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state of the university

State of the University

President Larry Dietz

Center for the Performing Arts - Thursday, September 15

Watch a video of the State of the University Address

Thank you Senator Kalter. 

Students, alumni, friends, and faculty and staff colleagues—good afternoon and welcome.  I appreciate your taking the time to join me for my third State of the University address as President of Illinois State University.

I would like to take a few moments to make several introductions.  When I introduce you, please stand, and members of the audience, please hold your acknowledgements until all have been introduced.

Members of the Board of Trustees of Illinois State University:

Betty Kinser
Bob Dobski
Student Trustee Ryan Powers

President Emeritus, Dr. David Strand.

Leaders in community and state governance:

Representative Dan Brady
Senator Jason Barickman

Leaders in campus shared governance: Susan Kalter, Amanda Smith, Ron Gifford, John McHale and Heidi Verticchio.

And my vice Presidential leadership team:

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Dr. Janet Krejci.
Vice President for Finance and Planning, Greg Alt.
Vice President for University Advancement Pat Vickerman.
And the newest member of our team, Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Levester—L.J.—Johnson.

Thank you all very much for joining us today.

And one final very special introduction—Illinois State University’s First Lady—and my First Lady for 15 years, Marlene Dietz.

It was October 8th, 2015, when I presented to you my last State of the University Address.  Early in that message, I lamented that Illinois State was three months into FY2016—and still, there was no state appropriation for public universities.  Three months----imagine that!

During that particular message, I also warned it could be some time before the Legislature and Governor agreed on a budget, and that the budget might be less—in fact I used the words “much less” than the previous year.
Sadly, I was correct, but I would never have had the audacity to predict it would take the Governor and General Assembly an additional 10 months and 3 weeks to agree on a final stop gap budget measure.

That is an almost unthinkable amount of time—until of course you stop to think that it could happen again this year.

I deliver this FY2017 State of the University Address in the same Illinois fiscal environment as I offered last year’s Address—with less state support, without a full budget in place, and without any reimbursement for the funds this University provides for its students with the greatest financial need.  But just like last year—I deliver this message filled with optimism.
Illinois State University received a total of $59.2 million in state stop gap funds last year—about 18 percent less than our state appropriation from the previous year.  Fortunately, we were prepared for it—as I like to say, we planned our work and we worked our plan.

We eliminated or left vacant more than 100 non-faculty positions. 

We reduced spending by $11 million dollars on everything from non-safety related construction and maintenance projects, to large equipment purchases, to freezing merit-based salaries for the year.

We brought in the largest freshman class in 26 years while growing total enrollment, increasing our prestige, while also contributing to our bottom line. 

We celebrated the second best philanthropic year in Illinois State’s history—raising more than $21.6 million in gift commitments from alumni, corporate partners, friends and members of our own University family, who see this institution’s brilliant future—and are willing to invest in success.

We kept our debt low—in fact we held the lowest debt burden of any public university in Illinois.

And we made it—we ended last fiscal year with two words I used over and over again---Strong and Stable.  But we also watched as many of our sister universities teetered on the brink of insolvency—unsure whether they would greet the fall 2016 semester with open doors.

And now—we all face going through that exercise again.

Illinois’ public universities have been told that the 12th hour funding we received on June 30th will have to sustain our campuses through the first 6 months of this fiscal year—allowing the General Assembly and Governor to move past November elections and into calendar year 2017.

Again—Illinois State University will be prepared.  We will further cut operational spending and eliminate or leave vacant more administrative-related positions, and by the way, that number has now reached 110.  

We will complete only the most important construction and maintenance initiatives—and we will again hold the line on large equipment purchases and spend fewer dollars on university-wide events.

But again—I am confident we will emerge Strong and Stable.  We will again put our students first by keeping our professors in the classrooms and our support staff in their offices—and again, I do NOT see a circumstance where we will have to resort to layoffs or furlough days—something that has already happened and will continue to happen at many other colleges and universities throughout the state.

We will also again pay forward to our 4,000 students with high financial need, the millions they need to attend classes and pay for housing, books, food and clothing.  We have a moral and ethical contract to teach and support all of our students and I intend to keep it.

My greatest worry today—is how many more times will I have to say the word again? How many “agains” remain for Illinois State University—and how many fewer “agains” must remain for many other Illinois institutions.

There is no question Illinois remains in financial crisis—a crisis that is often exacerbated by partisan political gridlock.  Maybe November’s election will bring a solution to the contention—but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. 

By the way, there has been a farm in the Dietz family since 1863—so I never use that phrase lightly.

But until a long-term financial solution is determined, our state leaders must find ways to compromise and end this piecemeal approach to funding our state’s most precious resource—the higher education of its citizenry. 

Legislators were able to reach across the aisle on April 22nd  and June 30th of this year, but left in the wake of those late agreements were institutions facing fiscal disaster—threats of closure, large-scale layoffs, shattered morale, and a terrible impression on Illinois students and their families who were shopping for a college education.

We may not determine a FY2017 financial path until after the November elections—but the conversations should begin now.  And those conversations must answer the questions – how does the state of Illinois value higher education, how do we reflect that value with investment, and how can colleges and universities respond to that investment by keeping college affordable and accessible to students and families?

Those discussions should begin immediately, and unlike last year, our words must be civil—we must put aside the vitriol and fear-mongering that has too often become the backdrop for political and social discourse.

I recently read a blog in the Huffington Post—written by David Maxwell, a President Emeritus from Drake University.  Citing as pretext, the sometimes venomous language that is part of this year’s Presidential race, Dr. Maxwell wrote that colleges and universities—and their leaders—have become victims of the disintegration of civility in public discourse.   As I repeat a passage from his blog, think back on some of the stories you have read about public higher education over the past year or so.

Referring to university leaders Maxwell writes, Thanks to the hyperbolic and mostly inaccurate portrayals of higher education by sensationalist media and politicians, we are often cast as over-paid villains leading institutions that are too expensive, too elitist, with students majoring in irrelevant subjects, and who don’t get jobs when they graduate with crippling loan debt.

Does any of that sound familiar?  It was unfortunately and inaccurately a common theme last year.  The narrative was based on a few gross examples of higher education administrative mismanagement, and used by some who bashed public higher education or lambasted individuals with opposing political views. 

All of that poisoned dialogue almost got us nowhere, and unless the dialogue changes, it may well get us nowhere again.

There are good reasons that University Presidents don’t take sides politically, but that doesn’t mean we cannot or should not be passionate about policy.  And for more than 40 years, I have been passionate about public higher education policy.

Another favorite author of mine is Dr. Ernest Boyer, a distinguished scholar, who served several public universities, the Carnegie Commission, and was Assistant Secretary of Education.  One of Boyer’s favorite topics was the notion of community—in fact, he wrote a book about it.  Boyer believes a community exists when it is, as he writes, educationally purposeful, just, open, disciplined, celebrative and caring.

I agree with Boyer’s criteria, and I would add that an educated citizenry must be the foundation of any community and that a community must be grounded in ethical decision-making. 

If our political, business, social and educational leaders can use those benchmarks as a starting point—our conversations about the future of higher education in Illinois will be more civil—and our outcomes much more successful.

As the convener of the nine public university presidents group, I can report to you that those conversations have already begun right here on our campus, among college and university presidents and chancellors, the Illinois Board of Higher Education and some Illinois government leaders.

And as we make the case collectively for public higher education—I pledge to continue making the case for Illinois State University using what I will call today, our Metrics of Excellence.  As members of the University family, you are the people responsible for these metrics—and I am proud to share them with you.

Just over a week ago, I participated in a news conference on campus to reveal ISU’s 2016 fall census—the total number of new freshmen and total number of students, and how those numbers reflect our academic quality and diversity. 

We decided to hold a news conference instead of simply issuing a press statement—not because we set a 27-year record for our new freshman class, which we did—and not because our total enrollment went over 21,000 students, which it did—but because we achieved that success in what was probably the most difficult recruiting environment in our history. 

Not only is the number of graduating high school students shrinking, not only is there increasing competition from border state institutions, but the economic and political chaos that shadowed Illinois for the entire year made it extremely challenging for any Illinois public university to bring students to their campuses.    
But Illinois State again met the challenge, and we begin this year with 3,638 new freshmen and a total enrollment of 21,039—and I think that is simply remarkable.

217 freshmen scored 30 or better on the ACT, and two scored a perfect 36.  We also have at least one freshman on campus who went from kindergarten through high school, and never missed a single day of class—so we have talent—and stamina.

I am also proud to say that about one-fifth of our student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups—with a 10 percent increase in African-American students and a 9 percent increase in Latino/Latina students, so we have strength in our diversity.

Everyone in this room deserves a measure of credit for creating a University that, even in Illinois, remains a destination for motivated, high achieving and diverse students. 

But I also want to specifically thank the staffs of Enrollment Management, Admissions, Financial Aid, Housing, Registration, and University College for their extra efforts in a truly phenomenal recruiting year—can those staff members please stand for recognition?

Students who start at Illinois State, stay at Illinois State and graduate from Illinois State in nationally ranked percentages.  Our current retention rate is 82 percent and our graduation rate is at 73.4 percent, both in the top 10 percent in the nation.

Our students graduate—they graduate on time and they get good jobs.  Almost one third of Illinois State students graduate with no college-related debt at all.  Of those that do incur some debt, the average is lower than the national average of $25,500 by about $3,000 dollars.  ISU’s student loan default rate is 2.8 percent—9 percentage points lower than the national average of 11.8 percent.

More metrics of excellence—in the coming weeks USA Today willrelease the 2017 College Guide, with Illinois State earning accolades for value. The University was named 22nd in the nation as a “Best College for the Money,” out of more than 1,200 schools across the country.

And earlier this week, US News and World Report released its annual college rankings, and I am pleased to say ISU ranks 78th among the Best National public universities.  That keeps us in the top 80— up one notch from last year—and second among public universities in Illinois.

ISU also routinely appears in national publications that rate schools for their quality and value—publications such as Money Magazine, Kiplinger’s,
Business Week, the Washington Monthly, and others. 

I am also proud of the independent verification that ISU treats its veterans and service men and women well, and if any of you are in the audience today—thank you for your service.

As a member of the nation's Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, Illinois State is embarking on a partnership that is boosting the University’s academic reputation and increasing our visibility to students and their families across the country.

ISU was in the inaugural class of 77 of the nation’s top universities when the Coalition began.  The invitation to participate was extended only to universities with the nation’s strongest track records of providing students access, success and affordability. In short, Illinois State joins an elite group of universities thanks to its exceptionally high graduation rate, its overall affordability and low student debt and default rates. 

Thanks to the good work of many across campus—Enrollment Management and Admissions, the Data Stewardship Council, and Administrative Technologies, we will begin accepting admission applications through this new, nationally prominent entity. 
Only four universities in Illinois are members: the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University—and I think that is pretty good company.

And speaking of company, our Redbird football team played in the company of the Big 10 last Saturday—we went into the den of the Wildcats, and brought home our first-ever Big 10 football victory!  Congratulations to our Redbird football team, coach Brock Spack, his assistants and the entire Athletics Department staff.

Our Redbird student athletes are not only stars on the field of play, but also in the classroom. On the turf, we backed the Birds to two team championships—in football and in women’s track and field.  85 student athletes were named all-conference and 16 were individual champions in their respective sports.  Two Redbird alumni also competed in the summer Olympics.

In the classroom, Redbird student-athletes combined to record a department record 3.23 cumulative GPA in the spring of 2016, with 89 student-athletes earning a 4.0 GPA for the semester. Our athletes also put our value of Civic Engagement into practice by performing over 2,600 hours of community service.

Congratulations to all of our student athletes, and to the coaches and staff members who so tirelessly support them.

But perhaps the accolade that brings me the most satisfaction is the one we received just two months ago from the leading publication in our field, the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

In July, the University was designated by the Chronicle as a “Great Place to Work.” It was an achievement the University earned in two Chronicle categories last year, but this year, Illinois State received Honor Roll designation because of its high rankings in multiple categories, including Collaborative Governance, Respect and Appreciation, and Work/Life Balance.

It is especially gratifying that the Chronicle’s assessment includes an independent and confidential survey of faculty and staff members at the nominated institutions—we at ISU play no role in gathering or reporting the data.  That shows me, that even in challenging times, we not only support our students—we support each other. 

As we reflect upon our accomplishments, we will also begin updating our strategic plan, Educating Illinois, and embark on a busy and ambitious 2016-2017 academic year at Illinois State.  My agenda includes many initiatives:

We will continue our efforts to bring more international students to our campus, not for financial gain, but to increase ISU’s geographical diversity.  At most universities our size, the international population is between 5 and 10 percent, while we are at about 2 to 3 percent. 

This year, we will contract with what is known as a pathway provider, a third-party entity that partners with universities to recruit international students. Our efforts will not deny access to qualified Illinois students who want to attend ISU, but a University that aspires to prepare students for success in a competitive global environment should welcome and educate more students from around the globe.

ISU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning is taking shape and will progress as the academic year unfolds. I am pleased to tell you that the Center will move into its new home at the corner of Fell and North Streets as early as October.   

Under the leadership of Dr. Jan Paterson, several civic outcomes assessment projects are currently underway.  These involve our newest students who are enrolled in COM 110, students in the Civic Engagement and Responsibility Minor, and former students participating in the Alumni Survey. 

Illinois State received national recognition for its efforts to develop a coordinated and sustained approach to comprehensive community engagement, when members of the Civic Engagement Task Force presented at the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting in Indianapolis this past June.
Goals for the year include the development of a campus civic action plan, the development of a web site and the formation of a community advisory group to create additional mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships.

Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, the Illinois Board of Higher Education authorized Illinois State to establish a National Center for Urban Education. Dr. Robert Lee, who also directs the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline, will serve as the Executive Director of the Center, which will be funded through federal, state, municipal, community, and corporate grants.

The Mission of the Center is grounded in social justice and works from a community-based approach to cultivate and sustain transformative, resilient, and effective public schools.  

The Center will address three current needs in urban education: reducing the human and capital costs of high teacher attrition rates, preparing culturally informed and responsive teachers for the reality of demographic change, and demonstrating the value of community-based partnerships to enhance shared educational goals.

Another initiative this year flows from the Campus Climate Assessment that was completed this past April.  Following the campus-wide release of that Assessment, I announced the formation of a Task Force to address the report’s findings and recommendations. The 27-member Task Force has already begun its work, which will span the entire academic year.

I would like to introduce to you the Task Force Steering Committee, which represents faculty, staff, students and alumni.  They are Doris Houston, Dave Bentlin, Guadalupe Montalvo, Rick Lewis and Ryan Powers—could you all please stand for recognition?

I thank you—and all of the Task Force membership for your work on this important project.

The Task Force will review Climate Assessment findings and bring recommendations to me, and to other members of our leadership team, including Provost Krejci, Vice President Johnson and Trustee Anne Davis.  While I know we cannot implement every recommendation immediately, I am committed that this Assessment will serve as a call to action for the University community.

Meanwhile, Illinois State has already responded to some of the Assessment data.  The Ethics functions from the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access have been moved to our Office of Internal Audits, and we are in the final stages of searching for our next Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. Also, the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology will offer three sessions on the Foundations of Diversity and Inclusion this October and November.  Faculty and staff members can participate in these discussion by contacting CTLT to register.

Other events this fall include a two-day on-campus conference—a Culturally Responsive Campus Community—to be held on October 24th and 25th.  The conference is free—and I have added a registration link to the President’s website.

In addition, the Committee Assisting Undocumented Student Achievement—or CAUSA—held a program last week for K-16 educators to help them understand our diverse population, and more importantly, the legal obligations and responsibilities we have as educators.   CAUSA is a faculty, staff, and student group interested in raising awareness and supporting undocumented students and their families at Illinois State University.

ISU is also making progress with all gender restroom facilities.  New on campus this fall, there are all gender facilities on the first floor of the Bone Student Center, the third floor of Schroeder Hall and on the first and fourth floors of Hovey Hall.  As this year progresses, we will add more all gender facilities in the Bone Center, and work with campus groups to determine which buildings on the Quad will also contain all gender facilities. 

Other initiatives this year include advancing our culture of philanthropy.  Illinois State is one year away from the public launch of the University’s second comprehensive fundraising campaign.  Under the leadership of Vice President Vickerman and his staff, we will continue our preparation to further expand the fundraising enterprise in support of our direction. 

I have often said that the mission of a university is to “change lives,” and while gifts are not meant to replace operational dollars, they do provide a margin of excellence, creating and adding to student scholarships, supporting faculty, enhancing facilities and acquiring technologies.

The University has achieved remarkable success in bringing gift commitments to Illinois State over the past three years.  It is energizing to visit with our donors and hear the impact ISU has had on their lives.

They understand firsthand the significance of an ISU degree and want to ensure future generations of students and scholars receive the same life-changing experience. The positive trajectory of the University has created momentum for our comprehensive campaign and I am confident our students, faculty, staff, and donors will continue to step up to strengthen the ISU experience.

And, of course, the other kind of campaigning I will be doing this year will be in Springfield—further raising awareness that Illinois State University’s Metrics of Excellence have earned us international prominence and respect—and deserve predictable and stable state investment.

As I do so, I will again ask for, and appreciate, the participation and assistance of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, retirees and friends.  I will also be thankful for the support of our local legislative contingent, including Representative Dan Brady and Senator Jason Barickman. All of us must raise our voices to be heard.

And finally, placing the education and support of our students as our top priority, demands I do everything in my power to attract and retain the most talented and   student-centered faculty and staff members possible.  I believe we have just that kind of faculty and staff here, and you deserve to be fairly compensated for your service.  

Therefore, this fall, I will have discussions with our financial and budgeting leadership and our shared governance leaders about the potential for a modest mid-year, merit-based salary increase for faculty and staff members. 

In this continuing climate of financial uncertainty, I cannot make guarantees—but I do want you to know that it is important to me, and that I will be working on it.

One more message for our students, although it applies to all of us.  One of the best ways we can put Illinois State’s value of Civic Engagement into action is by voting—so I encourage everyone to exercise your right to vote on November 8th.  I know that during the primary elections, students experienced some long waits to register and vote, particularly in the Bone Student Center.

I am told those issues have been resolved, and with the opportunities for advance registration and early voting—I hope for a big voting turnout for Redbird nation.

And I hope out faculty and staff members will all also elect to participate in this year’s State Employees Combined Appeal campaign.  There are a variety of organizations in McLean County, around the state and throughout the country that need our help, and the SECA campaign is a great place to contribute to those worthy goals.

Again, thank you for your time and attention, and thank you for your support over these past two-and-a-half years.  I am grateful for your service, and very proud to be part of the Illinois State University family.

Thank you so very much.




2016-09-16T15:09:36.543-05:00 2016