April 28, 2008
Dear Students and Colleagues,
Six weeks ago, I wrote to tell you about the process we were undertaking to gather opinions on the future of Cole Hall. Since that time, we have worked through our shared governance system and employed many different methods to gather those opinions: a confidential email box, open forums, small-group meetings, an online survey and many one-on-one conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and families of those most affected by the events of February 14.
Thousands of you responded with a wide range of heartfelt thoughts, and I thank you for taking the time to make your feelings known on this important subject. Today, I want to report back on what we have heard, where we have found consensus, and how we will proceed from here.
It is impossible within the limitations of this letter to capture the full range of expression offered by more than 5,000 individual members of our campus family. Instead, I offer the following summary of themes so prevalent as to represent consensus opinion:
First, I want to report that majority opinion on key issues differed very little from group to group. In ratios ranging from 3-to-1 to 4-to-1, our campus community asked that Cole Hall remain standing, but that it not be used for instructional purposes in its current configuration. Many of you invoked the memories of those whom we lost, and expressed a desire to honor them by giving new life to the building where they died.
Second, while some favored demolition and others urged us to keep the building, the majority of those espousing either position said they would not be comfortable taking or teaching classes in Cole Hall in its current incarnation. The strength of that feeling did not seem to diminish over the course of our six-week survey process.
Finally, the vast majority of you expressed strong feelings about the need to memorialize the events of February 14 with sensitivity, and to honor the memories of those who died with enduring compassion for those who continue to struggle.
More than 12,000 students had classes in Cole Hall this academic year. Finding temporary replacement space for the remainder of this semester and for the fall has proven very challenging and not without inconvenience for students and faculty. Yet opposition to reopening Cole Hall in its current state remains strong, and I am committed to honoring those concerns. Accepting inconvenience as the price of compassionate response will continue to be a measure of our indomitable Huskie spirit, and I am confident that unity of purpose can continue to carry us through temporary hardship.
That said, our healing process must include pursuit of permanent solutions to the classroom space dilemma. During the next several weeks I will be involved in discussions with state officials about support for NIU recovery efforts, and instructional space needs will dominate those conversations.
Given the strength of opinion in favor of keeping Cole Hall but changing its purpose, all options under discussion proceed from that premise. This week I am asking for your input on three such options.
By clicking on the following link (www.niu.edu/colehallsurvey), you will be taken to a site featuring detailed descriptions of three possible plans and a brief survey asking for your reactions to each option. This survey will be active until noon on Friday, May 2. Shared governance leaders representing students, faculty, operating staff, supportive professional staff, alumni and donors will review the results of this survey, as well as other input they have received, and will make a recommendation to me on Friday afternoon.
While more detailed descriptions reside on the survey link, the options under consideration essentially consist of the following ideas:
Several important caveats should inform your thinking about these options:
As with our classroom space challenge, Cole Hall renovation plans can only be realized with broad support from this campus community and those who represent the citizens of our state. Whatever form our requests ultimately take, they will be considered against a backdrop of scarce public resources. NIU's recovery efforts are well-supported in principle but need to be better understood in detail. Beyond that, those from whom we seek support must feel that our recovery plans reflect campus consensus. I urge you to help refine the scope of our request by participating in the Cole Hall Options survey at www.niu.edu/colehallsurvey.
As always, thank you for your advice and wise counsel, and for your unwavering commitment to Northern Illinois University.
Forward, Together Forward,
John G. Peters,