of these students is especially exciting, too. Among the freshmen:
Christopher Jones, our associate vice provost for University Honors, is to be commended for his hard work.
But as he'll be the first to tell you, the growth of Honors is a result of partnerships across the university, including with the offices of admissions, scholarships, housing, international programs, diversity centers, and with our academic deans, chairs and faculty, who stepped up big-time with their support.
Thanks to their hard work, the number of stand-alone honors courses has nearly doubled this fall.
Vision 2020 helped finance the new course development as well, and new merit scholarships certainly helped bolster Honors enrollment.
In addition, there was one small change that helped Chris land some of the best and brightest students.
He made a seemingly minor tweak to the process of awarding academic scholarships.
In short, it allowed us to get scholarship offers more quickly into the hands of prospective students, making NIU more competitive with its peer institutions.
Often, it’s the little things that make a big difference . . . I want you to hold that thought, since I plan to come back to it.
The Honors Program success dovetails into the improved academic profile of our entire freshman class.
While our overall enrollment slipped this year, we did experience an increase in freshman of about 3 percent over last year. That bodes well for the future and represents an incredibly important turning point for NIU.
We reversed a downward trend in freshman enrollment that has been troubling us over the last four years. This trend has not only hit us hard each year with our incoming freshman classes, but multiple years of this has resulted in smaller classes working through the pipeline.
Also of great import this fall, while growing the freshman class, we increased the percentage of students in top 10 percent, and top 25 percent, of their high school classes. The mean high school GPA of our freshmen increased as well.
In a related vein, I would like to make a special mention of how well student athletes have done in helping maintain our academic profile.
Last year, for the seventh consecutive year, every one of our athletic teams exceeded the academic standards set by the NCAA – which, to me, is just as impressive as the three MAC championships and other on-field successes that our teams celebrated last year.
The improved academic profile of our students is directly linked to efforts to increase the number of merit-based scholarships at NIU.
This fall, in fact, more than 2,000 new students enrolled with merit scholarships—an 8.5% increase over fall 2011.
All told, NIU has committed more than $10 million toward merit scholarships for incoming and current students this year.
We are also working hard to retain students and are experiencing success with the Map Works program, which is now in its fourth year at NIU.
This program surveys new students and provides each one with a summary of his or her personal strengths and possible challenges, as well as related campus resources.
Among students participating in MAP Works, we have seen a consistent improvement in cumulative grade point average, cumulative credits, and retention from one semester to the next.
Our top goal as a student-centered research university is to help students succeed. In addition to providing engaged-learning opportunities, we must deliver an exceptional living-learning environment.
It’s not an easy task in these tough economic times, when it’s difficult enough to keep up with routine maintenance.
Yet we’ve managed to transform and beautify this campus. When you step back and look at all that’s been accomplished, it’s nothing short of amazing.
The foundation for many of the transformational improvements to our campus was laid by our first-ever comprehensive capital campaign, known as True North.
In fact, the maturation of NIU’s philanthropic culture—along with the reconnection of alumni willing to give their time, talents and financial support to their alma mater—is perhaps the most important story of the past decade for our community.
Just in the past three years, we’ve increased average annual private giving from $10.1 million to nearly $14 million.
To accomplish all this during such a lean decade says something about the incredible work by the NIU Foundation. It also speaks volumes about the faith of our alumni in the mission of Northern Illinois University.
Generous donors have helped us improve academic programs and made a huge difference in the lives of students and faculty.
Their gifts have provided millions of dollars in scholarships. They also have helped the university recruit and retain great faculty by funding 30 professorship and chair positions in disciplines across campus.
When I came to NIU in 2000, we had one such chair –and that was it.
Private giving also helped transform the face of campus during the last decade.
Thanks to donors, we have Barsema Hall; the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center; and the Yordon Center.
All of those buildings were built with private donations.
The same will be true of the Chessick indoor practice facility, the first project on campus to attract three gifts of more than $1 million.
That is four state-of-the-art facilities, all built with private gifts over the course of 10 years. To put that in perspective, prior to the last decade, the number of buildings on campus built with private money was . . . zero.
Mike Malone and the NIU Foundation are to be commended for making it possible for us to celebrate that success.
We managed to make several other major additions to campus during the last decade, despite some of the worst economic conditions in generations.
During that same period, we forged strong private-public partnerships to effect major change with little cash outlay. Such partnerships allowed us to build the Northern View Apartments in 2008, as well as the New Residence Hall that just opened six weeks ago.
The New Residence Hall is particularly exciting. That 1,000-bed facility is not only the crown jewel of our Residential Renaissance, it is the embodiment of our commitment to creating an improved living-learning environment and to attract top students.
But I don’t think you should hear this just from me. Instead, join with me to listen to a few of the students who, after only six weeks living in the New Hall, have transformed their NIU living/learning experience.
Makes you want to come back as a freshman, doesn’t it?
As we look back at all the campus enhancements, there is one high profile capital improvement that I’ve yet to mention.
For me, and I think for all of us at NIU, it holds special meaning.
After the terrible tragedy that unfolded on our campus on Feb. 14, 2008, many people thought Cole Hall should be torn down. I have to admit, I was one of them.
But Fay-Cooper Cole Hall had been at the heart of the NIU community since it first opened in the late 1960s. The building’s twin lecture halls were used by about 6,000 students each semester, and the facility was well known to tens of thousands of students, alumni and faculty.
After seeking input from across NIU, we determined that most people in our community did not want to see Cole Hall torn down.
They wanted to see it rise again.
Long before work crews arrived to start the state-funded, nearly $6 million renovation, we researched hundreds of case studies on how to create the best possible interactive-learning spaces.
And, in January of this year, we unveiled the new Cole Hall.
The building – with its lobby providing a sweeping view of central campus, including nearby Memorial Garden – has been transformed. It is now home to The Anthropology Museum and high-tech, collaborative-learning settings that maximize the educational experience. It will be looked to as a national model.
It is personally inspiring for me to know that this building will now foster learning for tens of thousands of 21st century students.
Once a symbol of tragedy, Cole Hall is now a symbol of rebirth, resolve and resilience.
When I look at Cole Hall, and think about the major physical and academic changes that have happened in the dozen years that I’ve been president, I am indeed reminded of how committed, hard-working and ingenious the NIU community is.
Despite the economy, despite government’s disinvestment in higher education, despite all that has been thrown at us, NIU has risen to every challenge, ascended in its national profile and built the framework for an even brighter, more sustainable, more independent future.
I cannot express in words my love for this university, for its people—for its faculty, its staff and especially its students, who every day invigorate and inspire me.
We have shared triumph, we have shared tragedy, and in some ways, I feel we have experienced an entire lifetime together.
But a university presidency is not a lifetime appointment.
In recent months, after several discussions with Barbara and my son Russell, I have decided that this is the time. This is the time for me to pass the torch to another who will carry out the noble mission of leading this great university.
My final day as president of Northern Illinois University will be June 30, 2013. I will complete 13 years of presidential service to this venerable institution.
I will continue to provide advice and counsel to your next president during the transition, and assist the Foundation in its efforts to raise funds to support new scholarships and academic programs.
In the meantime, I will turn my efforts to facilitating a smooth transition.
In private conversations, I have already informed the Board of Trustees of my intentions.
The board will direct that NIU launch a national search for my replacement, one that I believe will attract candidates of the highest credentials. I would expect that we would have a campus search committee in place and a search firm selected by November 8th.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished during my time as president of this great university. But it’s not about me….the main achievement over the last 13 years has been to shine a light on the great works of NIU faculty, staff and students.
The heart and soul of this great university is defined by its faculty and staff.
NIU professors are implementing cutting-edge methods in the classroom.
Faculty and staff together are expanding the university’s growing reputation for excellence in STEM education.
We are also assisting the state by creating broadband networks that improve health care, enhance education and stimulate economic development.
Faculty in Visual and Performing Arts continue to attract global attention and bring an international perspective to creative endeavors on stage, in concert halls and in galleries.
And, through their research, faculty are working to improve their communities—and improve the world.
Groundbreaking research and artistry have become a tradition of this university, and it is one that will endure.
Just two weeks ago, Provost Alden and I hosted a dinner for our new faculty at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.
We have about 65 new faculty members this fall. Meeting them and listening to their excitement, hopes and aspirations for NIU and our students left me with confidence and enthusiasm for this great university’s future.
Their credentials are world-class, and they exude energy, creativity and passion for their scholarship.
The people we’ve hired this year, and in recent years, have a deep appreciation for the faculty model we aspire to, one that blends teaching, service and research or artistry—and most importantly, engaged learning.
I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to just a few of them.
That’s an impressive group, and they represent only a small sample of the caring, high quality people who have recently joined the NIU community. Our future is in good hands.
Welcome, to all of our new faculty.
Of course, it’s not just faculty, but also our staff members who make me proud to be part of the NIU community.
You know, every day, this job presents a new challenge . . . and often a new headache.
But there hasn’t been one day that I haven’t felt supremely blessed to work alongside all of you.
While my departure from the presidency of NIU is near, I won’t be resting on my laurels. There is too much work remaining.
In the time I have left as president, I can’t promise achievements on the scale of those we have discussed today, but it’s not always big accomplishments that make a big difference. Recall the impact that Chris Jones made with one small tweak to the process of awarding scholarships.
The value of small changes is a lesson I learned during my first day on the job as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Nebraska.
My new office was located on the 12th floor of Oldfather Hall, a building similar in size, shape and function to Zulauf Hall on our campus.
This was in the early 80s. A few years earlier, in the midst of the “energy crisis,” it had been ordered that the hot water be turned off to the entire building.
On my first day as dean, my secretary suggested that I consider furnishing my office with furniture stored in the basement.
As I rummaged through desks, chairs and cobwebs, I noticed a large valve on a huge water tank. It was one of those oversized wheels like you see in movies, and there was a big red arrow indicating the direction for hot water.
So, I made my first critical administrative decision. I walked over and turned the wheel.
The next day when I came to work, I was greeted by a big banner hanging from the 12th floor windows: THANK YOU, DEAN PETERS.
Secretaries and faculty members held spontaneous parties in hallways throughout the building . . . People thanked me over and over, and one person was actually in tears.
The great irony, of course, was that the ban on hot water had been lifted at least a year earlier.
But no one ever bothered to initiate the small change that would warm the hands and hearts of many. All it took was a turn of the wheel….
Our work lives similarly are filled with small obstacles that might be removed with a little ingenuity, initiative or elbow grease.
What stands in the way of becoming the best instructor you can be?
What barriers prevent you from doing the caliber of research you are capable of?
What impediments reduce efficiency and undermine our efforts to best meet the needs of our students?
So, today I am calling upon you to identify these obstacles.
Toward that end, we will be announcing opportunities for faculty, staff and students to identify issues in the coming weeks.
You know, I’ve learned as president of this university, that sometimes the best way to lead is to follow . . . to get behind the powerful ideas of our students, faculty and staff. To help them turn ideas into action. In essence, that’s what the Vision 2020 Initiative was all about.
And so, as my final State of the University Address draws to a close, I want to thank each and every member of the NIU community on behalf of Barbara and me for the privilege, and my friends, it has been a privilege in every sense of the word, to serve as your president these last 13 years.
NIU’s future is limited only by our imagination. You’ve heard from a few of our new faculty. You’ve listened to students share the transformational nature of the New Residence Hall on their living/learning experience.
While my tenure as president of this great university is winding down, it’s not over yet. I have eight months left on the job, and I intend to make every day count.
I'm hoping that, before I leave, we can turn the wheel a few more times.
And, I know we can, in the NIU spirit of always moving Forward, Together Forward.