STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY ADDRESS 9/26/17 AUDITORIUM
Good afternoon, Northeastern!
As Dr. Williams said, it’s been almost a year since I took office. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as Interim President. It’s a complex job, but then again, all of our jobs here at Northeastern are complex. And I remain fascinated by the work. So, let me start off by thanking you for your good work, support and confidence. I would also like to show my appreciation for contributions to the life of the University as reflected in a variety of representative groups. As you are acknowledged, I would ask that you please stand and we hold the applause until all groups are recognized.
Newly Promoted and Tenured Faculty
The 2016 Audrey Reynolds Distinguished Teaching Award recipient, Ana Fraiman
Excellence Award Recipients — Teaching Professionals, Instructors, and Academic Support Professionals
Employee Excellence Award Recipients
Mark McKernin, Craig Duetsch, and our union leadership for their work in negotiating the furloughs and layoffs
The Human Resources Office for the difficult work involved in processing furloughs and layoffs
And all other employees who took extra duties as a result of downsizing
Sam Kann, Chief Information Officer, who arrived on March 1, was assigned furloughs two weeks later, was assigned layoffs, and still has a great attitude about the future of University Technology Services
Karl Voigt and Leah Heinecke-Krumhus for their work in registering the highest number yet of Northeastern students to participate in training to understand and prevent sexual assault
The Division of Institutional Advancement on meeting the 2017 goal of the Goodwin Gift Challenge three months early, and for a successful NEIU Weekend Enrollment Management Services and the Division of Marketing and Communications for putting together the recruitment and marketing plans that motivated more than 3,000 new students to come to Northeastern. That’s the largest group of new students we’ve had in the past four years!
Authors of the Master’s of Public Health program that is in development: Jennifer Banas, James Ball and Isidore Udoh
Jamie Riess and Robin Wagner for launching the Starfish Early Alert System
All those who worked so hard to earn millions of dollars in grants for Northeastern
And, finally, Luvia Moreno and the faculty and staff who serve our DACA students
I could go on all afternoon. You know that if I were to do this right, I would be thanking each and everyone of you for the part you play to make Northeastern the institution that it is. So, why don’t you help me out? Let me ask everyone, yes everyone, to please stand and be recognized and shake your neighbor’s hand and help me say thank you.
It’s hard to believe that in just a few days it will be exactly one year since I took on the role as Interim President here at Northeastern. It’s been a year that tested our limits, challenged our resolve, and exposed our strong will and character. When I delivered my last State of the University address about six months ago, we were living in a different world. I started that address six months ago by giving you an update on the October 3rd Announcement I emailed to the University Community on my first day on the job. That email detailed the five goals that I set forth at the start of my interim appointment. I’d like to start my address today in a similar way, sharing a few updates and new developments that have occurred since that February address.
First, let’s quickly review those five goals: 1. Bolster student success initiatives 2. Build academic programs 3. Strengthen shared governance 4. Share responsibility for success 5. Complete our first capital campaign
Student success initiatives are critical at universities like Northeastern that serve many students who need support and mentorship in order to achieve their academic goals. Our success programs continue to be a priority for us, and we have identified new leadership to help us with both student success and retention. Acting Associate Provost Shane Cofer is now leading the Advising Center and Starfish Early Alert System, and Professor Frank Gaytan has been named the Provost’s Fellow for Student Success and Retention. By the way, this month we began training faculty and advisors on our new Starfish Early Alert System, which helps identify at-risk students who need attention and allows faculty and staff to intervene at the first sign of a problem. I hope you are using this important tool to help our students succeed.
Next, we know that building our academic programs to meet the needs of our students and marketplace will be a key to Northeastern’s success. Following the leadership of the faculty, we have launched programs such as the Masters in Social Work, BFA in Graphic Design and the MACTL program, all of which have seen strong student interest and enrollment. We are also excited about programs that are currently in development. As you know, this can involve a long, deliberative process, and in the end it’s always worth it. Some of these programs include an RN-to-BSN program, and a master’s in public health. As our institution grows and evolves, you can expect to hear more about our effort to build academic programs in the coming months. Once the new director for CCICS is named, which I hope is before the end of the fall semester, we will begin a review of possible full-degree programs to offer at the Center and determine what unique programs should be created and delivered exclusively at the Center.
Strengthening shared governance is a commitment that I made when I was the Provost and which I believe in wholeheartedly. I value shared governance and the role that it plays at our University. This is evident particularly during my weekly Executive Council meetings, which not only include all of the vice presidents but now include the chairs of the Faculty Senate, University Advisory Council, and the University Planning and Budgeting Council. I am grateful to those three chairs for bringing their voices to the table. I also look forward to further enhancing my relationships with members of the A&P Council, Civil Service Council, UPI, AFSCME, other groups that represent our employees, and, of course, our Student Government Association. Additionally we have been meeting to discuss a shared governance gap -- the opportunity for the chairs of our various shared governance bodies to come together to discuss issues of the University and advise the President. We held a couple of meetings last year and will continue to work toward formalizing this group this year.
You’ve all heard: “It takes a village.” Of course, we know that. And here at Northeastern, we are that village for our students. When I asked you to thank each other at the beginning of my address today, I was asking you to recognize our shared responsibility to our students, and to one another. I see you taking responsibility for our students in so much of what you do: advising them, encouraging them, caring about their challenges, and applauding their successes. And I see you doing that for one another within departments and offices, helping out when called upon, and advocating when necessary.
As I’ll discuss in more detail, the Forward 150 processes are additional evidence of you working together for the good of the whole. And, the media are starting to pick up on our good work. Just listen to some of the most recent distinctions we’ve received lately. -- #1 in campus ethnic diversity among Midwest regional universities (U.S. News & World Report) -- #1 in graduating students with the least amount of debt (U.S. News & World Report) -- #1 safest college campus in the state (ADT Security Services) -- Third safest college campus in the country (College Stats) -- Most diverse university in the Midwest (Wall Street Journal / Times Higher Education College Ranking) -- Northeastern students graduate with the 15th-lowest student loan debt nationally among public four-year colleges and universities and the lowest debt among all Illinois institutions (LendEDU)
Last but not least, I set out for us to complete our first comprehensive capital campaign, which we launched in April. I am so pleased with the results so far, having met about $8.5 million of our $10 million goal with more than a year to go. As you read last week we met the Goodwin Challenge earlier this year, and it was the generous donations at the Golden Gala that pushed us over the goal. Thank you and congratulations to the Division of Institutional Advancement, led by VP Liesl Downey. We need this financial support now more than ever. In a climate where we can’t always rely on governmental financial support, it’s reassuring to know that we can count on the Division’s hard work as well as the generosity of our friends and donors. These continue to be my goals. We are unified as a University Community in our students’ success, and I look forward to working with all of you during this academic year to figure out how we can do even better.
One area where we can do better is enrollment. A few weeks ago, I shared with you some preliminary enrollment numbers for our fall semester. It was a mixed bag. As you may remember, there was some good news, but there was also some not-so-good news. We were thrilled to report that we enrolled our largest freshman class in the last four years, 829 new freshmen. That’s a 3.5 percent increase over last fall. Our total new graduate student numbers were up with 617, a 1.6 percent increase. Additionally, we exceeded our fall gross tuition target by 2.7 percent and saw a boost in student-resident occupancy in the The Nest with 383 students. We are now very close to being at full capacity in our residence hall. In spite of these positive enrollment trends, we are still down compared to last fall in overall enrollment by 5.8 percent with 8,982 students. Our strong recruitment and marketing campaigns have been successful in bringing new students to Northeastern, so a decline in overall enrollment can only mean we haven’t been doing so well in terms of retention. Fall-to-fall retention of freshman went from 55.0 percent last year to 46.4 percent this year. Dramatic declines in retention rates are also evident in some of our student success programs: Wentworth Scholars' retention rate was 32.6 percent while Project Success came in at 34.7 percent and Proyecto Pa'Lante at 37.5 percent.
As I mentioned earlier, student success and retention must continue to be a priority, and we all must work hard to reverse these trends.
Somewhat related to enrollment, I want to speak for a moment about a special population of students: specifically, the nearly 300 identified students who attend Northeastern who are undocumented. The day after Labor Day, the U.S. President rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, leaving Congress six months to act to maintain the program before recipients start losing their status. Back then, I used three words to describe this move by the White House: confounding, tragic and offensive. It’s confounding because our undocumented students are extraordinary and hard-working people who have much to contribute to the vitality of our University and nation. It’s tragic because they have made a positive impact on our economy and workforce, both of which will be hurt without them. And, it is offensive, because our undocumented students have touched our lives, and we simply wouldn’t be the same without them. And it’s not fair to them.
I want the hundreds of undocumented students who attend our University to know that we will do everything we can to urge the passage of a permanent legislative solution that will allow DACA students to continue pursuing their educational goals here without the fear of deportation. We want you to feel safe here, and even though the fate of DACA is uncertain, there's one thing that you can be sure of: With or without DACA, Northeastern will continue to support all of our students, regardless of immigration status.
I’m sorry about this period of uncertainty that you’re going through, and I am inspired by your bravery.
Let me shift gears now to a topic that has long been part of our tradition we call the State of the University Address. It has been a heart-breaking and difficult two years, hasn’t it? Fortunately, Springfield passed a budget shortly after the Fourth of July.
Here’s a very brief summary of what we got: -- An FY18 appropriation of $33.2 million, which unfortunately, is 10 percent less than the last full appropriation we received in FY15 -- The balance of an FY17 appropriation when added to the stop-gap funding that we received provides a full year appropriation. -- Map funding for FY17 and a 10 percent increase Statewide for FY18. Our amount of increase, if any, is yet to be determined. -- $1.2 million for capital repairs that include roof replacement and wall repairs
But, now, here’s what we didn’t get: -- A full FY16 appropriation, leaving us short by $26.2 million compared to FY 2015 -- Additional support for $200 million in deferred capital maintenance projects -- Any assurance that there won’t be a budget rescission like there was in FY15 -- And the University has yet to receive full appropriation for FY17 and FY18
As you recall, these were just some of the reasons why we continued a painful layoff process that we had started before the budget passed. Early last month, we completed that process, and then a few weeks later -- after an assessment of our financial and staffing situation with the Executive Council -- we decided that we could afford to bring back approximately 10 percent -- or 18 -- of those that were eliminated. This wasn’t an easy transition, and it has taken some time for us to grow accustomed to the changes that were the result of this process.
Now, this is the part of the State of the University address where I really need your attention and an open mind. You know that our budget situation isn’t ideal -- and while we are appreciative of the appropriation we received from the state, we must be realistic about how we plan for our future. So, please hear me out on three important points that I want to make.
#1 This isn’t the end of our budget turmoil. Not only did we receive 10 percent less money than the last time we received a full appropriation, now there are hints from Springfield that a mid-year budget rescission -- that’s us having to give back a percentage of our appropriation to the state -- could be a possibility. So, if you think a 10 percent cut hurts, just think about how bad it will be if there’s a budget rescission in our future. Looking forward to FY2019, I am hopeful that the passage of a budget will go more smoothly in Springfield than it did the last time around, but if insiders and political analysts are to be believed, we shouldn’t be holding our breath on that. Like I’ve said before, the financial crisis will be with us for a decade due to the extreme amount of debt the state currently carries.
#2 Enrollment is the key to our survival. Yes, we are celebrating increases in the number of new students who attend Northeastern. But don’t forget that recruitment is only a component of enrollment. A big part of it is retention. That’s an area where we need to be all-hands-on-deck. We need to enhance the student experience here to enable all of our students to successfully reach their academic goals. We need to bolster our success programs so that students who need it get the support that is necessary to come back the next semester. We must recognize that we are 70 percent tuition driven. Folks, it’s not about changing our students, it’s about changing ourselves to meet the needs of our students.
#3 We need an engaged University Community. This might sound a lot to ask of the faculty, staff and students who went through a traumatic budget and layoff process. But please know that we need you now more than ever. We need your ideas, feedback, and most of all participation. And when I say participation, I mean it in terms of the high priority University initiatives that are currently underway. Whether it’s solving our declining retention rates, promoting a University environment that is inclusive and welcoming, or joining in on the Forward 150 discussions.
That’s actually a good segue into the next thing I want to talk about: Securing Our Future. And there’s no better way to start than by talking about Forward 150. In January, many of you answered my call to come together to have healthy discussions about who we are, how we operate and the opportunities we must consider. It was a fruitful process that, after the summer, evolved into something more in depth. A few weeks ago, we launched the next step of Forward 150, which calls for weekly meetings on Thursday afternoons that alternate between two very important initiatives: program prioritization and budget modeling. I want to thank the people who are leading this charge. You know them, and I selected them because of the high level of respect and trust they have within our University Community. Acting Provost Wamucii Njogu, Professor Emerita Shelley Bannister and Pedroso Center Executive Director Maria Genao-Homs will be leading program prioritization while VP for Finance and Administration Michael Pierick and Professor Mike Wenz will be leading budget modeling.
Yes, I have heard all the arguments against engaging in these initiatives now: -- We have a budget; let’s continue on as we are. -- We might have a new president, he/she might not accept the recommendations, so why do all this work? -- We don’t know what the goal is (how much do we cut, or what programs are in danger). -- And, my favorite: He has a outcome in mind already. I was intentional in selecting the individuals to lead these efforts because of the level of trust the community has in them. If there were a pre-determined outcome I hope you can count on the integrity of these individuals to say so. Moreover, with the chairs of Faculty Senate, UPBC and UAC at the table for Executive Council, if there were a pre-determined outcome, I am pretty confident you would know about it. Yes, there is going to be a national search for Northeastern’s next president, and yes it could be someone else. But please remember if the budget is again drastically reduced, or late in arriving, do you want a new president, or even me, getting into a room and making decisions without community input? For five years I have heard that we want to be part of the discussion, we want more accountability and responsibility, we want more transparency, we want to build trust. This process gives us those opportunities. And with opportunity comes great responsibility and, yes, hard decisions. Can I make the cuts myself? Of course. Should I? Of course not. I have also heard that a new president might just ignore all this work. That could happen. But if the conversation and recommendations are grounded in community input, it makes it more difficult to disregard them.
Why no stated goal? If I set a goal then clearly that would be seen as a pre-determined outcome. I want you to think boldly, Northeastern. Tell us what you think we should grow, what we should maintain, what we should shrink, and yes, sadly what we should eliminate given declines in both state appropriations and enrollment. Talk with colleagues about new and energizing ways of organizing our many areas of teaching and learning. I heard a faculty member say this at an open meeting: We need to do better with less. And that’s true. I am confident in your ability to help the University move forward for all of our students.
I have worked hard at earning your trust over this year. It is important to me, because I recognize that many of you feel that you can’t trust the administration. Selecting trusted individuals to lead these efforts, adding the chairs of Faculty Senate, University Planning and Budget Council and University Advisory Council to my Executive Council are some important steps I have taken. Regular Open Office hours, Town Halls, regular and more frequent meetings with the Faculty Senate Steering Committee, frequent University communications and updates are other examples. I would like you to ask yourself the same question--what are you doing to engender trust? I am asking you to trust the process by participating in it. Trust is a two way street--let’s continue this important work together. The life of the University depends on it.
I want to end my State of the University Address like I did the last time. With another look at our Mission Statement. Sure, we read it and reference it all the time. But do we ever take the time to stop and carefully look at how purposefully and meaningfully it is written? Now is a good time for us to do this together and reaffirm the statement that drives our University.
-- OUR MISSION: Northeastern Illinois University, as a public comprehensive university with locations throughout Chicago, provides an exceptional environment for learning, teaching, and scholarship. We prepare a diverse community of students for leadership and service in our region and in a dynamic multicultural world.
No matter how rough things get for us -- and I’d say that the last two years were pretty rough -- we’ve always stuck to our Mission. That says a lot about how powerful this statement is, and it also speak volumes about how strongly you and I feel about this Mission. Thank you for sticking with our Mission. Thank you for your commitment to Northeastern. We’re in this together, and I know that there’s nothing we can’t overcome. Let’s have a great year.