From the President

State of the University Address

Speeches

FY22 Budget Appropriations Testimony - 3/24/21

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. If we were in person today, I would have with me at the testimony table our Executive Vice President and Provost, Beth Ingram, and Vice President for Administration and Finance, Sarah Chinniah. They are here virtually, as are Vernese Edghill-Walden, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Interim Chief Human Resources Officer; and Sol Jensen, vice Ppesident for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications.

Let me get straight to the point. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created many challenges for not only NIU but all universities over the past year. We are grateful for receiving federal CARES money, state GEER funding and the free saliva-based Shield tests that we have used on campus for surveillance testing. The assistance from both the federal and state governments has helped us immensely as we have faced an unprecedented loss of revenue and increased costs from the pandemic. Importantly, the allocation of funds allowed us to provide emergency relief funding, as well as academic and social support to NIU students who have significant need.

In addition to the governmental relief, we have done our best to control expenses in the wake of lost revenue. Members of NIU’s senior leadership team took voluntary pay cuts. The university implemented a voluntary retirement incentive program for our employees and enacted a hiring chill. In addition, we delayed important deferred maintenance projects. Those responses, along with the state and federal aid, will allow us to essentially break even in FY21.

That said, such actions are not sustainable, and NIU will continue to face fiscal challenges in the coming year due to the continued impact of COVID-19. Although we are emerging from the pandemic, auxiliary revenues are projected to recover slowly, and costs related to COVID mitigation will continue.

We are also mindful that the state faces budgetary challenges for many similar reasons. That is why we are appreciative of Gov. Pritzker’s budget proposal to hold higher education funding flat in FY22 and maintain our appropriation of $87.8 million. In addition, we are grateful that money for capital projects and deferred maintenance was reappropriated. Our university, region and state will benefit from the construction of our long-awaited Health Informatics building as well as our hub in the Illinois Innovation Network, the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability. Successful completion of these projects will enhance our research facilities and capabilities, attract community partners, train health professionals to address recognized needs and bolster our recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff.

Although budget challenges remain, we have much to be optimistic about. Despite a national data that showed that high school graduates enrolling in college dropped 6.8% this year, NIU saw its total enrollment grow. Most notably, our freshmen enrollment increased 8%, College of Law enrollment grew 12%, and our graduate and professional enrollment held steady.

As important, our first-year retention rate rose 6 percentage points to 78%, the highest in 15 years. Specifically, we saw a 10-percentage-point jump in retention of students of color, with similar increases for first-generation and low-income students. These increases may be attributed to the implementation of the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan that we released in 2019, as well as the Equity Plan supported by our collaboration with the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative.

At NIU, we believe a life-changing education should be within reach of everyone, with access, opportunity and success for all students. We are leading the way in Illinois and nationally to remove barriers to admission and persistence, and I want to share details of a few of our focused efforts to make an NIU degree accessible, equitable and affordable.

Our adoption of the Common App has made it easier for students to apply to NIU, and applications for fall 2021 admission are the highest ever.

Prior to the pandemic, we became one of the nation’s first public universities to announce test-free admissions and merit scholarship processes, because we recognized the inequity associated with relying on standardized tests to make admission and financial aid decisions. Our review of national studies on the subject – in concert with our own institutional analysis of more than 20 years of data – confirmed that:

  • High school GPA is a better predictor of college GPA and graduation rate than the ACT/SAT.
  • Test scores are most strongly correlated with family income and parental education level.
  • The students most likely to have strong high school GPAs and low test scores were students of color, first-generation to college, students who speak a second language at home and low-income students.

This made us particularly concerned about how standardized test scores could be limiting students’ access to merit-based scholarships.

So, we looked specifically at students who entered NIU with a strong high school GPA and maintained good academic standing but did not persist through graduation. We saw that, most often, financial issues were responsible for them leaving NIU without completing degrees. And we saw an opportunity to decrease student debt and increase degree completion by offering students scholarships based on GPA without consideration of standardized test scores. This is the philosophy we used to deploy Aim High dollars.

In particular, our Huskie Pledge program, funded with AIM HIGH dollars, is helping to ensure that academically impressive Illinois students from lower-income households can attend college with no tuition or general fees for their first year and beyond. In the fall of 2020, the first year of the scholarship program, NIU had more than 700 Huskie Pledge recipients in our freshman class. Their average high school GPA was 3.57; 80% are students of color and three of every four are the first in their families to enroll in college. Its impact can be summed up by the student comment:

“This program is saving my family. My dad just not that long ago lost his job, and this program saved my career and my future. This program gives me and my family a chance for success.”

Beyond the Huskie pledge, NIU has eliminated standardized test scores in award criteria for all merit scholarships. This is our first year of that change, and we won’t have final enrollment impacts until September. However, we can already tell by both admission and scholarship offers that the changes have already been positive for students and the university.

Comparing final fall 2020 scholarship awarding to mid-March awarding for fall 2021, we noted that the total scholarships awarded more than doubled for Latinx, Asian and Black students. When we consider our Tier 1 merit scholarships ($7,000 per year for four years) we see that awards increased by 150% for Asians, 294% for Latinx and 387% for Blacks.

Lessening the financial barriers to a college degree is important, but it’s only one of the ways that we are focusing on equity. We have committed to closing gaps in degree attainment and academic achievement particularly for low-income, first-generation African American and Latinx students. In fact, this is a priority, and among several equity and inclusion focused university goals proposed by me and approved by the Board of Trustees.

To this end, NIU has worked with the Partnership for College Completion on developing a five-year plan to support “Equity in Attainment” and contributed to the “Equity Working Group for Black Student Access and Success in IL Higher Education.” We are employing several strategies, including:

  • Eliminating all non-college-level math courses and revising repeat policies.
  • Providing supplemental instruction in all gateway courses with high D/F/W and/or equity gaps, and
  • Building capacity in mentoring programs for students of color.

At this time when the Illinois Board of Higher Education is making equity the centerpiece of its strategic plan, its board chair described NIU’s equity agenda as “a difference-maker” that is “driving how other institutions think about their mission.” NIU will continue to set the pace, especially during this time, when our students face extraordinary challenges.

To close my appropriations remarks, I want to leave you with an understanding of how NIU executes its public mission. We are intentional in our planning, have a strong equity orientation, are good stewards of public funds and have used those funds to advance the social mobility of students from underserved communities.

In addition, our students, staff and faculty engage with all of the communities we serve and generate impactful research. We provide invaluable support to local businesses who need assistance with their pandemic response, and we will continue to contribute to our community and society in ways that will make our entire state proud.

Thank you.

State of the City Event - 12/3/20

Thank you, Jerry.

The stories you’ve shared demonstrate the essence of our communiversity. NIU and DeKalb are partners. We combine our expertise, energy and resources to confront challenges and achieve mutual goals. In many ways, our individual success depends on our shared success.

I want to thank you for your partnership and your support of NIU not only during your term as mayor of DeKalb, but for decades before that. You are a Huskie through and through – from your days as a student-journalist with the Northern Star to your many years as a generous alum. As you and Ging transition to your well-earned retirement, we are grateful for the many contributions you have made to your community and your alma mater.

We have always known that DeKalb and NIU are at our best when we come together. Over the past several months, we have seen the truth in this sentiment many times over.

Managing our way through the pandemic has required us to be collaborative, innovative and resilient. I am filled with pride as I look around the university and the community and see what we have accomplished together in the face of the biggest public health challenge of our lifetimes.

Protecting the pack is a team effort. The tremendous shifts we have made at the university simply wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many people in the community. Our colleagues at the DeKalb County Health Department and Northwestern Medicine have been at our side from the beginning of the pandemic, helping us develop and implement countless processes to ensure the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. We are grateful for their leadership and their unwavering dedication to the community. As has been said many times throughout this pandemic, the caregivers and support workers on the front lines of this pandemic are true heroes.

As we have navigated the pandemic on campus, we have been keenly aware of the economic impact on DeKalb. We recognize the university’s role as a regional economic engine and understand that our move to mostly remote operations has touched local businesses that count on a steady stream of NIU students, employees and visitors as customers. We have been very intentional about keeping our purchasing close to home within the confines of state procurement rules.

Mayor Smith mentioned DeKalb County UNITES and its important work on behalf of the small business sector. Last spring, any time I needed a bit of good news, I would ask for an update on UNITES. It was always uplifting to hear about the creative and meaningful work the team was doing. Today, it puts a smile on my face when I hear the latest about 40TUDE, a program that was created by UNITES and developed with a new set of partners.

40TUDE was designed to help local small businesses develop online commerce and improve their social media presence. The work is done by NIU students under the guidance of College of Business faculty and marketing experts from OC Creative. Funding and additional support for the program have been provided by Jobs PLUS, the NIU Foundation and NIU’s Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development.

As the team began building the program 40TUDE, they realized that small nonprofits in the area had similar needs for assistance. Cut off from their regular fundraising activities and faced with increasing demand for services, nonprofits need new ways to reach out to donors and identify other resources. So, 40TUDE Nonprofit was born and NIU’s Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies and the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership came on board to provide leadership and support.

I can’t wait to see what our students and their business and nonprofit clients create together. Like UNITES, 40TUDE represents the best type of engagement and collective impact: a group of dedicated people from the university and the community creating solutions to local challenges, with talented students benefiting from experiential learning, mentorship and employment. Talk about a win-win!

In a year full of challenges, our students continue to amaze me with their grit, hard work and optimism.

They are helping to lead the change they want to see, and this includes creating a more equitable and inclusive community where they can build their lives. It’s hard – even heartbreaking – work at times to do that. And in my perspective, what we witnessed this summer – the pain of men, women and children of color across our nation and in our community – expressing how they don’t feel heard, seen or safe, shows just how much work we all need to do to create a truly inclusive university and community.

I want you to know that NIU is committed to doing our part to work against prejudice and inequities on our campus, and we are pleased to see the work happening by the city, community and business leaders to build an inclusive DeKalb.

The amazing Belonging event held earlier this fall is a great example. If you weren’t able to participate in the event that night, please go to the city’s website and watch the recording of Dr. john powell’s remarks and the Q-and-A with members of the community. Dr. powell has provided us with a shared language and helped point us in a direction that – with a lot of work by people who care – will help us create a community rooted in the idea of not only being welcoming to all but being one that truly embraces one another and fosters the feeling of belonging. That’s the type of desirable community that attracts and retains students, employees, businesses and resources. If we can achieve the goal of being a “belonging” community, imagine the impact on our daily lives and for generations to come. I believe we are up to the challenge.

I also want to share with you today about the progress we’re making with implementing our 5-year Strategic Enrollment Plan. We have taken a new approach to bringing students to NIU and ensuring their success while they are here. I am happy to report that our strategies are working.

  • Total fall enrollment climbed to 16,769, driven by an 8% increase in freshmen and a 6% improvement in retention of first-year students.
  • What are we doing differently? We are identifying potential Huskies earlier in the high school careers, communicating with them more frequently and raising our profile through more aggressive and targeted advertising.
  • The Huskie Pledge helped break down financial barriers, ensuring that qualified students whose families earn less than $75,000 would have their tuition and fees covered by grants and scholarships.
  • We have also improved our outreach right here at home. We were glad to welcome 110 new first-year students from DeKalb County this year, an increase of 43% over last year.

We are proud of these enrollment gains and our tremendously talented and diverse student body. Our faculty and staff continue to give us plenty of reasons to be proud, and I’d like to share a few highlights with you.

  • We achieved our highest level of sponsored research funding in five years, receiving 325 awards totaling $44 million.
  • The NIU Foundation’s traditional annual fundraising gala was transformed into a multi-day virtual event titled “Thousands Strong,” which raised more than $2 million from alumni and friends.
  • NIU was designated an Engaged Institution for the second time by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for our excellent alignment of campus mission, culture, leadership, resources, and practices that support dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.
  • Dozens of faculty members pivoted aspects of their research and artistry to issues surrounding COVID-19. (By the way, if you were one of the hundreds of people who volunteered to help evaluate Dr. Beth Gailliard’s new COVID test during the drive-through testing on campus recently, thank you!)

All of these accomplishments are noteworthy under the best of circumstances, but seeing how our Huskies are driving innovation, engagement and excellence despite the incredible challenges of 2020 only affirms that not only do Huskies never quit, but they rise to every occasion. COVID-19 will continue to present the university with myriad challenges in the weeks, months and even years ahead. The impact to date has been staggering, but we remain fully committed to our mission, vision and values and, importantly, to transforming lives through education.

As NIU celebrates its 125th year, it is a time for reflection and celebration. I have appreciated hearing from alumni and community members who have taken the time to share their stories and memories with me. I always love the stories about ice skating on the lagoon, marriage proposals at the kissing bench and the flash of recognition when a student stumbles upon the subject that will become their life’s work. I have also enjoyed hearing from people who came here to go to school at NIU, fell in love with DeKalb and established their businesses and families here. In many ways, the university and the community have grown together.

We are excited about next steps for the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability and other emerging ideas for development of our west campus. We are creating linkages to the businesses that have recently been attracted to DeKalb County and helping to maximize the economic development impact of these wins. We are optimistic about the planning underway to revitalize neighborhoods around the university and are eager to help.

We will emerge from this period of uncertainty strong and united, proving once again that we are better together.

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!

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!

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.

Presidential Vision - 08/30/18

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

Statements

9/11 Message from President Lisa Freeman

Dear Huskies,

As our nation pauses this week to acknowledge and reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I also am remembering.

Where I was. What I was doing. What I was thinking. Was this plane only a small one? Was it just an accident? And, moments later, how a grim and horrible reality snuffed that fleeting optimism. How the hatred of terrorism had literally flown into our lives — bringing fear, confusion, anger and sadness.

The passage of time cannot dim these memories, nor should it.

Likewise, the decades cannot erase the seemingly unbelievable and tragic images of destruction and devastation that we collectively watched that day, or the reports of courage, love, strength and resolve that followed as we came together in our grief and healing.

Yet as we reach this particular anniversary — 20 years — I am struck by the realization that many of our current students do not share these memories. Some were babies that day. Some were not alive.

For those Huskies, Sept. 11 is not a turning point in their lives but the origin of a “new normal” that is the only normal they know. This is the world in which they’ve grown up — learning about Sept. 11 in school, on film and, of course, from stories they’ve heard from parents and other family members.

Talking about Sept. 11 — remembering Sept. 11, in whatever way we can — is how we preserve its call to action, to unite as human beings to endure and emerge stronger from whatever confronts or challenges us, and to share this message with the generations that follow ours.

It is how we never forget.

Today, I invite all Huskies to take time to reflect on the meaning of this solemn anniversary, as well as to honor those lost by coming together to unite across our differences and take care of one another.

NIU will host two opportunities for our community later today. The first is a noon panel discussion in Altgeld Hall 315 about what it was like on campus the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and in its immediate aftermath. The second is a 2 p.m. commemoration ceremony at the MLK Commons where I will gather with NIU alumnus and DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes and Charles Fey, Ed.D., interim vice president of Student Affairs, in marking the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Please join us if you are able.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman President

Celebrating Juneteenth - 6/17/21

Greetings Huskies,

We write today to share with you our excitement that this week both the state and federal government officially declared June 19 a holiday in observance of Juneteenth.

The timing of the bills creating the holiday does not allow time to officially observe Juneteenth as a campus holiday this year. However, we encourage all members of the NIU community to seek out celebrations of this important day in their own communities. In DeKalb, the NIU Center for Black Studies will join New Hope Baptist Church in hosting DeKalb’s first Juneteenth Community Celebration, from noon until 5 p.m., at 1015 Blackhawk Road, in DeKalb.

In the days ahead, NIU will consider how best to incorporate this celebration as a holiday in the official university calendar.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The day was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas, in 1866 to mark the day one year earlier when Union soldiers landed there, bringing the news that the Civil War had ended and that African Americans were no longer legally enslaved. To African Americans, June 19 is Emancipation Day, and it has been part of many African American family traditions throughout the United States for 155 years, especially in states like Texas. Juneteenth has come to symbolize a national day of freedom to African Americans in the same way that July Fourth symbolizes freedom for all Americans. It is a day to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit.

While the signing of this bill in 2021 is important and cause for joy, we know that we have more to do beyond this celebration. We must confront the legacy of slavery in America and continue to make strides toward co-creating a community of belonging where all people are treated with humanity and dignity.

Go Huskies!

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Vernese Edghill-Walden
Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Interim Chief Human Resources Officer

Read the full message

Working Together for Racial and Social Justice, Equity and Inclusion - 4/20/21

Dear Huskies,

I’m writing today to bring to your attention a new section of the NIU website that highlights the university’s goals and plans for diversity, equity and inclusion. Designed for Huskies as a resource, and for tracking the university’s progress on important initiatives to advance racial and social justice, it’s also a tool we will use to showcase how we live our values because we are a community that supports our words with actions.

I’ve worked directly with contributors across the university to develop the site, and I’m incredibly proud of the work we can show being done by our faculty, staff and students. Some plans have been underway for several years while others are newer or in development. And although each effort is being facilitated by a leader, unit or collective, there is room for everyone to be involved. 

My hope is that the initiatives and opportunities captured on the site will grow and evolve over time and will serve as a catalyst for meaningful and lasting change. I welcome your ideas for the site, and have included a form where you can submit questions and updates. I look forward to working together to advance these goals and making NIU a home where we all feel welcome and proud to belong.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Read the full message

A Message of Gratitude from President Freeman - 3/18/21

Dear Huskies,

I am honored and grateful for the support and leadership of the NIU Board of Trustees and their approval today to extend my contract. I love this university, believe in our public mission and am inspired by our diverse and talented students, faculty, staff and alumni. Together we have accomplished a great deal to be proud of, but more importantly we’re building a stronger foundation from which even greater achievements will stem..

Last March, we found ourselves in the early and intense days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those weeks turned into a year, and while uncertainties and challenges persist, the cooperation and collaboration of our community has only reaffirmed that Huskies never quit. We made a collective pivot and learned to do things differently and, in many regards, even better. By holding firm to our values, refining our plans and working toward clear goals, we are emerging with optimism.

This past year has also shown where there are opportunities for improvement and needed investment. We have discovered opportunities to be more effective and flexible. Unquestionably, we’ve also seen painful reminders of where inequities persist and must be addressed, systemically. Recognizing and embracing the work we need to do, we are implementing bold strategies to drive bold changes. Our plans are detailed in our university goals to ensure that we tackle challenges and pursue opportunities with intention and accountability, and in alignment with our strategic priorities.

For me, COVID has reinforced the immense value of research, scholarship, artistry and engagement and the critical role Huskies play in our society. I will continue to advocate for excellence in these areas and work to create an environment where innovation, creativity and collaboration can thrive and benefit our remarkable students, faculty and staff. I’m particularly excited to see our visions for NICCS and the Health Informatics Building realized. These initiatives will help us create and harness new knowledge to be shared broadly for the betterment of others.

I know everyone is especially excited to celebrate our graduates in person for spring commencement and to welcome our current and new students for a more traditional fall semester. I also look forward to supporting our artists, performers and athletes as they return to their stages to use their skills and talents to engage, enlighten and entertain. We want the joy and life to come back into the campus, and we are building our fall plans to make this happen safely. Our DeKalb and Sycamore communities want and feel the same.

There is great momentum both at NIU and in the community. We are taking our local collaboration to the next level, focusing our collective efforts intentionally on projects that will advance the university and the region simultaneously. I take very seriously the university’s role as an economic development driver for the DeKalb area. A flourishing communiversity relies on our ability to attract and retain 21st century talent, provide a great quality of life and support the innovators and entrepreneurs who will foster economic opportunity. It is exciting to see our plans not only align but synergize for a greater overall impact. 

NIU is exceptional, and its strength comes from our amazing students, staff and faculty who pursue and share knowledge for society’s benefit. Together, with our deep respect and commitment to shared governance, equity, inclusion, as well as our mission, vision and values, we are unstoppable. We are Huskies.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Read the full message

A Message from President Freeman Denouncing Racism and Violence - 3/18/21

Dear Huskies,

This week, eight individuals, including six women of Asian descent, lost their lives in a targeted, mass shooting in Atlanta. These actions of anti-Asian violence are driven by hate and are completely reprehensible. Northern Illinois University is committed to speaking out and imploring our community and society to denounce hate and all forms of racism.

The increase in crimes across our nation targeting those who are not white cause fear and lasting harm to underrepresented communities everywhere. This past year has been particularly challenging for the Asian community as they have not only battled COVID-19, but the xenophobia it has produced. To our Asian students, faculty and staff, we are here to support you and to remind you that you are valued Huskies. Students, please reach out to the university, whether through our Asian American Resource Center or Student Affairs services to let us know what you need. For employees, please do not hesitate to communicate with your supervisor and utilize the services of our Employee Assistance Program.

If you are a victim or witness to harassment, discrimination or bias, please use the NIU Bias Reporting Form to make us aware so that we can take action.

Please take care of one another.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Read the full message

Statement Regarding Governor Pritzker’s 2/18/21 Budget Address - 2/18/21

We are pleased to see that Gov. Pritzker continues to be a strong proponent of supporting higher education. Sustaining funding at the same level as last year will allow us to continue to effectively serve our diverse audience with the high quality, affordable education and support services they need to be successful, even in this challenging and uncertain time. We are also particularly excited and appreciative to see Governor Pritzker propose an additional $28 million in MAP funding, which is critical to recruiting and retaining students.

A Message from President Freeman and Executive Vice President and Provost Ingram: Events at the Capitol - 1/7/21

Dear Huskies,

The violent and divisive actions Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol are nothing short of shocking, disheartening and unacceptable. What we witnessed serves as a fierce reminder that true leadership is found in those who guide with integrity and respect for all. We appreciate that, despite disruption, Congress completed its important duty to certify the election and is working to move our nation forward through a smooth transition of power. 

 None of us wanted to start a new year in this way, especially after enduring so much in 2020, but we believe that our community is especially capable of taking the pain and frustration being felt and channeling it in ways that will improve our community and society. We know the work we need to do on fostering equity and social justice, as well as continuing to protect our community from COVID-19. There is opportunity for all to be involved and to be in roles where we can fruitfully work together to accomplish our university’s goals. 

Even with the limitations in place for COVID-19, we will continue to seek out ways to bring our community together to engage in conversations that will drive dialogue, enhance understanding and support an inclusive community. We’re particularly looking forward to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Rebuilding Democracy Lecture Series, beginning in February, that will showcase how the liberal arts and sciences are at the center of a healthy democracy and explore what needs to be addressed to rebuild democracy and bring together a very fractured society. Other events are in various stages of planning and will be accessible throughout the year. 

Our fellow Huskies are now starting to return to campus and preparing for Monday’s first day of classes. It’s a new beginning for us all. We encourage you to reconnect with friends and colleagues, seek out ways to support one another and make certain to prioritize your own personal health and well-being so that we can accomplish all that we hope to in 2021.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Beth Ingram Executive
Vice President and Provost 

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Today’s Art and Soul Event - 10/1/20

Dear Huskies,

This afternoon, NIU’s Center for Black Studies and the College of Visual of Performing Arts is hosting “Art and Soul” – a social justice event for the community to come together and acknowledge the important fact that Black lives matter. During today’s event, which features live music and performances, individuals are welcome to contribute to a temporary street mural by helping to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” on Castle Drive. All participants are expected to wear masks and abide by physical distancing requirements.

Bringing people together peacefully in this way visualizes NIU’s mission, vision and values. What it is not meant to do is represent or promote any organization or political viewpoint. It’s simply about human rights.

Activities such as today’s also reflect our commitment to freedom of expression, ensuring that all members of the community have the broad latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn. With this commitment also comes the need for us to understand that differing viewpoints and ways of expressing them should be expected when members of the university community or the public choose to express their thoughts and opinions. The university’s responsibility is to help foster a safe environment in which all voices may be heard, differences can be explored, ideas discussed and society advanced.

As always, I encourage us all to positively contribute to our society by engaging in meaningful dialogue and leading with respect.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman

Read the full message

Our Commitment to Addressing Racism - 9/24/20

Dear Huskies,

I had the opportunity Wednesday to see more than 200 students come together, wearing their masks, in a peaceful campus march calling on NIU and the DeKalb community to recognize that Black lives matter. I listened to them describe what they need to feel safe and truly part of our university, appreciated their honesty and have reflected on their fears. I also heard about the importance of making certain that our statements are followed with action steps that will lead to real and tangible change.

I am committing NIU to do the hard work necessary to address systemic inequities and foster a more inclusive campus culture, knowing that achieving some goals and outcomes will require sustained, long-term effort, while other actions can be taken immediately. In the short term, I want you to know about the additional actions we’re taking to support our community since I first communicated about the racial slur spray-painted on the side of Center for Black Studies last week.

NIU’s Police Department, with support from DeKalb Police, continues to investigate the incident and has offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. In coordination with the center, we’ve increased patrols, are working to improve lighting in the area and exploring additional supportive measures.

I also heard our students express that their safety concerns extend beyond the campus and into the DeKalb community, and I have shared this with city officials. NIU is committed to working with the city to address how racism only divides a community rather than builds it. We’ll explore these opportunities more deeply in an upcoming event that the university and the city are co-sponsoring and is detailed later in this letter.

NIU Police are also seeking information about the individual(s) who chose to use vile, racist language during a recent Zoom call intended to bring NIU students, faculty and staff together to express the very real fears and frustrations our Black colleagues and students face. Members of the public could dial into the Zoom discussion and, sadly, a few unknown individuals used it as an opportunity to spew hatred.

There is no logic behind these types of acts, only bigotry and the intent to hurt. Will we let it deter us?  Absolutely not. In fact, we saw Wednesday afternoon that it only invigorates our community to do and be more, to not be silent and to embrace the hard work and self-awareness necessary for justice to be achieved.  As incidents happen and issues arise, please continue to use the university’s bias incident report  so that we are aware and can appropriately address.

As a university, we must continue to invest in self-care, education and meaningful dialogue about what it takes to dismantle racism and how to create and sustain a university community where every Huskie feels valued and has the opportunity to thrive. Here are a few ways we’ll be doing that in the coming weeks and months:

  • Our Black students and other students of color need to be able to share their thoughts and seek guidance from those who can speak to shared experiences. We are working now to secure mental health counselors of color to supplement existing university counseling services, and our aim is to have them be available later this semester.
  • This fall, we’ll host multiple, virtual events and town halls covering race, equity and coalition building as part of our Social Justice Education initiative. For some, these might be difficult or uncomfortable conversations, but they will provide the catalysts for new knowledge and change.
  • To help build an inclusive community, with lasting relationships, NIU, the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence and the City of DeKalb will come together for a virtual discussion facilitated by Dr. John Powell. Dr. Powell is currently professor of Law; professor of African American and Ethnic Studies; the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion; and the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, all at UC Berkeley. We will be utilizing his expertise in civil rights, racism and ethnicity in a dialogue Oct. 22 to help foster a community of belonging.
  • This year’s common reading experience at NIU –  “When They Call You a Terrorist” – written by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Movement, and Asha Bandele, is especially timely and accessible. I encourage you to read it for its power to open both the mind and heart with its candid insight on racism and hope.
  • We will also continue to pursue the four key areas outlined in my Aug. 12 message supporting the hiring, retention and advancement of faculty, staff, researchers, scholars and artists who are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); as well as reviewing and improving the NIU experience for our BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students. These efforts will also be specifically addressed in the university’s goals presented to the Board of Trustees this November.

In addition to the actions and opportunities presented above to make sure our Huskies are heard and a part of change, our Center for Black Studies and the James B. and Rosalyn L. Pick Museum of Anthropology are working together to bring the Hateful Things exhibition to campus this spring. The exhibition will showcase a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts that represent nearly 150 years of anti-Black, racist objects and images. Our hope is that, by examining and reflecting on these historic and modern-day expressions of racism, we can foster racial understanding and healing.

During last week’s town hall and the past several days, we’ve heard from students, student organizations, faculty and staff that you want to help, be involved and are even willing to contribute to the reward – which speaks to the heart of what it means to be a Huskie. The Center for Black Studies has taken the past few days to reflect on the outpouring support and requests that any donations be directed to bringing the Hateful Things exhibition to NIU and to supporting its related educational activities and events. More information about the exhibit and contributing is available online.

NIU is working to change so that we can be a more inclusive university. I welcome every Huskie to help us get there by using your voice and actions to show that hate has no home or future at NIU.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Read the full message

FY21 Budget Update - 9/17/20

Dear Employees,

I’m writing today to provide you with an FY21 budget update, including promising news and persistent uncertainties. Despite the many challenges COVID-19 has continued to provide, remaining focused, yet flexible, in how we respond is paramount in our ability to support our students, protect our community and deliver on our mission, vision and values.

Revised FY21 Budget
In June, we put forth an FY21 budget, with an anticipated shortfall of $39 million, to our Board of Trustees, knowing that additional clarity would come at the start of the semester regarding fall enrollment, residence hall occupancy and any potential additional federal aid to universities. Earlier today, we presented a revised budget to the board that shows a reduced shortfall of $32 million based on the information available to us now. While closing this gap is progress, we remain in a situation that requires additional actions to be taken throughout the year to reduce our costs.

Enrollment
One of the most effective ways we were able to reduce the gap was through our recent uptick in enrollment. In the early part of the summer, universities across the United States were preparing for enrollment declines of 15 percent. But, NIU employees stepped up to champion student success and move the needle on both retaining current students and recruiting new students. I am incredibly proud and grateful for your tireless collaboration and creativity to make these gains.

Providing a productive and supportive student experience this academic year is a priority, and it also comes with new realities. NIU has and will continue to incur increased expenses related to COVID-19 – including those associated with purchasing specialized personal protective equipment, testing and strengthening our technological footprint to ensure our infrastructure can support remote learning needs. We also have seen revenue losses related to housing, dining, events and the postponement of fall sports.

Each division and college will need to continue to pursue short- and long-term cost-containment and revenue-enhancement.

Personnel
Despite financial uncertainty and ongoing challenges, we want to provide wage and salary increments for employees. This summer, we delivered on contractually obligated wage increments for employees represented by bargaining units and, today, we received approval for a 3% increase for unrepresented faculty and staff to take effect Oct. 1. All eligible faculty and staff will receive more information in the coming weeks.

We’ve also needed to make continued adjustments to our staffing models, including implementing a hiring chill and eliminating positions. This fall, we took additional action to reduce our workforce, which will impact more than 30 employees. This includes positions in our Hoffman Estates Conference Center, where we will discontinue event operations Oct. 30 and move courses to other locations. Changes in client demand and the competitive environment have caused NIU to monitor the viability of Hoffman Estates over the last few years; the significant decline in business since March and continuing uncertainty due to the pandemic have made operation of the center unsustainable. All impacted employees are being offered career and coaching services through our Employee Assistance Program.

Realistically, we will need to consider additional personnel actions and shared sacrifices during this fiscal year. We will assess every option available to us, weigh every decision carefully and be timely in our approach and communications. When tough decisions are made, we will be transparent, thoughtful and respectful.

State Funding and Federal Aid
The State of Illinois is financially strained by COVID-19 and is relying on federal funding to keep its operations funded for the fiscal year. Earlier this week, Gov. Pritzker warned that state agency funding would suffer additional cuts if federal relief does not come through. Under these circumstances, there would almost certainly be a negative impact on NIU’s state appropriation. There is also significant uncertainty regarding the prospect and timing of additional direct federal relief to colleges and universities. Moreover, should a relief package be made available, we anticipate that it will not offset the tens of millions of dollars we have lost due to COVID-19.

I want to assure you that we continue to do everything we can to appeal to federal and state legislators to support higher education and students. Huskie alumni have also been advocating on behalf of our university.

Moving Forward

To respond effectively to these significant public health and fiscal challenges, we must stay nimble, adaptive and steadfast in support of our students and each other. Accordingly, the university leadership will keep you apprised of notable developments and will remain engaged with shared governance and bargaining units. We will continue to stand strong and navigate our way through this, together.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Addressing the racist incident that occurred on campus - 9/17/20

Dear Huskies,

I’m writing to make you aware of an incident that occurred overnight and the actions we’re taking to address it.

Late last night, the N-word was spray-painted on the Lincoln Highway side of our Center for Black Studies building. As soon as NIU learned of this racist and hurtful act, our police department documented it for evidence and had it removed. The police are investigating this as a hate crime, and the university intends to pursue all charges available under the law.

This type of act, done under the cover of darkness, comes from a place of hatred, bigotry, cowardice and a lack of education -- the very things NIU stands against and will not tolerate. It’s even more harmful that a building devoted to teaching, learning, understanding, advocating and celebrating Black culture was the target.

It deeply pains me to see that people want to intentionally hurt others with their words and actions. To our Black students, faculty and staff, I can only try to imagine the pain you feel. Please know that your university community is here to support and protect you.

Actions like this only affirm our values and the pursuit of our mission. They should ignite within us even more resolve to personally and professionally confront racism and to step up as allies. At 8 p.m. tonight, the university will host a virtual, campus conversation via Zoom to discuss this incident so that we can come together and address any questions or concerns.

If you have any information about the incident, I urge you to contact NIU Police (815-753-1212) or utilize the Bias Incident Reporting form. We must stand together, unified as Huskies, and never tolerate racism.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

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A Message from President Freeman: An Update on Confronting Racism and Advancing Change - 8/12/20

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

Earlier this summer, I called upon our community to listen, learn, reflect and then act to change the systems that have disadvantaged and harmed our students, colleagues and friends who are Black or people of color. I heard from many of you who took the time to share honest, personal experiences and feelings, as well as ideas about the new measures needed to dismantle structures that perpetuate racism and inequity. Acknowledging the pain and tension caused by racism is important, but it’s not enough. As Huskies, whether within administration, the classroom or the student body, we must all take meaningful, lasting action to model the humanity and positive change we want to see in our nation.

As a university, we strive to live NIU’s commitment to social justice, equity and inclusivity. Those traits are woven throughout our mission, vision and values, and underpin the efforts to foster a welcoming university and go beyond to recognize, address and eradicate inequitable practices. Working together, we have laid a very strong and real foundation that will allow us to evolve into being a university that is anti-racist across all that we do.

Our Foundation

Champions of social justice at NIU date back as many as 50 years ago, to the passionate and brave students, faculty and staff who used their voices to bring attention to racism and bias in academics, housing, resources and safety. Moreover, throughout my tenure at NIU, I have heard from alumni, faculty, staff and students about the need to reconsider systems and structures that are taken for granted by some, and that prevent the advancement and inclusion of others. These voices and perspectives have had a significant impact, helping us to recognize where we fall short, what we need to do to come together to make change and how to hold one another accountable. For example, their influence is visible in the work of the 2014 Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, the creation of our office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI), and the compelling leadership of our chief diversity officer.

Key to executing the most fundamental aspects of our mission has been identifying and removing barriers that disproportionately hinder the academic achievement and student experience of historically and currently underserved populations. Tangible examples include removing consideration of standardized test scores from the general admission and merit scholarship processes; closing gaps in degree attainment for low-income, first-generation, African American and Latinx students; developing a human diversity requirement for all students; and instituting trainings on cultural competency for staff and faculty, as well as implicit bias training for hiring committees.  

Importantly, we’ve built accountability into institutional goals our strategic enrollment management plan, and the equity plan we have created as part of the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative. Sustaining the success we’re seeing from each of these plans will require continued collaboration, embracing change and a commitment to NIU’s values at every level and division of the university. 

Although this foundation is solid, I recognize that it’s incomplete. Systemic racism, insidious biases, privilege and marginalization are pervasive in our society and present at our university.  Time has shown us that activism and recognition of these inequities do not automatically drive sustained change. Some needed actions have been talked about for years, but have been slow to materialize – so it’s clear that bolder, intentional action will be paramount to move us forward. This will require explicit support for social and racial justice from our university leadership and the larger university community.

Our Anti-Racist Future
This summer, we again witnessed how racism destroys lives. Our nation and our university cannot and should not deny what happens on a daily basis to those who are not white. What we can do is more closely examine and question our own practices, leverage the good work we’ve done and focus our talent, time and resources on changing the systems that will have the greatest impact. To get there, we need to become comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations that probe and challenge our ideas and beliefs.    

NIU’s executive and academic leaders engaged Tuesday in a full-day retreat focused on the ways to move NIU forward using a more intentional, anti-racist approach to our work. We concentrated on four areas where many have suggested a need to review and revise our policies, practices, systems or structures:

  • Hiring, retention and professional advancement of faculty researchers, scholars and artists who are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). This included examining the standards, assumptions, priorities and processes used to evaluate faculty members’ contributions and accomplishments at critical stages of their careers.
  • Hiring, retention and professional advancement of staff members who are BIPOC. This included identifying and removing barriers, and improving opportunities provided by NIU for leadership development and professional advancement.
  • The experience of BIPOC undergraduate students – specifically the impact of disciplinary and regulatory practices and the allocation of resources (funding and space) to student groups and activities. This included identifying policies and practices that negatively impact students of color.
  • The experience of NIU graduate students who are BIPOC, from the recruitment and admissions process through degree completion and career placement. This included addressing the unique role that graduate students play on campus as both instructors and students.

The candor and exchange of ideas we witnessed only reaffirmed for me that our leadership is passionate about social justice and understands what’s at stake in making certain that NIU lives up to its promises held in our mission, vision and values. In the coming weeks, you can expect to hear more about the four themes above. In addition to our resource centers, our colleges and our Faculty Senate will be holding forums for faculty, staff and students to discuss their experiences with racism and white privilege, and to propose changes. For example, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Provost Ingram and I will participate in the Antiracism Planning Forum for Shared Governance. On October 22 and 23, ADEI, along with the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence and partners in DeKalb and Rockford, we will host a two-day virtual discussion with Dr. John Powell. Dr. Powell is professor of Law and African American Studies and Ethnic Studies who leads the University of California Berkley Othering & Belonging Institute.

Our work to advance racial justice at NIU will not end with our leadership retreat and listening sessions. Specifically, I have asked the provost, deans and Faculty Senate to identify and act on academic priorities aligned with NIU’s commitment to dismantling systems and structures that lead to inequitable outcomes. In addition, the university will be expanding our social justice education and programming to include anti-racist training opportunities for faculty, staff and students. We’re also creating a new website to highlight NIU voices, and share resources, plans and progress. This site will not only support accountability, but also provide a place for members of our Huskie community to find ways to participate and offer their varied perspectives.

Not everyone can or will gravitate to these opportunities. Some do not appreciate or comprehend the issues. Many are understandably weary, fatigued or even burned out, while others are overwhelmed or just don’t know where to begin. And, some are hesitant because they fear being misunderstood, criticized or penalized for sharing their feelings, or because they worry that authentic communication might only sow more division and hate. We must all remember that NIU is committed to freedom of expression and open discussion in all matters of public interest. Further, we are dedicated to assuring that all members of the university community have the broad latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.

I know that I might not always have the “right” words to express myself when speaking about these emotional topics and the need for racial and social justice, but I am wholeheartedly committed to advancing real, systemic change. This will come from modeling inclusive leadership, elevating all of the voices who have been striving to be heard, mobilizing support from those who have been ready and tapping into the energy of those who are newly invigorated. In accordance with our Huskie values, I cannot emphasize enough that we must seek and be strengthened by the diverse experiences of our university community members and relentlessly confront the challenges of systemic racism and structural inequity together.

Unquestionably, it’s been a difficult year so far. However, as I look forward to the start of the fall semester, I remain convinced that NIU will respond positively to the challenges we face and emerge stronger than ever. And, I want you to remember you are part of a caring and resilient community invested in your future. Please continue to support, connect and work collaboratively to improve and protect our NIU community. I will continue to welcome your feedback, update you on our progress and hold you all in my thoughts.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

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Today's Supreme Court Ruling on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program - 6/18/20

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

I am writing today to let you know that I join many of you in appreciating today’s Supreme Court ruling blocking efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This cause has been a priority for me from the earliest days of my presidency. I have listened to, and been moved by, the stories of our DACA students. They impress me with their strength and inspire me with their courage and resiliency. I have signed multiple letters and petitions put forth by my peers in higher education to secure rights for undocumented members of our community, and I have advocated on their behalf in meetings that I have had with members of Congress.

While there is more work to be done and uncertainties ahead, I want to be clear that NIU will continue to support all members of our community, regardless of their immigration status. We will continue working alongside them, fighting for their right to live, learn, work and contribute in the country that they have called home for nearly all of their lives.

Going forward, I urge all of those affected by or committed to this cause to familiarize yourself with the information and resources that our office of Undocumented Student Support has compiled. Take advantage of the guidance and knowledge available through our Cultural Resource Centers and the NIU Center for Student Assistance. Finally, I urge all who want their voices heard on this matter to engage with the student-led organization DREAM Action NIU to learn how to advocate with state and federal legislators.

As positive as today’s news is, this issue is far from resolved, and we remain committed to urging lawmakers to find a long-term legislative solution.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
President

Confronting Racism and Advancing Change - 5/31/20

Dear Huskie Community,

Actions in the past week and, frankly, every week for decades and decades, show that racism is a thriving, deep-rooted infection in our nation. It’s clear as day when you witness George Floyd’s heinous murder caught on camera, but it’s less visible when it’s built into our economy, health care, education and justice systems. Just because it cannot be seen doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it doesn’t mean that as individuals we don’t have a responsibility to make it better.

I want the people of color in our community to know that NIU sees you and that NIU wants to be your community and a place where you have allies. NIU’s mission, vision and values are about equity, respect, building a better society, being accountable and being strengthened by diversity. This is a 24/7 commitment and responsibility, not just when classes are in session. I call on each of us – administration, staff, faculty, student, alumni and neighbor – to reflect on what we value as Huskies, as human beings. This is a time to listen and learn, and a time to ask ourselves how we can contribute to positive change.

Our university does not stand alone in confronting racism. Saturday, our DeKalb community held a peaceful protest that proudly included members of our students, faculty and staff, and was organized by an alum. NIU Chief of Police Thomas Phillips also shared an honest and heartfelt message to the community, and the leadership from the Mid-American Conference has also issued an important statement. There is plenty of room at the table for others to join us in future discussions about improving our communities and we all must commit to doing it in ways that are non-violent.

NIU is fortunate to have a dedicated team of outstanding professionals in our Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI) whose daily work focuses on 
advancing social justice through education, awareness and action. They, along with the many trained CODE facilitators across the campus, are a resource to us all. ADEI will be identifying additional, meaningful ways to engage in our community in recognizing – and healing – the trauma, the realities of fear, the stereotyping and the bias that is occurring and being exacerbated. We will work together to inspire hope and make systemic change. 

I know I will continue to reflect and talk with my family and friends about this topic, and I encourage you to do the same. 2020 has been a historic year, and my hope is that it’s the tipping point that will lead to the remarkable change needed to protect the lives and well-being of all who call this country home. By coming together, we can help NIU do its part to make that happen.

Forward Together, 

Lisa C. Freeman
President

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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.