Ladies and gentlemen, I stand here today as I have every year for the past nine years to report on the status of our university, its accomplishments over the past twelve months, and its plans for the future.
I will do all those things, but I want to begin by acknowledging that this has been a year like no other in my memory or, I suspect, in yours.
What we value as a united campus community came home to us with unmistakable clarity just over seven months ago. February 14th demonstrated to all of us that NIU is at its heart a student-centered university. Today, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every one of you:
To single out individuals would be to miss the point: What happened on February 14th happened to all of us. And whether you aided the injured, counseled the distraught, kept people informed, comforted the grieving, or tended to university operations, you did so with courage, dignity, and generosity of spirit that none of us will ever forget.
Recovery is an elusive goal that we pursue, both as individuals and as a campus community. And in ways both big and small, we see signs of encouragement:
A scholarship fund honoring those we lost continues to grow.
Plans for an inspirational, permanent memorial are nearing completion.
A community initiative called Huskies on Parade uses citizen-created artwork to build spirit and remind us all of the ties that bind us together.
And just last week, we received word from the U.S. Department of Education that we will be receiving two grants aimed at our recovery efforts: one to enhance our emergency plan and make it accessible by computer; and the second to hire and deploy additional staff in our counseling and mental health service areas. Together, these two grants total nearly $1 million, and I want to thank all of the individuals who have worked so hard in pursuit of support for these and other recovery efforts.
Each of us in our own way continues to put February 14th into some sort of personal perspective. Part of my own journey has been an attempt to understand how institutions survive traumatic events.
I have looked at universities across the country in an attempt to understand the principles of effective recovery, and I have also studied our own history to identify common themes. Today I would like to share three stories from our own NIU history:
In the early 1900s, a scarlet fever epidemic swept through the campus, killing several students and forcing President John W. Cook to close the school for a week. As it happened, a sizeable contingent of students from the Philippines was attending NIU that year, and unlike their local counterparts, had nowhere to go. When word of their dilemma reached the townspeople, families throughout the community took the Philippine students into their own homes to wait out the quarantine. And thanks to the rapid closure and dispersing of students, scarlet fever took no more victims at the college that year.
In 1918, World War I took virtually all of the male students here. With enrollment cut in half and the threat of a flu epidemic looming over the remaining student body, our future looked grim. Yet it seemed that no one told our students how dire things were: Far from beaten, the remaining student body immersed itself in projects that supported their classmates overseas rolling bandages, knitting warm sweaters and socks, even raising enough money to purchase and ship an ambulance to the European theater where many of the university's men were stationed.
Thirty years later, The Second World War decimated our student body again, reducing enrollment by nearly 50 percent and taking the lives of 42 well-loved students. Those who remained at the school planted victory gardens, organized drives for materials needed in the war effort, and volunteered countless hours to help returning soldiers heal and re-enter civilian life.
Again and again, throughout our history, numbing tragedy and the bleakest of prospects have been met with courage and unity. The NIU story is one of self-sacrifice and resilience, community support, and genuine love for our university and for each other. When our chapter is committed to the history books, I want it to reflect how very proud I am of this wonderful institution and its people.
And so the backdrop against which I have prepared my remarks includes a heightened sense of purpose and reaffirmation of commitment to our students. Building on what I believe to be a genuinely student-centered ethos, I want to concentrate my remarks on strategies we have adopted to enhance student success and the student experience at NIU.
Last year, I used the occasion of this address to describe our strategic planning process.
This year, I want to share its product.
The process was important. A true campus dialogue takes time and requires participation from all corners of the university and we did that.
Successful plans take account of changes in the environment be they economic, demographic, or competitive and we spent time on those analyses as well.
The process we undertook to chart our future required us to lower our defenses and take an unforgiving look at problems particularly those of long-standing and to construct solutions that we can implement quickly and measure regularly.
And finally, our strategic planning process required us to think laterally across major issues. Very few if any of our major challenges exist in isolation, and they cannot be addressed by changing practices in some areas but not others.
So the process we undertook was important, but today I want to talk about the product. And I also want to take this opportunity to thank our Provost, Ray Alden, for leading this important initiative and sustaining its momentum through a very challenging time.
Through dozens of meetings documented in hundreds of pages of reports, faculty, staff, students and alumni identified four strategic themes guiding NIUs development over the next five years and beyond:
Our strategic plan will:
We will accomplish all of these objectives by focusing our time, attention and resources on two sets of priorities: academic and environmental.
The academic priorities we are addressing in our strategic plan include:
Those priorities that support our academic plan by improving the overall environment for our students include:
We will address all of these issues and accomplish all of these goals if we do three things:
First and foremost, we must build on NIUs genuinely student-centered ethos through an action plan that places students firmly at the center of everything we do.
Second, we will accomplish our goals by committing to firm objectives and by tracking and measuring our progress toward those goals in a visible way.
Third, we will take major steps forward by integrating programs and initiatives in ways that purposely blur the lines between teaching, research and service.
Every public university in the country has a three-part mission: teaching, research and public service, which we now call outreach, or engagement. At many institutions, those three endeavors co-exist in separate silos, as though they had nothing to do with each other.
But it doesn't have to be that way, and in reality, it is not. When we strip away the artificial boundaries, we find that learning, discovery, artistry and outreach have more in common than not.
Many of our best researchers are also our best teachers.
Many of our students bring fresh perspectives to research that open new avenues of inquiry. Research, service learning and engagement activities all enhance the educational experience.
The partnerships we forge with schools, hospitals, and businesses in our region and across the globe not only fulfill our service obligations but also open doors for new research and learning experiences.
So we not only need to talk about student success across colleges we also need to talk across historically distinct missions.
Breaking down artificial barriers between the three parts of our mission requires us to think creatively, and reward strategically.
To that end, we have established a new Reward and Regard program that enhances faculty promotional raises and broadens the criteria for those promotions. We have also begun work to increase graduate assistant stipends to a level that makes NIU more competitive with our peer institutions. All of these programs I've just mentioned are now established, funded and implemented, or well on their way to implementation.
And we did one more thing: We created a program to put human faces on the integrated model we are asking our campus to embrace:
The NIU Board of Trustees Professorships bestow campus-wide honor, generous stipends and additional graduate student support to faculty who have obtained national and international reputations for their scholarly work, demonstrate a strong commitment to teaching, and engage students in their research, service, and scholarly and artistic activities.
Today it is my distinct pleasure to announce the first recipients of this prestigious award. But first, listen to just a few of the comments submitted by students and alumni in support of their nominations:
She is the professor who most helped me improve my research and writing skills.
He treats the students with whom he works as colleagues.
Students know that she respects them as much as they respect her.
Even after completing my core courses at Johns Hopkins, I can truthfully state that he is still the best and most important teacher I have ever had.
The faculty we have chosen as the first recipients of this prestigious new award exemplify the integrated model that our strategic plan seeks to strengthen:
Even as I speak, one is overseas on a research project, one is teaching a class, and the third is here with us today.
Please join me now in acknowledging the 2008 NIU Board of Trustees Professors:
Congratulations, Dan, Christine and Narayan and thank you for your commitment to your students, your disciplines and your university.
Great teachers will always be at the heart of a great education. Yet our students cannot take full advantage of our wonderful faculty when they encounter obstacles to their success outside the classroom. Our strategic planning efforts focused more attention on this set of issues than any other. Here are some of the most significant initiatives we will begin implementing this year to enhance student success:
We are, for the first time in 25 years, reviewing and overhauling our baccalaureate program and core curriculum. Student academic success requires both rigor and relevance. A quarter of a century has passed since the last comprehensive update of our baccalaureate program, and it is past time to address that issue.
We will be creating cross-college programs that provide more landing spots for students who are not able to enter their first choice of academic major. We need to be more flexible and customize our majors to create more options for students in a fast-changing environment. Many different paths lead to successful careers in those areas defined by individual talent and interest, and we must create more of those paths at NIU.
We are stepping up efforts to improve our students first-year experience through a program called Foundations of Excellence. Our studies tell us that the reasons students give for leaving NIU academic, financial, social, programmatic or emotional can often be addressed through early identification and intervention. Our effort to help all students succeed is, and must continue to be, a hallmark of the NIU experience.
We will be expanding engaged learning opportunities. Engaged learning takes place whenever students pursue their academic interests beyond the classroom: Study abroad, participation in research projects, internships, volunteer and service work, all of these are examples of engaged learning.
We know that engaged learners are more successful students, and its our goal to provide those experiences to every student who wants them. Our location in one of the worlds most vibrant and globally-connected regions gives NIU a distinct advantage in this area as do our alumni and regional partners. This year, we will inventory and better promote existing opportunities to our students, even as we add new ones.
All of the student success initiatives I've just mentioned and many more I don't have time to list are part of our strategic plan. They are endorsed, approved and underway and soon they will be trackable.
Which brings me to the next set of strategic plan actions we will undertake this year under the general heading of accountability.
Too often, we collect information and file reports instead of truly measuring our performance. Without established goals, accepted standards and regular benchmarking, it is impossible for us to be an accountable university.
Virtually every imperative I have mentioned thus far and every new initiative I have yet to describe has a standard performance indicator. Whether we are looking at graduation rates, external funding, or student satisfaction, the only way to know how were doing is by establishing clear goals, tracking our progress toward those goals, and conducting routine comparisons against standards that make sense for our institution.
We already face endless state and federal mandates related to accountability, and more are on the way. Now is the time for NIU to take account of what we know and what we don't know to set clear performance targets and to create systems for measuring our progress toward those goals. To borrow an expression from the corporate world, we will create a performance dashboard, and we will make that dashboard accessible to our entire campus community through the Great Journeys Strategic Plan website.
We are serious about making quick progress, and about not allowing our strategic plan to become yet another report on a shelf. We are putting numbers on our goals, we are putting dates and costs on our goals, we are assigning specific responsibility for meeting our goals, and we will follow our progress toward those goals together, as a campus community united by shared purpose.
The third general heading under which I want to talk about our strategic plan is integration.
We will achieve strategic integration when we no longer feel the need to assign our work to narrow categories. This is what I mean by purposely blurring the line between teaching, research and service, or engagement.
Allow me to explain by way of example:
Five years ago, I established a cross-divisional initiative known as P-20, or the Preschool-Through-Graduate-School initiative.
Some came to that project thinking about ways to provide more and better service to regional public schools.
Some viewed it as a way to improve our own teacher preparation programs.
Still others embraced the research opportunities presented by the living laboratory of area K-12 schools.
And a few recognized P-20 as our best hope for improving the readiness of our own students, and easing their transition from high school or community college to university, and from undergraduate to graduate programs.
And you know what? All of them were right.
We looked across our silos and saw a bigger picture. Today, NIU is more deeply involved in the educational life of this region than at any other time in our university history. Our students have more and better opportunities for hands-on learning at every level. We are making important new discoveries about the science of teaching and learning. And because we are so involved in the public schools that send us students, we are far better prepared to meet their needs when they arrive at NIU.
Today, it is my distinct privilege to announce a new P-20 initiative with nearly limitless opportunities to improve teaching, research and service:
Northern Illinois University has entered into an agreement with DeKalb District 428to jointly plan and launch an innovative new DeKalb High School. Together with our district partners, we will make history quite literally from the ground up.
And while were helping plan the new high school, we will also be working with the district to transform Chesebro Elementary into a completely bilingual school focusing on the needs of our communitys growing population of non-English-speaking residents.
The NIU/428 Partnership truly integrates every aspect of our mission, and benefits every member of its partner institutions.
Another wonderful example of integration can be found in our Healthcare Leadership Initiative.
Over the past several years, we have put many pieces in place that together form a much-strengthened presence in regional healthcare education, research and delivery.
We are building up programs in the health sciences to meet workforce needs, adding more faculty and course sections in areas of highest demand.
We have added or are working on new academic programs, such as the doctorate in audiology and the Ph.D. in medical physics.
We have pursued development of a proton therapy cancer treatment and research center, and are working on new academic programs to produce the medical and technical staff we will need to run that facility.
We have engaged senior faculty from four different colleges in development of new healthcare management programs that blend medical, legal, business and technical expertise.
We led a statewide coalition that won a $21 million grant to establish the Illinois Rural HealthNet fiber optic network, connecting rural hospitals and clinics to Internet2 and the larger health facilities they rely on for patient consultations and advanced diagnostic evaluations.
And later this fall, we will celebrate the grand opening of our wonderful new NIU Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center in the former Monsanto building at 3100 Sycamore Road.
The Center is now home to our Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, Physical Therapy Clinic and Literacy Clinic and we are currently working to finalize agreements on a fourth clinic that will be jointly operated by NIU and area healthcare providers.
Like P-20, our Healthcare Leadership Initiative serves multiple purposes: Area citizens receive valuable services, NIU students expand their learning opportunities, and new treatments emerge from clinical research. Thats the power of integration, and thats how institutional reputations are made.
With our focus on student success, our reliance on benchmarking, and our integration of NIUs three-part mission, Year One of our strategic plan implementation will involve a great deal of testing and adjustment. Everything thing we do must have a measurable impact within five years, and a noticeable one much sooner.
Here are some examples of the latter:
This year, we added nearly 200 additional course sections in areas of highest demand, including what we call impacted majors, and in the health sciences, the Honors program, and the critical workforce area known as STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Among those 200 additional sections are many expansions of upper division course offerings, designed to help students get the classes they need to graduate in a timely fashion. We have also focused attention and resources on expanding sections and stabilizing funding for high-demand general education courses at the lower division level.
And, based on high-priority goals contained in our strategic plan, we have made new investments in our library this year that saved more than 900 serials from cancellation.
These are critical investments that came directly out of our strategic plan as top priorities and we have moved quickly to implement those recommendations.
Here are a few more examples:
Just one year after our strategic plan called for greater emphasis on globalization, we saw a 21 percent increase in the number of NIU students studying abroad, and a 59 percent increase in new international students studying here.
Our call for more multidisciplinary research has already galvanized faculty in multiple colleges in pursuit of new programs such as nanoscience and engineering; an institute for the study of language, linguistics and literacy; and a center to improve learning at the critical middle-school level.
And a little further down the road, but still very much under active development, are strategic plan initiatives in management of non-government organizations and in environmental studies.
Our academic infrastructure is by far the most important and most expensive part of our university operation. And our strategic plan recognizes that technology is growing in importance as part of that infrastructure.
Here are just a few of the major technology initiatives we have approved and are working to implement:
These are just a few of the technology investments called for in our strategic plan and slated for NIUs near- and mid-range future.
Another theme woven throughout our strategic plan is the institutions commitment to creating, celebrating and supporting every type of diversity. As we reviewed our diversity initiatives, we discovered no shortage of programs, but ample room for improvement in the coordination of these efforts. Our strategic plan calls for a comprehensive review of existing diversity programs consolidation of those that can be strengthened through combined efforts, and strengthening of mentoring and professional development programs for students, faculty and staff at all levels.
And a final imperative identified over and over again in our strategic plan is a stronger emphasis on partnerships with community colleges.
We share this region with 19 community colleges whose students live and work within commuting distance of our campus or our regional centers. And seven of those colleges serve as many or more students than we do! With nearly half of community college students in our region wanting to transfer to four-year universities or complete bachelors degrees close to home, we must be better prepared to meet their needs and our strategic plan outlines the steps we are taking to do just that.
Our strategic plan is ambitious, and it requires both reinvestment and new dollars. I am happy to report that we are making progress on both fronts.
Even before our strategic planning process began, the Office of Sponsored Projects, working with the deans and the colleges, redeployed staff as research development specialists with special expertise in the physical sciences the social sciences humanities and the arts engineering the health sciences and several other critical areas to assist faculty in applications for competitive research awards. Already we are seeing an increase in the number of grant applications, thanks to this extra support.
And our first-ever capital campaign, True North, continues to establish new records in private giving. Just listen to these numbers:
As we enter the home stretch, we will be looking inward to members of the NIU family to give our campaign its final push and make a strong statement about what we value as a united campus community. Our emphasis during this final, family phase will be on participation as an indication of campus support.
The steps we have already taken to improve student success and the student experience as well as those we will implement in the near future require a complex mix of new dollars, reallocation, private dollars and external funding to be successful.
This academic year, in addition to funding our new Reward and Regard program and across-the-board salary increases, we have invested $3 million in new money to implement our plan. At the same time, we are working to reallocate existing money toward our strategic priorities, and we are supplementing new and reallocated resources with private dollars and revenue from grants and contracts. Every available source of funding has been tapped to address our strategic priorities.
Next year, we will invest an additional $2 million in new funds toward these same priorities supplemented again with additional dollars from reallocation and other sources and in the third year of our plan, we will add a final $2 million to base funding for a total of $7 million in new money in support of our strategic priorities. And, over the next five years, we will add 30 new tenure-track faculty and 60 new graduate assistants in those areas of highest strategic importance for the future of our university.
Our strategic plan is now a living document: It is real, it has been validated, and it is moving us forward. We have made and will continue to make the investments necessary to realize our goals, and we will remove every obstacle we can that gets in the way of student success.
Lets face it: A college education is expensive. Students and their families work hard to pay for their education, and they have every reason to expect us to do whatever it takes to help them leave here with a degree.
We know that those students who are successful at NIU find tremendous value in their degrees. In fact, a recent national survey of beginning salaries for new alumni of both public and private colleges and universities showed NIU graduates in the top third nationally, third highest in Illinois, and second highest in the MAC conference in terms of salaries they earned with their new NIU degrees in their first year out of college!
We need to do all that we can to help more of our students earn a degree that we know has tremendous value in the workplace. I am calling on our entire campus community to make student success the guiding principle of all our jobs, every day.
Finally, I want to share a vision of NIU in five years, when the seeds we are sowing now will be visible, accomplished goals:
By following our strategic plan, investing appropriately and keeping our focus on student success, in five years NIU will be:
This is the university that we are and that we want to be: A well-balanced research university where all of us are learners, traveling together on an exciting, fulfilling and, ultimately, great journey.
Thank you all, and God bless NIU.