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!