DeKALB – Touting a list of the university’s achievements since his tenure began in 2000, Northern Illinois University President John Peters said in his State of the University address on Oct. 11 that he will step down from his position June 30.
“In recent months, after several discussions with [my wife] Barbara and my son, Russell, I have decided that this is the time,” Peters said. “This is the time for me to pass the torch to another who will carry out the noble mission of leading this great university.”
Changes since 2000
Under Peters, the university reached higher student enrollment numbers, peaking at 25,313 students in fall 2006. However, enrollment has dropped steadily since – fall 2012’s enrollment of 21,869 students is a 4.9 percent drop from the previous year.
State support to higher education has shrunk as well. In the outset of his speech, Peters highlighted the “bleak” landscape facing NIU and other public universities. The Illinois General Assembly has cut the university’s appropriations in six of the past 13 years, Peters said.
Peters took on perhaps a greater leadership role after the 2008 shooting, in which a former NIU student walked into Room 101 in Cole Hall and opened fire, killing five students and injuring at least 16 others, before turning the gun on himself.
Cole Hall was closed and renovated. It reopened last January. Peters said he wanted the building torn down before seeking state support to renovate it.
“It is personally inspiring for me to know that this building will now foster learning for tens of thousands of 21st century students,” he said. “Once a symbol of tragedy, Cole Hall is now a symbol of rebirth, resolve and resilience.”
State Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Shabbona, said Peters’ leadership after the Feb. 14 shooting was one of the highlights of his legacy.
“[Cole Hall] took on a new meaning for the students, the faculty, and the people in the community,” Johnson said.
In September 2010, Peters outlined his Vision 2020 initiative, an all-encompassing plan to make NIU “the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest.”
One of the goals the university has met was through its University Honors program. Peters noted that the program accepted 226 freshmen and 102 transfers this fall.
“The last time our freshman class of University Honors was that large was 1987, when most of our students were not even born yet,” he said.
Christopher Jones, the associate vice provost for University Honors, said he and others streamlined the process in which honors scholarships are awarded to students, and that “small tweak” is leading to a wider initiative.
“I think (Peters) truly cares about the students,” Jones said. “Some university professors talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. ... He does walk the walk.”
Finding a replacement
NIU Trustee Marc Strauss said the Board of Trustees will have to form a search committee to find Peters’ successor. Strauss said they will talk about the committee at their Nov. 8 meeting, but he was uncertain if the committee would get off the ground so soon.
Strauss predicted there would be a “great pool of candidates” for the committee to choose from, and that he felt that there was plenty of time for the committee and board to do its job.
Mayor Kris Povlsen said he hoped the partnership between the city and the university would continue under Peters’ successor. Povlsen pointed to the cooperation between the respective police departments and university involvement in the city’s housing task force as examples.
Peters said he will provide support to his successor during the transition process.
After his speech, Peters said he will remain involved with university fundraising.
• By 2013, he will have overseen the construction of seven new buildings on campus, including a new residence hall.
• In September 2010, Peters launched his Vision 2020 initiative, an all-encompassing effort to upgrade the university.
• He was the president when the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting occurred. Since then, he participated in numerous on-campus memorials, organized a scholarship dedicated to the victims, and lobbied the state for funding to reopen Cole Hall, which occurred in January.
• In fall 2006, enrollment peaked at 25,313 students.
• Under his watch, NIU was admitted to the National Association of State and Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the Universities Research Association.
• NIU has privately raised $187 million, most of which ($150 million) came through the NIU Foundation’s True North campaign.