It hardly seems possible that summer is over, but if one looks closely, a few leaves on the trees on campus are already beginning to turn, signaling the imminent arrival of fall. The 2010-11 academic year is upon us like a new textbook waiting to be cracked open – filled with knowledge designed to educate and inspire. In that spirit, I would like to update you on a few welcome developments for our NIU community.
I am delighted to report encouraging news on the state payments for our Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation. As you know, a severe cash-flow crisis caused the state to fall behind in payments to the university by as much as $63.4 million during FY2010. Despite the fact that the state’s fiscal year ended June 30, additional payments toward outstanding Fiscal Year 2010 vouchers have been made over the last few weeks. That has lowered the remaining balance due NIU to just $200,411. Receipt of these funds provides tremendous relief. It allowed us to square our books with nearly all of our vendors and suppliers and has erased the need to consider short-term borrowing to cover our debts.
Like other agencies and universities around the state NIU labored to make ends meet during FY2010 amidst unavoidable increases in the cost of utilities, goods and services and the need to maintain quality programs and services for our students. University operations were squeezed to the limit; the state’s cash flow crisis only compounded the problem. However, years of prudent financial management combined with the measures we put in place early in Fiscal Year 2010 allowed us to continue educating our students and meeting our payroll. All of our employees deserve praise for their efforts to help us through this fiscal crisis, especially Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations Eddie Williams and Executive Vice President and Provost Ray Alden and their senior staff.
As we look ahead to FY2011, with continued uncertain economic times still facing the state, it would be unwise to let our guard down. We will continue to seek ways to reduce expenses without compromising the quality of our academic programs and services for our students. We will stretch every dollar wherever possible. The underlying circumstances that created the cash flow problems for the state have not been resolved, and there is no guarantee that the problem will not recur (while our costs continue to rise). We will continue to manage our finances prudently, maintaining our commitment to our students, our mission and to our outstanding faculty and staff.
Payment of the FY2010 appropriation eliminates one major financial concern for the university, however. And in these economic times, I am pleased to be able to report some good news.
As you know, the university began a wide-ranging and inclusive discussion during spring semester among faculty, staff, students, alums, parents, high school guidance counselors and prospective students to better understand and enhance our image in the state and region. This fall we will announce several opportunities for campus discussion designed to crystallize a united vision that will drive our image marketing and advertising in the state and our region. When the opportunities arise for campus input, please take a few minutes and share your thoughts and opinions.
In the meantime, staff in our new Division of University Relations have been busy this summer developing an advertising/marketing campaign that is already under way for the fall student recruitment season. They are working closely with the Enrollment Management and Admissions staff to enhance traditional student recruitment efforts throughout our region. You might have seen our new billboards that are attracting attention on several major Chicago area expressways. You will see new university public service announcements geared primarily toward student recruitment on cable television, radio and sports programming, all based on the fall student recruitment theme, “The Power of Education…..the Power of NIU.” Complementary web applications, including the enhancement of NIU’s presence in the world of social media so essential to our students, as well as print publications that drive home “The Power of NIU” are in the final stages of development. You will begin to see the fruits of those labors in the weeks ahead as Admissions, Enrollment Management and University Relations begin to share our NIU story with all who will listen.
Also new this fall is NIU Today, which debuts Aug. 23.
This new website replaces the former faculty and staff electronic newsletter, Northern Today, and targets a much broader audience – faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and residents of surrounding communities, media and anyone who has an interest in NIU.
The site will provide the most interesting and up-to-date news from across campus with content drawn from sources within every college and division. NIU Today will incorporate news on everything from grants awarded and books published, to Huskie athletics, to theater and concerts. It has been constructed in a blog format, so it will be updated regularly and should become a valuable information resource to all seeking information about what is happening throughout NIU and our region.
Managed by the Media Relations and Internal Communications team, the online publication will also feature the most up-to-date schedule of events on campus, and a “Voices” column for opinions and information sharing about relevant topics du jour that should provide a forum for faculty, staff, students, alums and others interested in sharing their thoughts and ideas with the NIU community.
I hope you are able to join me at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2 in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium (or through a live-web stream) for my annual State of the University Address. I plan to share with you my perspective on the next 10 years for public higher education institutions in general, as well as for NIU specifically.
Clearly, the concept of “state support” has been relegated to our history. It would appear that our funding blueprint for the future would be one better characterized as "state assisted." Our outlook is bright, but we will have to make changes to our traditional method of operating – changes that will make us more entrepreneurial and better able to respond to the changing needs of students, families and employers in our region. While state assistance will always be an integral part of our fabric as a public university, we cannot continue to expect that it will be our major source of funding for our future. Therefore, we must change, but in a thoughtful, strategic and well-planned effort that fosters creative and entrepreneurial ideas from within our NIU community.
Over the summer, staff developed a new Emergency Information website for the university that includes not only the main DeKalb campus, but also our regional centers in Hoffman Estates, Naperville and Rockford. This new website will provide a single source for safety and emergency information ranging from a list of emergency phone numbers to weather status updates to Campus Alerts and a new notification protocol, Campus Advisories.
Campus Advisories is a new category of emergency information intended to make subscribers aware of potential emergency activity (safety, criminal, health, hazardous weather) on or near campus when the threat is not immediate. Campus Alerts, on the other hand, will be reserved for situations that pose an imminent threat to the lives and safety of the general campus population and for which immediate action/notification is required.
We believe this to be a significant improvement over past protocols. I urge you to visit the new Emergency Information page to learn more and register to receive email notification when new campus advisories are posted. Postings will routinely include relevant advisory information related to our regional education centers in Rockford, Hoffman Estates and Naperville as well.
I know many of you will join me and hundreds of other NIU volunteers Thursday to help our new students move into our residence halls and get acclimated to campus.
We are eager to welcome what we anticipate to be the third largest transfer class in NIU history. Even better is the news that enrollment projections indicate that we are on track to hit our overall target for new students this fall: 5,200.
Please also join me in extending a warm welcome to our 22 new faculty who will begin teaching, inspiring, challenging and motivating a new and returning student body of 24,000-plus students. I also want to personally welcome to NIU, Lisa Freeman, our new vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School, and LaVonne Neal, dean of the College of Education.
Enjoy the final hours of summer. While we face challenges ahead, I have confidence in our resolve and our commitment to emerge successfully in preserving and maintaining our great university.
John G. Peters