Thursday’s meeting of Northern Illinois University’s Board of Trustees was long, reflecting a lengthy agenda. What it wasn’t, was fraught or contentious.
What a difference a year makes. Last summer the NIU Board was dealing with a crisis around the departure of its president, even as it dealt with the financial threat from the state budget impasse. In the following months, it had to contend with new unions, lawsuits and more. But, Board Chairman Wheeler Coleman said, the leadership has made a lot of strides to move the school forward, and it’s a new day.
“It was a year of renewed focus, renewed commitment, renewed discipline," he said. “And so, we’re regrouping as a university.”
Coleman said there’s a continuous improvement effort that’s underway in the budget, policies and procedures. And he says the Board is grateful to NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman for her leadership in helping move the institution forward.
For her part, Acting President Freeman was able to present the school’s board of trustees something Thursday that’s been rare in recent years: a university budget that was balanced and on-time. Freeman said that was possible because, after several years of drama, the state finally got its act together. It passed a budget -- and one with an increase in funding for higher education. It even included some money for deferred maintenance.
“All the presidents and chancellors, the legislative delegation that represents universities said, the thing that we want most of all is clarity,” she said, “and we got that.”
Freeman said NIU -- and higher education in general in Illinois -- still has a lot of catching up to do after years of little or no money, and even less certainty, from Springfield. But, she said, legislators this time around were responsive to a number of concerns by the state’s schools. She thinks their actions will help NIU and its peers better support students who want to go to college in Illinois.