It is my great pleasure to welcome our Illinois State University faculty and staff to the 2016-2017 academic year. I have already met many new faculty and a few new staff members, and I hope to see more new and returning faces as the semester progresses.
I want to thank everyone who worked and volunteered their time for the Welcome Week program this year. Transition can be stressful, especially for new students and their families, so I am grateful to the hundreds of Redbirds whose efforts made the process go smoothly and efficiently.
I begin my third fall semester as President with a mixture of optimism and realism. I am optimistic because of what we have achieved and what we will continue to achieve by working together, and to the best of our ability, controlling our own destiny.
One month ago, Illinois State was honored by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a “Great Place to Work.” It was a designation the University earned in two Chronicle categories last year, but this year, Illinois State received Honor Roll designation because of its high rankings in multiple categories, including Collaborative Governance, Respect and Appreciation, and Work/Life Balance. It is especially gratifying that the Chronicle’s assessment includes a confidential survey of faculty and staff members at the nominated institutions, which tells me we continue to support our University and ourselves. The fact that this award comes on the heels of one of the most economically and politically challenging years in our history is true testament to the quality and engagement of our faculty and staff members, so I congratulate the entire ISU community.
I also look with optimism at our incoming freshman class and our overall enrollment for the 2016-2017 year. Last year’s almost constant barrage of news headlines regarding Illinois’ budget crisis and political gridlock took a toll on the recruiting and retention efforts at many of our sister universities throughout the state. As a result of those negative messages, and the declining number of students graduating from Illinois high schools, many will experience significantly lower enrollments. However, when our 10th day official numbers come out, I expect Illinois State’s enrollment will be strong, and comparable in total numbers and in student academic quality with last year. Again, our strength and stability rests in our strong brand, quality learning, and support environment, and the tireless efforts of our staff members who concentrate their efforts on recruiting and retaining students.
Turning to budget matters requires a more realistic approach. As I communicated to you in an email on July 1, Illinois State received just over $59.2 million, plus all of its Monetary Award Program reimbursement by the end of FY2016, about 82 percent of what we received in our FY2015 state appropriation. That represents about an 18 percent cut—which is more than the 8.6 percent cut the General Assembly originally approved, and was vetoed—but much less than the 31.5 percent reduction that was originally proposed by Governor Rauner. It actually turned out to be very close to the cuts ISU had planned for in the first place—so with our careful spending, targeted cuts, low debt, and solid enrollment, we begin FY2017 financially stable.
Still, there is no FY2017 budget in place, and it is highly unlikely there will be any legislative budget discussions prior to the November elections. Therefore, the austerity measures enacted for most of last year will remain in place this year.
We will add to the more than 100 non-faculty positions that have been eliminated or left vacant through retirements and resignations. Any new or replacement hires will require my personal approval. We will address only critical construction and maintenance projects, curtail large equipment purchases, and cut back on professional travel. However, I remain committed to putting our students first by keeping our faculty in the classrooms and our student support staff in their offices, so I currently envision an academic year that is once again free from layoffs or furlough days. Although any discussion of salary enhancements will remain on hold for now, I think you will agree that maintaining our faculty and staff base puts ISU in much better condition than many other Illinois colleges and universities.
I look forward to a busy and productive fall term with a full slate of academic, cultural, and athletic activities and events. I hope to see you soon on campus, and always feel free to connect with me via email at email@example.com.
Please accept my best wishes for a healthy and fulfilling year at Illinois State University.
Larry H. Dietz