From the President

State of the University Address

October 22, 2019 (PDF)

Speeches

Opening of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons And Rededication of His Bust - 10/25/19

Thank you, Vernese. Good afternoon. I am honored to be here with you today to unveil the newly designed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commons and to rededicate his bust. We do so as an important way to celebrate, respect and continue.

The idea to first dedicate this space in homage to Dr. King and his vision came from students with the support of faculty and staff. These young people desired a place where they could share their thoughts, ideas, concerns and needs. They were purposeful, and in their own right visionary, when they recommended that the space should be firmly between the library – to symbolize knowledge – and the Holmes Student Center – to symbolize the voices of our students.

What I also think is symbolic is that this newly designed space is a garden. A place that when you care for it, will flourish; will come back stronger despite the harshness of winters and will be vibrant each August when we welcome the next generation of NIU students.

Time and time again, its NIU students who demonstrate such passion and devotion to social justice, equity and inclusivity that endures and makes NIU distinct. Those traits are woven throughout our mission, vision and values and together, we can transform lives and communities. That's powerful and real. That was Dr. King's vision.

It is my hope that students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests will be drawn here to reflect, to express themselves, to meet a friend to talk, to lead off the first steps of our annual unity march and to reunite at its conclusion. The MLK Commons and beautiful Dr. King bust will always be an NIU point of pride.

I'm thrilled to start off our weekend of homecoming celebrations this way and with you. It's the best of both worlds to have our alumni home and our current students, faculty and staff here together. While there are many events and activities planned, please make it a point to come back to this spot, sit on bench, take it all in and carry back out with you the knowledge that your university cares about you, respects and welcomes different perspectives, and is committed to helping all communities seek peace, unity and justice.

6th Annual Unity Walk - 9/24/19

Good afternoon and welcome to the annual Unity Walk at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois!

It's a pleasure to once again welcome members of our DeKalb and Sycamore communities … representatives from our local schools and churches … and colleagues from Kishwaukee College. It's an honor to walk with you today.

This event began in part as our community's response to a tragedy in Ferguson, MO and a national call to action- events that have at times divided caring people who value peace and justice. NIU and DeKalb police, along with Rev. Joe Mitchell of New Hope Baptist Church, came together to create an event that highlights the importance and need, as well as an opportunity to talk to each other rather than at each other. The Unity March reminds us every year of our commitment to one other, and our shared desire to let our different perspectives be a point of pride and source of strength.

Recently, our community's commitment to respectful, constructive, future-focused dialogue was called upon once again, when video footage associated with the arrest of young African-American male became widely available. In the aftermath, we came together at New Hope: to listen; to acknowledge the fear, pain and distrust exacerbated by the incident; and to consider how our community could and should move forward together. This year's unity walk with its theme of civic engagement provides us with such an opportunity.

The goal of civic engagement is to address public concerns and promote the quality of the community. The work involved is not easy- and many things can get in the way of progress- our failure to fully appreciate each other's experiences and perceptions; our desire to avoid difficult conversations or our use of hurtful rhetoric when we do communicate; our uncertainty about positive alternatives to the noise and incivility that characterize many local and national conversations.

Standing in this commons named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have an opportunity to reflect on his teachings about civic engagement.

Dr. King called on people of goodwill to not stay silent on important subjects.

And, Dr. King called on all of us to leave our comfort zones and open our minds and hearts with respect to all members of our community, including those most different from ourselves.

He reminded us that:

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other."

He also reminded us that

"We cannot walk alone."

NIU supports the Unity March because it's at the heart of our own values – a commitment to fostering a positive and progressive dialog on matters of social justice, where we welcome the involvement of all members of our community.

And so, today I urge you to walk with people you don't know … people who are from different backgrounds than you … who have different lived experiences than you … and who may have very different opinions than you have. In these conversations, take this opportunity to engage with and listen to each other- find something in or about our community that your group values, and discuss how it can be made even better.

Thank you for walking in unity with your neighbors and for sharing your voices this evening and always.

Go Huskies!

State of the City Address - 10/15/19

Good morning, and thank you, Mayor Smith. It's always uplifting to hear positive news about DeKalb.

I want to start out by sharing positive comments about our communiversity that I heard last week from another highly respected leader – Dr. John Dunn, who retired in 2017 after serving for 10 years as the president of Western Michigan University, and then agreed last year to serve the interim chancellor of SIU Carbondale. John received bachelor's and master's degrees from NIU in the late '60', and he's returned to DeKalb many times since then – to attend MAC athletic competitions and higher-ed meetings. and to visit his uncle, NIU Hall of Fame Gymnastics Coach Hubie Dunn.

Last week, John was at NIU being honored by the College of Education, and I got to spend some time with him. Over dinner at Tapa La Luna, John shared how impressed he is by the positive changes in DeKalb and at NIU, and how happy it makes him to see good things happening in these places that mean so much to him.

I feel that way too. Good things are happening. DeKalb and NIU are moving forward into a bright future.

The city is being transformed because our city leaders and members of our local business community are working together to implement a bold, shared vision for DeKalb.

NIU is also benefitting from collaborative leadership, as well as the development of long-term plans and implementation strategies.

I appreciate the General Assembly's bipartisan efforts to help Illinois higher education thrive again – an FY20 state appropriation that represents a 5% increase over FY19, and a commitment to provide capital funding for reinvestment and new construction over the next several years. I want to thank Representative Jeff Keicher for his efforts on behalf of the university, and his recognition that funding public higher education is in investment our future.

I also want to recognize the faculty, staff and students at NIU who worked together this past year to make our university stronger. We accomplished a lot. We crafted and adopted vision, mission and values statements that speak to who we are and who we aspire to be as an institution and as proud Huskies.

We introduced a strategic enrollment management plan that maps out a multiyear approach for achieving a sustainable enrollment of 17,000 to 18,000. It's our playbook, complete with specific assignments and investments at every position, and I'm happy to say that it's working.

Thanks to a university-wide effort – new strategic partnerships and innovative marketing efforts – we're seeing notable progress this year:

  • The number of applications we received for Fall 2019 admission was up over the previous year by 10%. That's 1,675 additional applications.
  • For admitted students who enrolled, we're up 2% in new freshmen … and this is the third year in a row that we've seen an increase in new freshmen

We were also:

  • Up 2% in new transfer students;
  • Up 9% in new graduate and law students;
  • Up 25% in new out-of-state students; and
  • Up 37% in online students.

The fact that we've seen significantly increased attendance at our summer and fall open houses strongly suggests we're off to a good start recruiting next year's incoming class.

With these achievements, we met or exceeded our Strategic Enrollment Management plan's goals related to new student recruitment, and we're on the right track to meet our overarching objective of achieving and maintaining an enrollment of 17,000 to 18,000.

I acknowledge that we have more work to do – and I anticipate more success ahead.

NIU's strategic enrollment plan emphasizes not just increasing the recruitment of new students but also increasing degree completion by our admitted students. Accordingly, we are looking at different ways to support students – more innovative ways to decrease their debt and their time to degree; more effective ways to keep talented students from our local community here for their undergraduate education – and beyond.

One key way we're doing this is recalibrating our scholarships and financial aid packages. Beginning next fall, any newly admitted freshman with a 3.5 GPA will automatically receive $3,000 a year – that's $12,000 over the course of four years. Based on our data analysis, this means several hundred students on average who were not previously eligible will now have access to a scholarship!

We've also stepped up our outreach to local students. You might recall that we created scholarships last year specifically for DeKalb County high school graduates and Kish College transfers. Those will also continue this year. And, to make sure our local students are aware of those programs, we're broadening our one-on-one outreach to local schools, expanding beyond the field trips that we do annually with DeKalb and Sycamore by adding more visits from Hiawatha, Rochelle, Kaneland and Rockford high schools.

Some of you may have seen the publicity recently on the new "2 degrees in 3 years" partnership that includes NIU, Kishwaukee College and six area high schools. We have defined seamless pathways that flow through high school and Kish to lead to bachelor's degrees from NIU in one of five of our high-demand program areas:

  • business administration;
  • computer science;
  • elementary education;
  • psychology; and
  • mechanical engineering.

The program allows students to earn both a Kish associate degree and a NIU bachelor's degree within three years of high school completion, saving students and families both time and money.

We value the close relationships with our local institutions – these are key resources that help students earn their bachelor's degrees and help retain local talent. I want to recognize the leadership of our partners, particularly Laurie Borowicz, president of Kishwaukee College, and Jamie Craven, superintendent of DeKalb D428. We will be speaking about our "2 degrees in 3 years" collaboration to a national conference of community college trustees later this week.

A vibrant future for DeKalb County depends on our ability to attract and retain educated young adults who build their lives here. And, there's another piece of this puzzle that we have to address together – we have to make DeKalb more appealing not only to prospective students, but also to large- and medium-sized employers, and to educated young adults seeking a place to live, raise their families and start new businesses.

Research tells us that today's students, faculty members and working adults want communities that are pedestrian-friendly with walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that have stores, services, parks, convenient public transportation and other amenities. They want multiple residential options – home ownership, as well as rental properties that are safe and affordable with accessible and responsive local management. We see downtown DeKalb moving this way. We should be able to offer similar experiences to residents and prospective residents across our city and we need to work together to this end.

And, it's not just about attracting more students to NIU – we need to find new ways to keep more NIU alumni here in DeKalb after graduation. Vibrant, economically sustainable college towns consistently reinvent themselves with infusions of new talent and energy from young professionals who choose to stay in their alma mater's host community. This is a part of our shared history that needs to be celebrated and strengthened.

Look around you and see all of the successful community leaders here who came to this town via NIU and stayed to over the years.

  • This very place where we're gathered this morning – Faranda's – created by NIU alumni Bill and Joy McMahon, who also own the Lincoln Inn.
  • Fargo Skatepark – one of only two public indoor skate parks in Illinois, attracting thousands of people from throughout the region – founded by Ariel Ries, a graduate of Kishwaukee College and NIU.
  • Byers Brewing Company, recently opened in downtown DeKalb – this business is owned by NIU graduates Megan and Steve Byers, and is located in a building owned by another NIU alumnus, Cohen Barnes, CEO of Sundog IT.

What prompted the people I just mentioned to invest their lives into this community? And more importantly, how can we work together to help more young graduates see DeKalb County as a great place to establish themselves, personally and professionally?

NIU is continually working with our community to improve the student experience and make DeKalb a more attractive place to learn, live and work. Together, we are growing effective initiatives, and testing new approaches.

For example, we have expanded on our successes:

  • Campus Meets Community just had a very successful second year. This is the outdoor fair held on NIU's MLK Commons, where local businesses introduce themselves to NIU students, faculty and staff. The number of exhibitors was up to 70 this year, compared to 43 last year. The energy was incredible, and the sense of community was strong.
  • The latest Corn Classic Run attracted record numbers in September and included hundreds of NIU students and volunteers. Post-race surveys showed runners were particularly pleased with the route through campus, the enthusiasm of the crowd and the NIU Marching Band – all told, a race that used to attract a couple hundred participants this year hosted more than 625 runners.
  • The good news keeps on coming from the merger of our two bus systems. Last month, we learned that the HuskieLine is now making daily trips to and from the Elburn train station – including from Cortland – and that it has added a route that goes to the large employment centers on the south end of town, timed to coincide with all three work shifts.

We are also working on new initiatives that we hope will produce successful outcomes and lasting positive impact.

  • Tomorrow, NIU is hosting our most ambitious ever Diverse Supplier Networking Fair. This event is free and open to the public. Small businesses, especially those owned and operated by minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are highly encouraged to register and attend. The fair offers networking opportunities with NIU departments and divisions, and other Illinois public universities, as well as informational sessions about how to do business with us.
  • Before it's even built, we're working on ways to integrate our new Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability into the life of this community. In preparation for more formal partnerships, we've invited the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association – or DAAHA – to move into NIU space, and we've made provisions for DeKalb County Community Gardens to use campus storage space for its growing operation. In addition, as I mentioned previously, we are working with the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) to develop a coherent narrative about DeKalb's agricultural heritage and NIU's potential to drive innovation at the food-water-energy nexus.

    NIU is also collaborating with DCEDC to share data from branding studies. DCEDC is studying perceptions of our region, while NIU is focused on how the university and our proposed Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability are perceived by a wide range of audiences. When we look at our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, it only makes sense to look at them together, and to seek opportunities to coordinate and collaborate.
  • We're talking to our student government and local businesses about a new initiative we're calling the Communiversity Start-Up Challenge. The concept is that students explore local problems and work with area businesses and community leaders to come up with solutions, including new business start-ups. They'll pitch their ideas to teams of experts, and winning teams will get start-up funding and guidance from mentors. I want to note that our students are particularly interested in working on initiatives that will advance the AGN revitalization plan.
  • Another very important initiative we're working on with the City of DeKalb involves the upcoming census. I don't need to tell you how important it is for us to get an accurate count – it means real dollars and real congressional representation for all of us. College communities are notoriously difficult to count accurately, with large numbers of students and other "hard-to-count" groups of people. Everyone here can help by telling the people you interact with to make sure they get counted.

Finally, I want to invite all of you to participate next year in some of the many activities we are planning to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of NIU. There are events being scheduled throughout the year, and we will release, on a monthly basis, summaries of the 125 Key Moments in NIU History.

You'll be reading more about the anniversary celebrations soon. To close, I want to focus on one important aspect of our shared history.

NIU is here in DeKalb because DeKalb citizens, 125 years ago, fought to get it located here – and I do mean they fought. They invested their own time … money … land … and personal influence to bring the new "teachers college" here and thereby ensure the future growth and prosperity of their small but ambitious town.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, times have changed. DeKalb and the university have both changed. And, we'll evolve even more as time goes on.

To thrive, we must continue to move forward together, to understand and capitalize on the opportunities that will define our shared future and ensure our continued prosperity.

Thank you for your time and attention, and for your commitment to our unending, lifelong partnership.

Senate Sub-committee on Capital Testimony - 4/22/19

Good afternoon, Chairmen Castro, McConchie and Sandoval, and members of the Senate Sub-committee on Capital.

My name is Lisa Freeman, president of Northern Illinois University. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about NIU's request for state investment in a forthcoming multi-year infrastructure program.

In college guides for parents and prospective students, such as the one published by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, the condition of campus infrastructure and facilities is a key point on the list of what should be considered when selecting a university to attend.

As public universities and state leaders continue to focus attention on years of enrollment declines and the outmigration of students, NIU believes capital investment in higher education should be considered as a significant part of a multi-pronged solution.

Keeping maintenance needs, student recruitment and accreditation of academic programs in mind, NIU has thoughtfully prioritized a list of 11 projects for which we respectfully request the state's investment of approximately $326 million for expenditure throughout the next multi-year capital program. Included in this number is funding for demolition of buildings that are no longer inhabitable. This approach allows us to maintain our current campus footprint, and relives the deferred maintenance burden.

Diversity, equity and inclusion remain a large part of NIU's commitment to excellence, and NIU understands that minority participation is a very important piece of any forthcoming multi-year capital plan.

The list of NIU priorities includes one new academic building and the rehabilitation, or enhancement of 10 existing buildings all ranging from 41 to 107 years old and having not had any significant modernization investments. We recognize that additional revenue is required to support NIU and higher education needs. We appreciate the efforts in Springfield to consider multi-year plans and mechanisms. In fact, the public university presidents and chancellors are meeting with Gov. Pritzker on Thursday to discuss revenue options to support our requests. At NIU, we are open to supplement our appropriations with philanthropy and partnership funding.

I am joined today by Sarah McGill, vice president for Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer. At this time, I will turn it over to Sarah to provide additional detail regarding the university's priorities.

Thank you.

Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Spring Meeting - 4/11/19

Good morning, everyone. I'm Lisa Freeman, president of Northern Illinois University, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the second Illinois Equity in Attainment summit.

This Naperville location is one of four regional education centers in northern Illinois that circle our main campus in DeKalb. NIU-Naperville serves primarily adult learners who cannot travel to DeKalb on a regular basis. Some are working on undergraduate completion programs here, but most are either taking master's-level classes while working full-time, or participating in continuing professional education events that we host.

There are some similarities between these adult learners and our undergraduate students from underserved communities. For example, they are juggling competing demands because their academic program is being undertaken along with employment and family obligations.

But the students who will fill these rooms tonight - adult learners working on master's degrees - have already figured out how to navigate higher education. They've already realized the benefits of a baccalaureate degree. And in some cases, their employers are paying for their graduate work.

For many, if not most, of the students that ILEA seeks to support and elevate, going to college is the biggest risk/reward calculation they'll ever make. It is our responsibility to support them through to success, and to make sure that they don't take on debt without getting a degree.

Our talented students believe in the promise of higher education, but they may struggle to pay tuition and fees, and may not completely understand financial aid, or may not be eligible if they are undocumented.

They want to succeed in their classes and degree programs, but they may encounter biases and barriers that prevent them from progressing to graduation.

We can and must do better by them. It's on us to head off problems facing students, to keep them on track to graduate, and to close the racial and socio-economic achievement gaps that exist on our campuses.

Last week, during my investiture address, I quoted NIU's eighth President Rhoten Smith, who spoke eloquently about the importance of both excellence and opportunity in his 1968 inaugural address.

We are here today, 50 years later, because it is truer than ever that colleges and universities cannot achieve excellence if they don't create opportunity.

We are here because we embrace the aspirations articulated in the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success: that "higher education is a public good," and that "Illinois will provide effective and quality education for all people."

We are here because of a sense of urgency. We understand that the stakes are high for society, for our state and, most of all, for our students.

NIU is delighted to host the spring 2019 meeting of this committed learning community. By sharing data, and working together to identify and scale effective practices, we will impact collective student success.

Thank you!

Investiture Ceremony - 4/5/19

Thank you.

I arrived here 10 years ago and immediately felt at home in this passionate and remarkable Huskie community. So, it is with great appreciation and respect that I stand before you today as Northern Illinois University's 13th president. I am honored and humbled, and above all, inspired.

NIU has a nearly 125-year history of providing transformational experiences to talented students - experiences made possible by the academic excellence and compassion of our faculty and staff and the success of our alumni.

We are an engaged, student-centered research university, and we believe in the values and vision articulated in the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success: that "higher education is a public good," and that "Illinois will provide effective and quality education for all people."

We would not be able to do this without the support of elected officials who share these beliefs and who care about NIU. I want to recognize those here today: State Senator Cristina Castro; State Representative Jeff Keicher; former State Representative and Board of Trustees member Bob Pritchard; DeKalb County Board Member Steve Faivre; DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith; and Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang. Thank you for your support.

I'm joined here today by mentors and colleagues who contributed to my success as a faculty member and administrator - as well as friends and family who not only support me but also share my belief in everything this university stands for.

I want to begin by recognizing some of the amazing individuals and institutions who have promoted my personal and professional development - and shaped my vision.

First, Cornell University, where I earned my bachelor's, master's and doctorate in veterinary medicine, is represented by the current dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Lorin Warnick.

Cornell was created to expand access to higher education. Its founder, Ezra Cornell, said:

"I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education … I believe we have made the beginning of an institution which will prove highly beneficial to the poor young men and the poor young women of our country."

His philosophy has been a strong influence on my views about public higher education. And, I am grateful for the myriad ways that Cornell University prepared me for success in my career and my life - particularly the fact that Cornell introduced me to my husband of almost 35 years, Doug Rose. It is wonderful to have former colleagues from Cornell here today to celebrate with us.

We are also joined by a significant number of friends and colleagues from Kansas State University. I am so happy to be celebrating this occasion with the collaborators, co-investigators, mentors and sponsors who supported me through tenure, promotion and the transition to higher-ed administration. The Wildcat way is to treat all members of the K-State community as family. I feel that way about everyone who traveled here from Manhattan, Kansas - known as "the Little Apple" - particularly Ron Trewyn, who spoke today and who is always there when I need a sounding board, a shoulder or comic relief.

I also want to acknowledge my friends from the American Council on Education's Fellows Program who came here for an excuse to wear regalia and the opportunity to celebrate the fact that one more from our ranks has become a university president. Since I met him in 2004, Michael Durnil has always been able to make me laugh at myself - or roll my eyes at absurdity - but today he elicited a very different set of emotions. Michael, thank you for your kind words.

Thank you to Board Chair Dennis Barsema, former board Chairs Wheeler Coleman, John Butler, Marc Strauss and Cherilyn Murer, and to the entire Board of Trustees for your confidence and support. Over the years, you have dedicated significant time and energy to helping NIU advance and succeed. I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue our important work - work that builds on the legacy of leaders like former NIU Presidents John La Tourette and John Peters.

As provost and then as NIU's 10th president, John La Tourette saw the northern Illinois region as a platform on which we could build an institution of national significance. He believed that a university that was consistently relevant to a region as dynamic and diverse as NIU's could not help but be influential well beyond that region's borders.

I'd also like to thank NIU's 11th president, John Peters, for bringing me to NIU in 2010. John elevated the research and engagement missions of NIU - and it was during his tenure that NIU was admitted to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Our students and our community have benefitted from the university's strong commitment to talent, innovation and place.

First Lady Barbara Cole Peters also played a significant role shaping and reinforcing NIU's values, and documenting our institutional history. In a four-volume compilation titled, "Women at Northern, The First Fifty Years," she recognized the academic and cultural contributions of women who served, educated and were educated at NIU.

Although the Peterses and the La Tourettes were unable to travel to DeKalb today, they are here with us in spirit.

Thank you as well to the wonderful Huskies who are representing our students, faculty, staff and alumni today. Thank you Carol, Pete, Katy, Cathy, Holly and Kyrie for your words of encouragement and your constant willingness to support and champion NIU. Truly, you are smart, tough and relentless Huskies who never quit.

I want to end with special thanks and love to the family members who are here today - Doug, who is my strongest supporter and my best friend; Tommi, who we love as a daughter; and Doug's siblings, Muriel and Jon. It means a lot to me to have you all here.

When I first visited NIU in 2009, I was attracted by the opportunity to advance research and graduate education. To quote my letter of application:

"I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to develop new research partnerships and programs at an institution that values instructional and scholarly quality, supports cross-disciplinary initiatives, and strives to integrate the discovery and application of new knowledge with undergraduate and graduate education.

Joining NIU in 2010 confirmed my initial impressions regarding the university's ideals - and revealed a deep and abiding commitment to excellence, opportunity, equity and social justice. Many universities today are struggling just to begin the necessary work in these areas, but at NIU, they are part of our history:

More than 50 years ago, in 1968, NIU inaugurated its sixth president, Rhoten Smith. In his inaugural address, President Smith challenged the university to focus on "Excellence and Opportunity" saying:

"The college degree has become the passport to achievement, to influence and affluence, and to leadership in twentieth century America. We must find ways to make more widely available opportunities for earning this passport to the good life."

That sentiment endures at NIU.

As a university, we recently reaffirmed our commitment to excellence and opportunity - as well as to research, engagement, innovation and creativity.

A working group of faculty and staff from across the university was charged with reviewing and revising the university mission statement to ensure alignment with the current culture and course of our university.

To achieve this objective, they asked themselves questions like "Why do we do what we do? For whom? And what does NIU stand for?"

They shared updated drafts of NIU's mission, vision and values with the university community, and incorporated the feedback received from students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The updated statements, which appear on the back of your program, reflect our priorities, speak to our aspirations and capture our intentions.

The language is suggestive of movement - purposeful movement - as heard in our vision to be an engine for innovation to advance social mobility; promote personal, professional and intellectual growth; and transform the world through research, artistry, teaching and outreach.

Purposeful movement - evident in our mission to empower students through educational excellence and experiential learning as we pursue knowledge, share our research and artistry, and engage communities for the benefit of the region, state, nation and world.

And not only are we moving - we are gaining momentum as our impact stretches across our region, nation and beyond.

The vibrant flags surrounding this stage only begin to represent where we have an impact - where we engage communities in ways that are significant and lasting, and where we are developing new partnerships, programs and pipelines. These flags showcase the countries and cultures from which we draw our talented faculty, staff and students, and the possible destinations for Huskies who seek to make a difference using their knowledge, skills and experience.

Our scientists, researchers, artists and students are active on seven continents, crossing disciplines to solve problems and preparing for a century of change. Their scholarship is forward-looking, and focused on four themes:

  • Ecosystem resilience
  • Demographic change
  • Evolution of technology
  • Interpretation of our changing world

These four emphases reflect our desire to shape the future. They are responsive to critical challenges confronting our society - and relevant to our university.

In fact, continuing this type of innovative and meaningful work on the international stage will only be possible if NIU itself is future-focused, prepared for change and committed to long-term sustainability.

This past August, as a candidate for the presidency, I spoke about a future for NIU:

  • Where we spend our time thinking about what's next, energized by future possibilities rather than discouraged by today's problems.
  • Where we move forward boldly because we have clarity about institutional goals.
  • Where we are willing to take risks, and be emboldened to achieve our full potential.

I am proud and happy to report that we are making progress, working collaboratively to fulfil ambitions that reflect common priorities and shared values. Let me share a few examples.

Our new commitment to multi-year budgeting will help us to be purposeful about investing in our people and our programs to ensure that NIU is a place where faculty, staff and students can thrive.

Our willingness to form new partnerships with our local communities and with the private sector will help NIU to attract and retain talented faculty, staff and students, and the communities to attract and retain new businesses and new jobs.

Our enrollment management plan lays out the strategies that will guide our efforts over the next five years in support of three goals:

  • Strengthening our distinctive identity as a public university that combines educational opportunity with student engagement.
  • Achieving student enrollment that respects our mission and values while positioning NIU for fiscal sustainability.
  • Supporting equitable access, opportunity and success for students from diverse backgrounds where diversity is defined broadly

In these efforts and in our daily work, NIU's clearly defined mission and vision will serve to inform, to engage and to keep us accountable and energized. Moreover, in pursuing our vision and fulfilling our mission, we will value and practice curiosity and creativity; equity and inclusion; ethics and integrity; service and stewardship.

These institutional values mirror my personal values. As NIU's president, I will model inclusive decision-making. I will promote appreciation and respect for every member of our community. And, I will expect the same from all university leaders.

I am committed to moving this university forward in ways that foster greater appreciation for diverse perspectives and experiences. The more welcoming and inclusive we are - the stronger and more dynamic we will be a place where voices can be heard and, for many of our students, a place where they can find their voices for the first time. And that's exciting.

I want you to leave today knowing this: that our Huskie community is dedicated, smart, deeply caring, innovative and persistent - relentless, really - when it comes to learning, creating and living in ways that champion and advance our students and society. Our future cannot be underestimated - especially with your continued support and guidance.

I am moved beyond words to be here today, and honored beyond my wildest dreams to be the 13th president of this wonderful university. I pledge to do my best to uphold the proud traditions of this institution, and to help create its strong future. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you do and the support you provide.

And Go Huskies!

Hearing Testimony for House and Senate Appropriations Committees - 3/21/19

Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be here. My name is Lisa Freeman, and I'm president of Northern Illinois University. I have at the table with me today our Vice President for Administration and Finance, Sarah McGill, and our interim Executive Vice President and Provost, Chris McCord.

As you no doubt have already heard (and will continue to hear) from our colleagues at other public universities, we are enormously grateful for Gov. Pritzker's plan to increase appropriations to higher education by 5 percent in FY20. At NIU, that translates to about $4 million above last year's rate.

At the same time, the cumulative damage of declining appropriations over the past two decades … the 700+ days without a budget … and declining enrollment caused at least in part by uncertainty about higher education funding … cannot be reversed in any one year or with any one approach. We need to be creative … collaborative … and resolute as we plan for the futures of our institutions. Today I want to share some of the ways NIU is positioning itself to survive and even thrive in a period of transition and new realities.

To begin, we are intensely concerned about college affordability. At NIU, we have held tuition flat for four consecutive years - and in fact, this year we have enacted a modest fee reduction. When we follow up with students who apply and are accepted to NIU but do not enroll, what we find is that many simply end up going nowhere, often because of cost. That is simply unacceptable in a state that so desperately needs to protect and nurture home-grown talent.

We recently adopted a new Strategic Enrollment Management Plan that has at its core the recognition of demographic and economic trends that are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. We will stabilize enrollment between 17,000 and 18,000 students by 2023, and we will continue to embrace the diversity of our student body as one of our university's greatest strengths and competitive advantages. Our plan increases NIU's investment in student success initiatives because we want to see all of our students succeed in their chosen majors and graduate on time, especially our students from historically marginalized communities. We are also overhauling our financial aid practices to ensure that scholarships not only attract students to NIU but also enable them to persist through graduation.

Successful strategic planning requires a clear, evidence-based view of the future. Five years ago, we engaged in a formal Program Prioritization process. Underperforming academic and administrative programs were transformed or eliminated. Significant structural changes were enacted to decrease duplication and dilution of resources; increase efficiency and effectiveness; promote collaboration and synergy, and make service more accessible to students. We began to address fiscal challenges by incorporating transparency, accountability and data-informed decision-making into our planning, budgeting and assessment processes. These commitments continue to define us.

Last month, I announced plans to pursue multi-year budgeting at NIU - for many of the same reasons that Gov. Pritzker has adopted that approach to the state budget. It really makes no sense to lurch from year to year, as though each 12-month cycle exists independent of past or future. We should not and cannot continue to address annual deficits with one-time expense deferrals. Accordingly, this year, and for each of the next four years, we must close a $28 million gap between our anticipated revenue and the investments we need to make in people and programs to ensure fiscal sustainability while remaining true to our mission, vision and values. Addressing our challenges will require creativity and collaboration within our university community and statewide.

NIU recognizes that relationships are resources. For example, in October 2018, NIU partnered with the University of Illinois System, Western Illinois University and Governors State University to host a recruitment event that included 450 guests comprised of college-bound students, their parents and university staff from northwest Illinois with the intent of keeping them in Illinois. This event will be repeated this fall, with NEIU and CSU joining us.

This past year, we also launched an exciting new program with Discover Financial Services to give tech-savvy students a chance to research and develop new technologies for the company. Discover helped us renovate a 6,000-square-foot area in our library to create a centrally located innovation space. This collaboration provides a potential pipeline to employers, keeping talented and creative students in state after graduation.

NIU is also leveraging its participation in the Illinois Innovation Network and the Discovery Partners Institute to cultivate academic, community and industry partnerships. Last fall, we announced the creation on our campus of the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability, a research and policy center focused on advancing food systems innovation, water resources management and ecosystem resiliency. This center is developing partnerships with the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, as well as with a community food and education center seeking to develop a farm-to-table restaurant, a commercial shared-use incubator kitchen and food hub, and with a small urban farm with a greenhouse.

NIU recognizes diversity as a dimension of excellence, and the university is strongly committed to diversity and inclusive excellence in all aspects of our operations. To this end, we have implemented a number of initiatives to help us find partners and collaborators who will allow us to meet the supplier diversity goals that expanded significantly in FY17. NIU has added a staff member whose focus is on developing and refining the Business Enterprise Program (BEP). NIU has added a 20 percent goal to more than 40 contract renewals for FY2020, resulting in new BEP goals for large procurements without previously established goals. Within the last six months, NIU has held a number of pre-bid/solicitation conferences to educate vendors on BEP. More than 140 vendors have participated. At the same time, we continue to advocate for changes that would greatly increase minority participation, such as increased reciprocity. Business engagement with a minority vendor certified by the City of Chicago and other Illinois certifications should be counted toward the university's BEP achievement.

As you listen to various university presidents talk about their institutions, I suspect you develop a sort of mental shorthand that helps you think about each one. If I were able to transmit a single image about NIU, it would be that we are producing the knowledge and the workforce necessary to ensure the future economic stability of our state by generating impactful research and advancing the social mobility of students from underserved communities. In fact, NIU's commitment to engaging students from diverse backgrounds in knowledge creation, and providing them with real-world experience, has made our graduates among the most highly-sought-after employees in Illinois. And note: 91 percent of our students are from Illinois, and 65 percent of our graduates stay in Illinois.

Every year, we survey our graduates to find out how their NIU education has positioned them for success. And every year, we get results like these: 93 percent of our 2016 graduates were gainfully employed in full-time jobs within a year of graduation. Of the remaining 7 percent, most were continuing their education while working part-time.

We produce value far beyond the investment, and that's why I feel so confident in asking for your support in ensuring the future of Northern Illinois University.

Thank you.

House Appropriations-Capital Committee Testimony - 2/28/19

Good morning, Chairman Arroyo, Republican Spokesman Butler, and members of the House Appropriations-Capital Committee.

My name is Lisa Freeman, president of Northern Illinois University. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about NIU's request for State investment in a forthcoming, multi-year infrastructure program.

In college guides for parents and prospective students, such as the one published by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, the condition of campus infrastructure and facilities is a key point on the list of what should be considered when selecting a university to attend.

As public universities and state leaders continue to focus attention on years of enrollment declines and the outmigration of students, NIU believes capital investment in higher education should be considered as a significant part of a multi-pronged solution.

Keeping maintenance needs, student recruitment and accreditation of academic programs in mind, NIU has thoughtfully prioritized a list of eleven projects for which we respectfully request the State's investment of approximately $326 million for expenditure throughout the next multi-year capital program. Included in this number is funding for demolition of buildings that are no longer inhabitable. This approach allows us to maintain our current campus footprint.

The list of NIU priorities includes one new academic building and the rehabilitation, or enhancement, often existing buildings all ranging from 41-107 years old and having not had any significant modernization investments.

Rainbow PUSH Remarks- 10/20/18

It's a great honor to be invited to speak here today.

Last year at about this time, Rev. Jesse Jackson came to our campus in DeKalb to help us open a traveling museum exhibition called "Quilts and Human Rights." He spent the day talking with students and faculty, and he told us that quilting is a great metaphor for an inclusive society: individually, different pieces of cloth are just rags, he said, but sewn together, they make a blanket of strength that warms and protects us.

That was just one of the things I remember about Rev. Jackson's visit. Publicly, he also encouraged us to "start conversations that are out of your comfort zone," and, as a university, we embrace that challenge. Privately, Rev. Jackson told me that even though DeKalb is an hour away from Chicago, he said, "We're too close to be far from each other." And, of course, he was right.

So today I want to tell you about Northern Illinois University.

We're a major research university with a strong commitment to student success and community engagement. NIU was founded in 1895 - we are almost 125 years old. Currently, there are nearly a quarter of a million NIU graduates living around the world. The majority of these alumni have lived and loved and built families and careers here in the State of Illinois - in Chicagoland.

From its earliest days, NIU has been committed to social justice and inclusion.

We've recognized for a long time that talent is universal, whereas opportunity is not.

In 1968, we created a program called CHANCE to identify, recruit, admit and assist students who show promise for succeeding in college despite limited preparation and resources. After 50 years of service to students on NIU's campus, with more than 15,000 alumni, NIU graduates who were admitted through CHANCE are now serving their communities as dentists, teachers, physicians, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, accountants, athletes and public servants.

Many alumni continue to support the program by volunteering to assist currently enrolled students as they pursue their academic goals at NIU, or by providing scholarship support to today's talented students.

We have a great example sitting here with us today: The chairman of the NIU Board of Trustees, Mr. Wheeler Coleman. Wheeler, will you stand?

Today, our university continues its tradition of providing access and opportunity. NIU is committed to all of our students and their educational pursuits, regardless of their immigration status. We support our student-led organization DREAM Action and share their belief that higher education is a fundamental human right for all, regardless of citizenship status. We have created a new position specifically to help undocumented students navigate their college education and their complex personal lives. And we are working with our students and our donors to increase the number of grants and scholarships available to undocumented students who are not eligible for state or federal financial aid.

Regardless of background, we know that the biggest challenge for most students who want to attend college is the cost. That's why we have made scholarships our No. 1 fundraising priority at NIU. We recently announced $5 million worth of new scholarships, with a large percentage aimed directly at students who have attended Chicago Public Schools or are transferring from the City Colleges of Chicago. If you have a student or know of one who might benefit from this type of financial help, please go to niu.edu/aimhigh for more information. That's niu.edu/aimhigh.

At the beginning of my remarks, I described NIU as a major research university. You may wonder why I emphasized research, so allow me to explain.

At NIU, our students - even freshmen - get a chance to engage in research and artistry projects, mentored by professors from our nationally and internationally recognized faculty.

The diverse identities, perspectives and experiences of our students contribute to the success of these efforts because diversity is a dimension of excellence.

And, our students benefit from this type of engagement, because it fosters critical thinking skills, an appreciation for balancing risk and rewards, and an understanding of the discovery and innovation processes.

This past week, we hosted a large career fair at NIU. When I spoke to the employers who hire our students as interns and employees, they complimented our students' professionalism and their ability to work effectively on teams with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. We are proud of that. At the same time, we want to make sure that our students are prepared not only for success at that first job but for success throughout their lives and careers - in graduate or professional school, in executive leadership positions, as entrepreneurs - or wherever their dreams dictate.

Last week, we held a news conference to announce a new research facility on our campus. The Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability will focus on issues that impact our future and our quality of life: food systems … water resources … and environmental change. The Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability will create locally based innovative solutions for a world with fewer natural resources, more extreme weather events and a more urbanized environment. This is the kind of research that will help Illinois expand its economy and address issues like food deserts here in Chicago. And yes, students will be part of that important work.

If I sound like I'm extraordinarily proud of NIU, it's because I am. We have excellent faculty and staff, a beautiful campus, a growing portfolio of online degrees and a community that strives to be welcoming and inclusive. We were among the first universities in Illinois to create the position of Chief Diversity Officer - you're going to be hearing from her in just a minute - and the programming she and her staff have developed tackles tough issues head-on. When we ask our students and our professors why they chose NIU, or what they value most about our university, the rich diversity of our student body is consistently at the top of their list. To borrow a metaphor from Rev. Jackson, we celebrate every piece of our living quilt.

Thank you for inviting me here today. For those of you with children or grandchildren thinking about college, please encourage them to explore NIU. They'll be glad you did. Thank you.

State of the City Address - 10/03/18

It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to share the stage here with Mayor Smith to reflect on the state of our community in 2018 … It is a testament to the strength of our city-university partnership that NIU is routinely invited to participate in this way.

When I stood here a year ago, we had just received our first state budget in nearly two years. Along with our public university colleagues around the state, we have spent a good deal of time since then trying to reverse the damage that was done and restore financial stability to our institutions. That work continues in 2018, but at NIU we are not allowing those challenges to limit our thinking about the future. We are moving forward rather than looking backward.

As we think strategically about the next five … 10 … and even 20 years, there is a common theme in all our discussions, and that is partnerships. Virtually every major initiative we are involved with or are planning involves partnerships with other colleges and universities … with the private sector … with philanthropists … and of course with our local community.

Let me give you a handful of recent examples (some already mentioned by the mayor):

  • The merger of local bus services to create a better and less expensive public transportation system in DeKalb and Sycamore.
  • The connection of the bike and walking path that goes through our campus to the DeKalb Nature Trail and Prairie Park.
  • Bringing the very popular VeoRide bike rental service to NIU and DeKalb.
  • Installation of more than 250 banners up and down Lincoln Highway and Annie Glidden Road.

These are all projects that could only happen through city-university partnerships. They are quality-of-life improvements that benefit all our citizens, and we're proud to have been partners in bringing them to life.

Sometimes partnerships grow out of regular interaction between individuals or entities, as with the projects I just mentioned. But other times, they develop out of unplanned conversations and chance encounters. Here is one such example:

The head of our Computer Science program, Dr. Nick Karonis, was having a conversation with one of his alums who works at Discover Financial Services. Nick was interested in providing new research opportunities for his undergraduate students. Turned out, Discover was looking for ways to capture the innovative thinking of tech-savvy college students for product development. The result is a newly renovated space in Founders Memorial Library, dedicated to a new program called "code_orange." Forty undergraduate students will be paid to work on new Discover technologies in the areas of mobile-software development, web-application coding and person-to-person payment systems. In addition to the great experience for our students, code_orange has attracted significant national media attention, including from the Wall Street Journal. A great example of a university-industry partnership with countless benefits for both partners! We'll be dedicating this new space later today.

Up to this point, I've talked about partnerships on some very well-defined, individual projects. Now I'd like to shift to three other initiatives, all very large undertakings that contain multiple programs and many potential partners. In all three cases, we believe these initiatives can be huge game-changers for our university and for DeKalb.

First, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law late last year created a program aimed at targeting underdeveloped areas with new private investment. The Opportunity Zone program provides significant tax advantages for investors who reinvest capital gains into projects in these zones.

This very new and not yet well understood program caught the attention of City of DeKalb economic planner Jason Michnick. With only days to apply, Jason successfully nominated a section of northwest DeKalb for Opportunity Zone designation. That area includes nearly all of our DeKalb campus, as well as most of the Annie Glidden North corridor.

Since learning of the designation, we have since met with financiers and have been told that DeKalb offers a combination of characteristics not seen anywhere else in the country - peri-urban location, access to interstate highways, rail, an airport, existing fiber optic networks and a respected research university. We have also heard that the amount of private money available for Opportunity Zone investments nationwide is more than $6 trillion and that investors are anxiously awaiting the final IRS guidelines that will help them choose the best projects.

At NIU, we've chartered an Opportunity Zone Task Force that is developing projects for consideration. Generally speaking, the areas we're looking at include community revitalization, manufacturing, health careand food systems innovation in the context of community sustainability. You'll be hearing more about Opportunity Zones in the near future - and I want to give a shout-out to Jason Michnick for his great work in recognizing this opportunity and including our campus in the proposal he submitted. Jason?

The second game-changing partnership I want to tell you about involves the related entities of the Illinois Innovation Network and the Discovery Partners Institute (often abbreviated DPI).

The Illinois Innovation Network will link DPI, a public-private research institute led by the University of Illinois System and headquartered in Chicago, with partners across the state. Five hundred million dollars have already been appropriated to fund the project. As the primary hub of the Illinois Innovation Network, the Discovery Partners institute will facilitate research projects that combine the expertise of faculty at multiple universities. We've been working with our University of Illinois colleagues to become the first non-U of I affiliated hub in the network, and on Oct. 9, University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen and I will be holding a news conference here in DeKalb to announce the outcome of those discussions.

I'm very excited about our involvement with DPI and the Illinois Innovation Network. We've identified research themes that include food systems innovation, water resource stewardship and preparation for climate change. In addition to research programs that involve a wide variety of academic areas, we will also focus on public policy development and environmental law.

The innovation hub concept includes multiple universities and provides an attractive platform for attracting private partners. It will provide the opportunity for our students and faculty to become involved in collaborative research, engagement and education projects.

I mentioned that one of our foci will be in the area of food system innovation, and I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to give a plug for an upcoming event:

On the evening of November 13 at the Egyptian Theatre, the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, or DAAHA, will be hosting an amazing event that I hope many of you will attend. It's called An Evening with Innovators, and it will feature a conversation among three nationally recognized experts and two local entrepreneurs who have experience and success supporting food systems innovation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I serve on the DAAHA board and have been involved in planning this event - but even if I weren't, I would make time to attend. A few weeks ago, I spoke at the dedication of a new historical marker at the former DeKalb Ag/Monsanto building on Sycamore Road. As I told the audience then, one of the things that attracted me to DeKalb was its rich history of agricultural innovation. Capturing and celebrating that legacy provides a platform for networking that will help us to inspire the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

The final game-changing project I want to mention is the Annie Glidden North Project.

AGN is critically important to NIU. It is where the majority of our students live; it houses many of our Greek organizations; it is located on the border of our campus, and it is deteriorating. Nearly 25 percent of DeKalb's total population lives in the AGN area, and it is time to reintegrate this neighborhood into our community.

Mayor Smith has already spoken at length about this project and the collaborative work of the appointed task force with area residents and the city's consultant, but I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to reiterate NIU's strong support for this important undertaking.

In the limited time I have left, I want to mention a few other partnerships that are enhancing our university and our community:

  • Kishwaukee College is a tremendous asset to this community and a great partner with NIU. The programs we work on together are too numerous to mention, but I would like to mention that, for the fifth year in a row, we have seen an increase in the number of students who transfer to NIU from Kish College to finish four-year degrees.

We hope to encourage this positive trend. Therefore, under the new Aim High scholarship program, in Fall 2019, qualifying entering transfer students from Kishwaukee College may be eligible for a one-time $3,000 Kishwaukee College Transfer Scholarship.

My counterpart at Kish, Laurie Borowicz, is here today, and I'd like to acknowledge her as a great partner and education advocate. Laurie?

  • Northwestern Medicine is still a relative newcomer to our community, but they have not wasted any time in getting involved with important local initiatives. Look for more announcements in the near future about partnerships between Northwestern and NIU. Northwestern CEO Jay Anderson is here today, and I want to acknowledge him as well. Jay?

Two recent events that both showcased our community and engaged NIU students were made possible by our strong partnerships:

  • The inaugural "Campus Meets Community" event brought 43 DeKalb businesses to our campus to showcase their offerings to NIU students. Thanks to the DeKalb and Sycamore Chambers for helping make that event a success.
  • And the new-and-improved Corn Classic Run more than doubled its number of participants for an event that took runners through our campus and into the downtown for a well-attended "Taste of DeKalb" finale. Again, amazing what we can do in partnership with each other!

Finally, I want to let you know about a school grants program funded by our athletic conference, the Mid-American to promote positive relationships within our local community. NIU has strong partners in both DeKalb superintendent Jamie Craven and Sycamore superintendent Kathy Countryman. So, when the university received a total $5,000 from the College Football Playoff (CFP) Foundation's Extra Yard for Teachers platform, we provided $2,500 each to the DeKalb and Sycamore school districts.

  • With these funds, the DeKalb School District will support faculty and staff professional development and the implementation of a Diversity Plan.
  • The Sycamore School District will support Second Steps, an instructional program rooted in social emotional learning that equips students to foster positive relationships, conflict resolution, and good choices.

And NIU support for local high schools is also evident in our deployment of funds under the new Aim High scholarship program:

  • Qualifying entering freshmen who will be 2019 graduates of a DeKalb County high school may be eligible for one-time $3,000 DeKalb County Scholarships.
  • Further, DeKalb County high school graduates who are active members of Youth Engaged Philanthropy (YEP) may each be eligible for an additional $1,000 award if they meet the AIM HIGH family income thresholds.

If there is one thought I'd like to leave you with, it is this: Whether we are university employees, city staff, health care workers, private business people or public school officials, our future and our success are inextricably linked. Relationships are resources, and we dare not waste them. Every day, in every way, we are better together. Thank you.

Presidential Vision - 08/30/18

Read the transcript of President Freeman's open form address.

Statements

DACA Affirmation - 11/13/19

Three months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear cases on the #DACA program. Justices heard the oral arguments Tuesday, Nov. 12, and in 2020 will hand down a ruling that will determine the future of roughly 700,000 DACA recipients and their ability to live, study and work in the United States. Today and every day, NIU proudly stands with undocumented men and women pursuing education and opportunities where they will positively contribute to their families and our society.

We at NIU encourage DACA recipients to stay empowered and renew their DACA permits if they are eligible. We also encourage Congress to act swiftly to provide vulnerable populations of undocumented immigrants and Temporary Protected Status holders the permanent protections they deserve.

If you want your voice heard on this matter, engage with the student-led organization DREAM Action NIU to learn how to advocate on its behalf with state and federal legislators.

Parental Leave and Non-accumulative Leave Passed - 9/12/19

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Investing in our employees is a priority for NIU's leadership, and we are continuously looking at meaningful ways to improve and modernize our employee benefits. We've made progress such as the 3 percent salary increment for eligible employees that went into effect this summer – the second increment in three years, as well as the new differential tuition benefit recently approved by the Board of Trustees. Today, I am pleased to share that we now are expanding our parental leave and non-accumulative sick benefits to provide even more support to you as caregivers.

Effective retroactively to July 1, 2019, the university now offers up to five continuous weeks (25 days) of paid leave to eligible employees to care for new babies or children welcomed through adoption or foster care. Additionally, the time allowed under the Parental Leave of Absence will run concurrently with the time provided under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Eligible employees who welcomed new children after July 1, 2019 who did not apply for leave can do so by applying for Parental Leave of Absence. Human Resource Services will be reaching out to those employees to help transition them to the Parental Leave benefit, if so desired.

We also know that our employees can face life events beyond welcoming new children, and we want to be sensitive to those who are challenged by other family care responsibilities. We have revised our non-accumulative leave benefits to now include five additional days and will allow for those days to be used by employees to not only care for themselves, but also for immediate family members who are unwell. The Human Resource Services (HRS) website has been updated to reflect the details of these benefits.

I want to express my gratitude to members of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women for their contributions that led to these changes for our Huskies. In 2018, they conducted an employee survey about experiences and perceptions related to FMLA, used the data to develop a thoughtful series of recommendations and shared them with me for consideration. HRS finalized the details, and the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the policy changes today.

These new benefits stem from your feedback and recognize the importance of work-life balance. It is my hope that they will allow us to continue to retain and attract wonderful employees.

Together Forward,

Lisa

FY 20 State Budget Pending Governor's Signature - 6/3/19

Dear Faculty and Staff,

This weekend, members of the General Assembly approved a state budget for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019. NIU saw several gains that will positively impact our goals for long-term stabilization, new facilities and being able to invest in key areas such as enrollment management, research, financial aid and scholarships, as well as salary increments. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has indicated that he will sign and enact the FY20 spending plan, which provides NIU with the following:

  • An operating budget for NIU that totals $87.8 million – a 5 percent increase from our FY19 allocation.
  • Capital funding for reinvestment and new construction across campus, including:
    • $77 million for the construction of a new health informatics and technology center over the next multiple years. The new facility will allow for greater collaboration among inter-disciplinary programs currently dispersed across campus and bring together a number of outstanding programs and clinics operated by the College of Health and Human Sciences. It is important to note that, while it is extremely exciting to have a new building listed as part of the capital bill, this will be long developing and will require the state to release the money at key intervals of planning, design and construction.
    • $53 million for miscellaneous facility improvements, allowing NIU the flexibility to direct funds to priority enhancement projects. This is a much-needed investment after nearly two decades of zero state funding for deferred maintenance.
    • $10.7 million total in various capital re-appropriations, including $3.1 million for the planning and design of the health informatics and technology center.
  • Re-appropriation of $500 million for the Discovery Partner's Institute, of which NIU anticipates receiving $15 million for the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS).
  • An increase of $50 million for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, bringing total program funding to $451 million. This is Phase One of the governor's worthy initiative to increase MAP funding by 50 percent over the next four years, and it will begin to close the gap of unfunded eligibility within the program. Nearly half of NIU's student population is eligible for MAP, while only approximately 40 percent receive awards in a given year due to underfunding.
  • $25 million to renew AIM High scholarship grants for the fall 2019 cohort, and $10 million to award new AIM High scholarships to the cohort beginning fall 2020. NIU will receive a portion of these funds based on the percentage of Illinois residents it serves.

I want to express my appreciation to the many university community members who reached out to their legislators and/or participated in April 30 NIU Advocacy Day in Springfield. Your time, testimonials and passion for the value of higher education were well-received. I'm also grateful and encouraged by Gov. Pritzker and the bipartisan effort of the Illinois legislature, including our NIU Caucus, to recognize our value and the critical role we play in improving our region, nation and world.

While this is a modest budget increase, we will still need to work seriously and collaboratively to close our budget gap for FY20 and the next several years. I appreciate your commitment to this process and your daily contributions to our university.

Go Huskies,

Lisa

Statement Regarding Governor Pritzker's 2/20 Budget AddressIt is refreshing to see that Governor Pritzker has made higher education a priority. His proposed increase to NIU's state appropriations—while not the amount we requested—will help us invest in our people and programs. The proposed increase in MAP and AIM High funding is especially important to recruiting and retaining excellent students, many of whom might otherwise never attend college or leave the state to do so. His commitment to the Discovery Partners and Illinois Innovation Network allows NIU to continue moving forward with our Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability. NIU also appreciates Governor Pritzker's multi-year approach to solving the state's difficult budget situation. This effort is consistent with the university's multi-year plan designed to help us stabilize our financial situation and strengthen our future in FY20 and beyond.
A Message Concerning the Death of a Student and an Alumnus - 2/16/19

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

It is with deep sadness that I write today to share that NIU student Trevor Wehner and alumnus Clay Parks were killed yesterday afternoon in the workplace shooting at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, IL. Trevor was from Sheridan, IL, and expected to graduate in May with a degree in Human Resource Management. Friday was his first day as an intern at Henry Pratt. Clay was a 2014 graduate of the College of Business and worked as a human resources manager.

Loss like this is devastating and senseless. I ask our university community to please keep the Wehner and Parks families, friends and communities in your hearts and offer them caring thoughts.

It's important that we also support one another during this time of grief and sadness. Please know that there are a variety of resources available to you. Students seeking support can contact Counseling and Consultation Services 24-hours a day at 815-753-1206. Our Division of Students Affairs staff is also available to provide assistance and support services. For faculty and staff, NIU offers support through our Employee Assistance Program.

NIU will provide an update with memorial information once available. Please do not hesitate to reach out for support or assistance if you need it.

Together Forward

You Matter - 10/26/18

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

One of the aspects I enjoy most about being president is having the opportunity to interact daily with our diverse and caring NIU community. Your willingness to share different perspectives, new ideas, personal triumphs and even concerns is inspiring and something that I deeply appreciate.

For many of you, I can tell there is a lot weighing on your hearts and minds related to social justice, human rights and equality. This is especially true today as transgender and non-binary Huskies experience fear and uncertainty while their gender and rights are being questioned at the national level. Here at NIU, we value and champion all members of our community. I want everyone to know that NIU sees you - you matter, and are a part what makes this university strong and vibrant.

NIU's greatest strength is our diversity, and fostering an inclusive and equitable culture continues to be a top priority. Together, this university will always stand on the side of embracing individuals and their rights. We are proud to be a community of diverse people, ideas, services and scholarly endeavors, and we are proud to promote a climate of respect for the intrinsic dignity of each individual.

Dialogues on Critical Topics - 10/4/18

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

NIU places a high value on creating and maintaining a university culture rooted in civil discourse. When we listen and engage with the intent to objectively understand, versus to judge or condemn, we better ourselves and our university. Sharing your voice is powerful and important.

While there are many topics I could point to where civil discourse is needed, two particularly high-profile situations currently present us with dialogue-worthy opportunities to learn from them and create pathways for inspiring change. The first is the current trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald; the second is the pending judicial appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. Any verdict or decision reached in either situation will leave questions and a range of emotions.

A variety of students, faculty and staff will be hosting multiple opportunities this month to join in co-facilitated dialogues to discuss critical topics related to these cases. I encourage us each to consider participating in, or promoting, the events in some way. Additional topics and ideas are always encouraged and can be sent to president@niu.edu.

FY19 State Budget Pending Governor's Signature - 6/1/18

Gov. Rauner has indicated that he will sign HB109, which would approved an FY19 spending bill that provides NIU:

  • Operating budget of $83.6 million - a 2 percent increase from our FY18 allocation.
  • Funding for FY19 MAP grants that remains flat from FY18; however, the university will now have the opportunity to provide students with multi-year MAP funding. This reform emerged from the bipartisan, bicameral Higher Education Working Group. It will allow us to be more competitive in our recruitment of new students, and to give those students more certainty regarding their financial aid packages over the course of their college careers.
  • $6.8 million toward supporting the first phase of the critically needed boiler replacement project.

This is all positive news for our state, for higher education in Illinois and for our students. This funding will allow us to continue the important work of maintaining excellent academic programs; to begin to address critical repair and maintenance needs; to rebound from 700+ days of fiscal and political gridlock in FY16 and FY17; and to recruit and retain qualified students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds.

I deeply appreciate your commitment and effort to be excellent stewards of our university, budget and resources. We have worked hard together to advance academic excellence while making NIU more effective, more efficient and more sustainable. While it is important that we continue this challenging work, we must also develop innovative and new ways to build resourceful relationships that help us to grow and thrive. This will enhance our reputation as we evolve with - and shape - the changing landscape of higher education.

Go Huskies!

House Appropriations Committee Testimony - 4/11/18

Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be here. My name is Lisa Freeman, and I'm the acting president at Northern Illinois University. I have at the table here with me today our Acting Executive Vice President and Provost Christopher McCord and our new Vice President for Administration and Finance Sarah McGill.

Since this is an appropriations committee, I'll get right to the point. Public higher education in Illinois is at a difficult crossroads. We're coming off of a very challenging two- to three-year time period—a period in which operating budgets were reduced, capital projects were shuttered with costly delays incurred, and student aid payments were delayed to thousands of our students. The budget impasse and this period of uncertainty have created doubt about the future of higher education in Illinois among students and parents, university faculty and staff and members of the business community. That is why we must work together to restore their confidence and to create a sustainable financial model for public higher education in our state.

Despite the challenges of the past couple of years, NIU has continued to serve students and society. This past summer, the university was cited positively in a report issued by the Brooking's Institution for simultaneously producing important research while also extending social-mobility opportunities to students from low-income households. This recognition highlights exactly what distinguishes NIU from other universities in Illinois and elsewhere—our commitment to providing students from all walks of life with a higher education experience that engages them in knowledge creation. The university's combined emphasis on opportunity and innovation maximizes NIU's long-term, positive impact on our graduates, on their families and communities, and on our regional economy. Please note: of NIU students graduating from 2015 to 2017, 85 percent remain in Illinois. Illinois companies that employ more than 200 NIU graduate, include Abbott Laboratories, Allstate, Caterpillar and Northern Trust Company.

The governor's recommendation would provide NIU with $81.9 million in General Funds support for FY19. However, I am advocating for $91 million, the level of base funding received by the university in FY15, the fiscal year prior to the budget impasse.

To provide additional context, I would like to share that NIU continues to generate $900 million a year in economic activity in the northern Illinois region. Compared to our budget request, that's nearly $10 generated for every dollar received. We are not just an expense line in the state budget—we are an investment that continues to deliver positive returns with respect to people's lives; attracting and developing businesses, and supporting our statewide economy.

To continue this important work, NIU and other public universities need predictable, adequate, stable funding from the state of Illinois. We need this to maintain excellent academic programs; to address critical repair and maintenance needs; to rebound from 700+ days of fiscal and political gridlock; to recruit and retain qualified students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds.

NIU and other universities also need flexibility to operate in an efficient and economical manner. NIU is looking forward to a thoughtful discussion of civil service and procurement reform that will allow the university to adapt to the changing landscape. Current processes and procedures often prevent us from making prompt, practical changes in university operations.

NIU recognizes that in return for predictable, stable support and enhanced flexibility, the university must commit to increased accountability. We take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of public funds, and we welcome the opportunity to show, in a regular, transparent reporting system, how those investments are paying off. That is why we have signed on to the Investment, Performance, and Accountability Commitment (IPAC).

NIU is continuously striving to streamline its operations, rethink processes and procedures, economize whenever possible, and leverage relationships as resources in an attempt to adapt to the changing higher education landscape.

For example, NIU will be holding tuition flat and decreasing fees for FY19—the fifth consecutive year that we have held these essentially unchanged.

We also work closely with community college partners to develop innovative arrangements and seamless pathways for the benefit of our students. We offer multiple degree completion programs at colleges such as Rock Valley and Harper College. We are collaborating extensively with our neighbor Kishwaukee College to develop high-impact transfer pathways and three-year baccalaureate degree pathways. In fact, we have just celebrated a formal agreement on a customized RN-to-BS pathway that allows students to complete an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Nursing at Kish while taking a number of BSN classes at NIU.

Importantly, NIU engaged in a Program Prioritization process that reviewed every academic and administrative program across the university. To date, this process has had $16.1M in financial impact, including the transformation or elimination of more than 65 academic programs, and the elimination of three vice presidencies.

I appreciate the opportunity today to provide testimony to inform the decision-making process. I want to reiterate that what we're talking about is more than a budget appropriation—it is both an investment in and commitment to our state's educational and economic future. NIU is committed to being excellent stewards of our university and region, and we welcome the opportunity to work closely with all members of the General Assembly, the IBHE, ISAC and our institutional colleagues in achieving our mutual goals.

Thank You.

Senate Appropriations II Committee Testimony - 2/22/18

Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be here. My name is Lisa Freeman and I'm the Acting President at Northern Illinois University. I have at the table here with me today our Acting Executive Vice President and Provost Christopher McCord and our new Vice President for Administration and Finance Sarah McGill.

Chris and I are not new to NIU but are relatively new in our current roles. Sarah is new to NIU; however, she is not new to the state of Illinois. She comes with experience from the University of Chicago and most recently Northwestern University. We are very glad she joined us as our new CFO.

As we have heard from the IBHE and others today, public higher education in Illinois is at a difficult crossroads. We're coming off of a very challenging two- to three-year time period, a period in which operating budgets were reduced, capital projects were shuttered with costly delays incurred and student aid payments were delayed to thousands of our students. The budget impasse and this period of uncertainty have created doubt about the future of higher education in Illinois among students and parents, university faculty and staff and members of the business community. That is why we must work together to restore their confidence and to create a sustainable financial model for public higher education in our state.

Despite the challenges of the past couple of years, NIU has continued to serve students and society. This past summer, the university was cited positively in a report issued by the Brookings Institution for simultaneously producing important research while also extending social-mobility opportunities to students from low-income households. This recognition highlights exactly what distinguishes NIU from other universities in Illinois and elsewhere - our commitment to providing students from all walks of life with a higher education experience that engages them in knowledge creation. The university's combined emphasis on opportunity and innovation maximizes NIU's long-term, positive impact on our graduates, on their families and communities and on our regional economy.

I'd like to share that more than 95 percent of our undergraduates come from Illinois, and most of them stay here after graduation. For NIU students graduating between 2015 and 2017, 85 percent remained in Illinois. Illinois companies that employ more than 200 NIU graduates include Abbott Laboratories; Allstate; Caterpillar; and Northern Trust Company.

Senate Bill 3377 would provide NIU with $81.9 million in General Funds support for FY19. However, I am advocating for $91 million - the level of base funding received by the university in FY15, the fiscal year prior to the budget impasse.

For context, I would like to share that NIU continues to generate $900 million a year in economic activity in the northern Illinois region. Compared to our budget request, that's nearly $10 generated for every dollar received. We are not just an expense line in the state budget - we are an investment that continues to deliver positive returns with respect to people's lives; attracting and developing businesses, and supporting our statewide economy.

NIU and other public universities need predictable, adequate, stable funding from the state of Illinois - to maintain excellent academic programs; to address critical repair and maintenance needs; to rebound from 700+ days of fiscal and political gridlock; to recruit and retain qualified students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds.

NIU and other universities also need flexibility to operate in an efficient and economical manner. NIU is looking forward to a thoughtful discussion of civil service and procurement reform that will allow the university to adapt more easily to the changing landscape. Current processes and procedures often prevent us from making prompt, practical changes in university operations.

NIU recognizes that in return for predictable, stable support and enhanced flexibility, the university must commit to increased accountability. NIU continuously strives to streamline its operations, rethink processes and procedures, economize whenever possible and leverage relationships as resources in an attempt to adapt to the changing higher education landscape. We take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of public funds and to offer an education that is not only high quality but also accessible and affordable.

For example, NIU will be holding tuition flat and decreasing fees for FY19 - the fifth consecutive year that we have held these essentially unchanged. Moreover, NIU students do not pay per-credit-hour charges above 12 credits per semester. This tuition structure provides a financial incentive for students to take "15 to finish," with 15 credits/semester being the number necessary to graduate within four years.

We also work closely with community college partners to develop innovative arrangements and seamless pathways for the benefit of our students. And, we go beyond guaranteed admission, reverse articulation, 2+2 and 3+1 agreements. For example, we offer multiple degree completion programs at Rock Valley and Harper College. We are collaborating extensively with our neighbor Kishwaukee College to develop high impact transfer pathways and three-year baccalaureate degree programs. In fact, we have just celebrated a formal agreement on a customized RN-to-BS pathway that allows students to complete an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Nursing at Kish while taking a number of BSN classes at NIU.

To update you on initiatives that I shared last year, NIU has engaged in a Program Prioritization process that reviewed every academic and administrative program across the university. To date, this process has had $16.1M in financial impact, including the transformation or elimination of more than 65 academic programs, the elimination of three vice presidencies and the generation of over $1M in recurring, annual savings from replacement of individual desktop printers with shared technology.

I appreciate the opportunity today to provide testimony to inform the decision-making process. I want to reiterate that what we're talking about is more than a budget appropriation - it is both an investment in, and commitment to, our state's educational and economic future. NIU is committed to being excellent stewards of our university and region, and we welcome the opportunity to work closely with all members of the General Assembly, the IBHE, ISAC and our institutional colleagues in achieving our mutual goals.

Thank you.

Tax Reform Legislation - 1/16/18

Welcome back to all faculty, staff and students. Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful and fulfilling year ahead. I'm writing today to provide you with an update on an important federal development.

Just prior to the end of 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) and most of its provisions went into effect January 1, 2018. This is the most sweeping revision of the U.S. tax code since 1986.

NIU worked closely with other universities across Illinois and the nation to engage and inform legislators as they crafted this legislation during November and December 2017. Many of you also contacted your elected officials. Thanks to these efforts, the final law does not eliminate a number of threatened provisions from current law that enhance the affordability of higher education for students and families. For example, the bill maintains the tax-exempt status of tuition waivers for graduate students as well as university employees and their dependents. The law also preserves the Lifetime Learning Credit for part-time students and tax deductions for student loan interest.

However, this legislation includes provisions that will increase costs for the university and likely for students and families as well. The legislation unfavorably changes the treatment of certain types of university income and reduces tax incentives for charitable giving, potentially stifling philanthropic gifts that support student scholarships, academic research, athletics and other core components of the university. The new limit on individual state and local income tax deductions could further complicate the state's investment in public higher education.

The full magnitude of this legislation's impact on the university, students and their families will come into sharper focus as the details of the law are analyzed in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the American Council on Education's comprehensive site for a further explanation about the impact of tax reform on higher education.

As always, NIU is committed to ensuring that an outstanding, affordable public education at NIU remains within reach of all Illinoisans.

NIU Stands with Our DACA Students - 9/5/17

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

In response to today's decision from the White House, I want to reassure our community that everyone at NIU is committed to all of our students and their educational pursuits, as well as to our employees, regardless of their immigration status.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to come forward safely to request (A) to remain in the country and (B) to receive work authorization. If granted, those allowances were good for a period of two years and subject to renewal if the applicants met a series of guidelines. Participants were not eligible to receive federal or state financial aid for higher education here in Illinois and were required to pursue other avenues to finance their education.

Earlier today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on behalf of President Trump, announced the termination of the DACA program, stating that it will immediately begin winding down with limited renewals and no new applications for legal status being considered after today. As details and clarity emerge, we will update the FAQ page for our students and have staff available at both the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies and the Latino Resource Center to help our students understand and navigate information and options.

Today's federal action will understandably cause concern, confusion and even anger for many of our undocumented students, their families and the faculty, staff and students who are their advocates and allies. I want to be clear that NIU stands with our students, regardless of their immigration status. Moreover, we are committed to admitting and retaining students regardless of status or nationality. We will also continue to support undocumented students through privately funded scholarships; student support groups and faculty advocates; counseling and consultation services; academic and cultural resource centers; and Ally training on how to best advocate for undocumented students.

NIU encourages our elected officials to reach a legislative solution quickly that enables each of our students and graduates to work, participate meaningfully in our society and contribute to the economic health of our state and nation. If you want your voice heard on this matter, engage with the student-led organization DREAM Action NIU to learn how to advocate on its behalf with state and federal legislators.

In this dynamic time, undocumented students and employees at NIU might be shouldering fears about their future and families. They are deserving of your kindness, respect and encouragement.

To our undocumented students: You belong at NIU. We want you here, and we are prepared to help you navigate how to continue on your educational journey. Continue to go to class. Refuse to let this action interfere with your goals. You are here to earn an education so that you can better yourselves: When you are educated, informed and engaged, you are just what our nation needs. Tap into the offerings and leadership available in our Resource Centers - they are welcoming to all students, faculty and staff in need of guidance and dialogue.

NIU will continue to take measures to support and assist our undocumented community, and I encourage students, faculty and staff to continue to communicate with the university on important legal and social issues that affect these Huskies. Our commitment to being a diverse, inclusive and welcoming university will not waver.