There will be times in the days ahead when Timothy Flanagan checks the campus map before leaving his office for a meeting. As is true of everyone starting their first semester at Illinois State, he may initially mispronounce Schroeder Hall. And it could be awhile before he knows the story of all individuals whose names are emblazoned on the University’s buildings.
Ask Flanagan about the significance of Illinois State’s history as a Normal school, however, and there is no hesitation. He readily knows and shares the rich legacy that sets apart higher education institutions established to teach the next generation of teachers. The heritage is just one point of pride the incoming president appreciates about the University he begins leading this month.
“The Normal school is an important American creation,” said Flanagan, who takes the reigns as ISU’s 18th president after building his career at institutions that began with the purpose of training educators. He comes to Illinois State having served the past six years as president of Framingham State University, which was established in Massachusetts by Horace Mann in 1839 as the nation’s first public teacher preparation school.
“Horace Mann called for institutions suitable for the richest and available to the poorest,” Flanagan said. “I have great admiration for these institutions. They started out with the pragmatic and public purpose to educate teachers for the common schools. They have, almost without exception, developed into first-rate arts and sciences universities that serve their region and students well.”
Flanagan knows Illinois State exemplifies such a transformation and gratefully accepts the challenge of maintaining the University’s growth and excellence. When introduced to the ISU community in May following a national search, he expressed gratitude for “the extraordinary privilege of taking over an institution on a great trajectory that has been so well led.”
“My first task is to keep the momentum going. We will move forward in ways that foster the pride of alumni and strengthen the University’s reputation because that translates into opportunities for graduates,” Flanagan said.
“At the same time, we have to recognize that the economy and the needs of the state of Illinois are changing rapidly. What role will ISU play in addressing those needs? There may be new paths and opportunities for us to contribute.”
The question epitomizes the approach Flanagan brings to his presidency at Illinois State. While he recognizes and applauds the excellent people, programs and planning that have positioned ISU as a leading undergraduate institution in the state and nation, he simultaneously considers what can yet be achieved. “I’m not a status quo person,” he said. “I get up each day and ask myself what can be done to improve the University, to make it a better and more rewarding place for students, faculty and staff, and the community.”
What that means for Illinois State will become clear to Flanagan as he builds partnerships with the campus and community, which he emphasizes will be his mode of operation. “One thing I have learned through the years is that a president acting alone can accomplish very little,” he said.
“I place a very high premium on engaging people in discussions about the University and am interested in learning from people. What do they want to achieve? Where do they want to go?”
He began the dialogue before arriving on campus, assigning the vice presidents the task of compiling a document titled “50 Things I Need to Know about Illinois State University.”
The information is crucial, as Flanagan wants to understand the goals of every unit across campus. “My role as president is to help realize the ambitions and aspirations that exist, to put resources in place and open doors. The presidency is the antithesis of creating obstacles.”
He knows the struggles all too well from having devoted his professional life to higher education as a professor in criminology and sociology, and as an administrator.
On track as an undergraduate to become a probation officer, Flanagan was encouraged by a faculty member to pursue graduate school. With a master’s completed in 1974, his goal was to enter the emerging field of criminal justice planning. He instead joined the faculty at Marshall University in West Virginia.
It was there Flanagan embraced his first opportunity to build an academic program, as he was one of three in a newly created criminal justice department. He realized the need for the doctorate to continue in higher education, which led him to complete a Ph.D. in criminal justice at the University at Albany, State University of New York. His graduate work focused on prisons as organizations.
“I was interested in human adaptation under extreme circumstances,” he said. As a dissertation topic, he chose to study behavioral and psychosocial adjustment of people incarcerated for long terms in maximum security prisons. The research gave him significant insight into human adaptation within complicated organizational structures.
“Universities and prisons are fundamentally different organizations, especially in terms of core values, daily activities of residents, and staff and outcomes,” Flanagan said. Yet there are similar challenges as organizations with multiple constituencies, diverse goals, and reliance on inadequate government funding to fulfill a mission so critical to society overall.
“All of higher education is confronting the challenge of disinvestment. Taxpayers are not supporting education as generously as in the past, and the balance is being foisted upon students and their families. Our number one challenge is to maintain excellence while remaining affordable and accessible without burdening students with mountains of debt,” Flanagan said, emphasizing the need to increase private funding.
He refers to the recession as a mixed blessing for public higher education. Financial worries for families have increased, but public universities are in the spotlight as a more affordable option. “This creates an opportunity to talk about cost, quality and value” Flanagan said. “It is not difficult to make a convincing argument that completing a university degree is still a solid financial and personal investment.
“Nearly all jobs created in the U.S. economy since 2007 have been filled by college graduates. The college degree is an essential ingredient for life. Our work is important to the economic and social wellbeing of Illinois and the nation. Our mission couldn’t be more important today than at any time in American history.”
He takes Illinois State’s helm ready to stress the importance of public higher education to all who will listen, and to specifically broadcast ISU’s excellence. He is especially eager to meet alumni, whom he considers to be the University’s “most important stakeholders.”
“The alumni have built the success Illinois State enjoys today because of what they have accomplished,” Flanagan said, expressing his hope that graduates will speak loudly and proudly of their ISU experience. “Alumni can also be an invaluable resource for current students and graduates by making internships available and by using ISU networks for hiring in their businesses and organizations.”
He is eager to hear their stories directly. Meeting alums is just one bullet point on his plan of action to immediately engage while still settling into Hovey Hall. He asked the University leadership for a list of 100 people he should meet right away, which reflects his commitment to engage in ongoing conversation with campus and community constituencies. He pledges to openly share key information about the University, including financial and enrollment statistics, as one means of maintaining a consistent dialogue.
Flanagan will also keep a finger on the student pulse, getting out across campus regularly for purposeful interaction and taking his administrative team for conversation in the residence halls to assess the ISU collegiate experience. The effort began with move-in, as Flanagan introduced himself to students and shared his understanding of the anxiety tied to being the new person on campus.
“I feel exactly the same way as the freshmen unpacking in a brand new place,” Flanagan said. He has a key advantage over the traditional freshman, however, as he is sharing his ISU experience with his “best friend and the love of my life,” his wife Nancy. They met as undergraduates, illustrating a point he shares with current students.
“One of the best parts of a great undergraduate experience is the people that you meet,” Flanagan said, adding that he is eager to begin “an energizing learning experience” at Illinois State. He is ready and proud to be a Redbird.
FAST FACTS ON PRESIDENT FLANAGAN
Timothy Flanagan and his wife, Nancy, married two months after completing their undergraduate degrees in 1973. She holds a doctorate in nursing and has an accomplished career as a clinician and nurse educator. They are
the parents of two adult children and enjoy four grandchildren, all under the age of 5. Their daughter, Erin Coglianese, M.D., is a cardiologist on the heart transplant team at Loyola University Medical Center outside Chicago. Their son, Kevin, is a software architect working for Comcast in Denver, Colorado. The presidential couple also includes Maggie, a 5-year-old golden retriever, as part of the family. Expect to see them walking her on campus and be ready to engage in conversation, as the president and first lady are eager to meet the ISU community.
A respected social scientist whose research has focused on crime and justice, Flanagan has presented internationally and written extensively. He has published three books, 40 peer reviewed works in scholarly journals across the fields of criminology, political science and law, and numerous government reports.
Ph.D. and master’s degrees in criminal justice from University at Albany, State University of New York
Post-graduate work at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and elsewhere
Flanagan’s academic career began as an instructor at Marshall University in West Virginia. He has held tenured faculty and administrative positions on campuses in New York, Texas, and Massachusetts. His most recent leadership positions include the following:
President, Framingham State University, Framingham, Massachusetts
Professor of sociology at Framingham
Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, College at Brockport, State University of New York
Professor of criminal justice at Brockport
You can also download President Flanagan’s complete vita.