NIU President Lisa Freeman reflected on the effects COVID-19 has had on the university for the past nine months, along with the university’s social justice efforts during Tuesday’s state of the university address.
“It’s safe to say this is a year we’ll never forget,” Freeman said Tuesday during the address. “I smile when I say that, but I know there’s some pain in the statement to all of us who suffered and sacrificed during this year of the pandemic. This year of social and economic upheaval. This year a profound change.”
Freeman recapped efforts from the university in response to the pandemic such as more than $2 million that was distributed to nearly 5,000 students. That sum also included more than $27,000 from 672 NIU employees who donated their own parking reimbursements.
“The pandemic has exacted a financial toll on universities nationwide, currently, and NIU faces a potential budget deficit of roughly $37 million,” Freeman said.
She said the university doesn’t plan on laying off any employees for the calendar year, and the university hasn’t ruled out nor made the decision to implement furloughs
Freeman said the university has received a total of $18.2 million from federal and state COVID-19 relief programs. By the end of this semester, NIU students will have received about half of the funds, about $9 million in direct aid. The other half has or is being applied to an array of NIU COVID-19 related expenses.
Freeman also focused on six strategic themes, in accordance with the university’s strategic action planning framework, that will position NIU for “long term sustainability and success.”
The themes included empowerment and shared responsibility; student recruitment, student success and student experience; academic excellence and curriculum innovation; diversity, equity and inclusion; research, artistry and engagement; and resource development and fiscal responsibility.
While discussing the six themes, Freeman mentioned a goal for each one for the university to achieve, in accordance with FY21’s presidential goals.
Freeman said the university has become intentional about diversifying faculty and will continue to do so in the diversity, equity and inclusion theme.
She said in 2018 the university only hired one tenure track faculty of color out of a total of about 45 hires. Since the fall of 2019, about half of the new faculty hires were people of color.
“This year, our country is experiencing divisions, anger and tragedy on issues surrounding social justice, but this painful time brings opportunities to grow,” Freeman said.
For the last 30 minutes of the address, Freeman answered questions from a live question and answer session. She addressed the switch to virtual classes for the remainder of the semester and said the best decision for everyone was for those who could work remotely, to do so.
“In our experience to date, we have not found classrooms and teaching-learning situations to be high risk for COVID-19 transmission, and that’s been the experience of many universities,” Freeman said. “I wish we weren’t here, but I think we’re doing the right thing.”
Freeman also touched on what the spring semester will look like, and how the report of a new vaccine for COVID-19 could be great news for the fall semester. She said that Fall 2021 on campus could be much more typical of what we’re used to in terms of residence life, face-to-face classes, events, conferences and commencement.
“I really hope that at this time next year, we’re all together in the Altgeld auditorium for the state of the university and that we’re talking about how we made it through the pandemic, emphasizing our mission, vision and values, that we’ll be able to celebrate the progress we’ve made towards achieving the goals we talked about today,” Freeman said.