The son of first-generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, John Peters grew up understanding the importance of hard work and the value of education. The core values of dedication, family and sacrifice, which he learned on a small dairy farm in Strongsville, Ohio, helped prepare him to meet the challenges and changes of leading a 21st century university, a position he has held since 2000.
In his 2010 State of Northern Illinois University Address, President Peters said, “It is our duty, for the sake of generations to come, to adapt, to innovate and to motivate.” This dedication drove him to unveil the Vision 2020 Initiative — a roadmap for the university’s future. Vision 2020’s goals for NIU include becoming “the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest and establishing strategic goals for the coming decade in areas of student, faculty and facility excellence.”
A student of political science
Dr. Peters received his bachelor’s degree in political science from John Carroll University in Cleveland and a master’s in government from Ohio University in Athens. He received his Ph.D in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before becoming provost and chief operating officer at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. As a teacher and administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Peters received numerous awards for teaching and service.
Since becoming the eleventh president of Northern Illinois University, Dr. Peters has helped draw national recognition to the university. Under his guidance, NIU gained admission to the organization now known as the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), an honor awarded to the top five percent of universities across the nation. Additionally, the university received the highest ranking by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, and gained membership in the elite Universities Research Association.
Dr. Peter’s leadership has helped expand federal funding for research at NIU, procuring more than $60 million through partnerships with state and federal research programs.
A large gift early in his tenure
Shortly after taking the helm, Dr. Peters garnered a $20 million private gift that allowed the university to build a new College of Business. The school is consistently ranked among one of the top business schools in the country by Businessweek, Crain’s Chicago Business and US News & World Report. In 2001, NIU received a $4.2 million federal land grant in 2001 for a particle accelerator — the culmination of collaboration with Fermilab, near Batavia.
In addition to his role at NIU, Peters also serves on the Executive Committee for the NCAA, the Mid-American Conference Council of Presidents, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He is a member of the FRA Board of Directors for Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the U.S. Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship and the APLU Commission on Women in Higher Education. He is co-chair of Illinois’ Center for Child Welfare and Education.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education named Dr. Peters to a special task force studying math and science education, providing a national perspective for his ongoing work with education and economic development groups throughout the Midwest.
Honored as a "student's president"
NASPA, the organization for student affairs and administrators in higher education, called Dr. Peters a “student’s president” and honored him in 2010 with its annual President’s Award, reserved each year for only one college or university president.
He is widely published, with articles in many academic and political journals including the Journal of Policy Studies, American Politics Quarterly, American Political Science Review, and Legislative Studies Quarterly. Additionally he has co-edited two books on American politics.
Dr. Peters and his wife, Barbara Cole Peters, have a son, Russell, who lives and works in Knoxville, Tenn., with his wife and their two children.