It is a pleasure to welcome you to campus for the 2019-2020 academic year at Illinois State University. For our new faculty and staff members—a special greeting to you. For our returning faculty and staff who were away from campus, I hope the short summer months brought you a measure of relaxation and resurgence.
Just a few catch-up notes: Our July Board of Trustees meeting brought us two new trustees. Dr. Kathy Bohn is a physician and a partner at the Vein Specialists in Bloomington, along with her spouse, Dr. Tom Nielsen. Dr. Bohn is a Redbird alum, and along with Trustee Bob Dobski, they make a powerful duo for our Board who reside locally. In addition, the Governor appointed Bob Navarro, an alum who is president and CEO of Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau in Chicago. Bob was also a founding member of Illinois State’s Latino Alumni Network. The Board elected alum and Chicago attorney Julie Annette Jones as chair and alum Mary Ann Louderback as secretary.
As you also learned last week, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jan Murphy announced she will retire at the end of fiscal year 2020. Provost Murphy provided outstanding leadership for Illinois State for over three decades, so we will immediately begin a national search to fill that critical position.
At the end of May, the Governor and General Assembly adopted a fiscal year 2020 operating budget for Illinois State of about $69.6 million—a 5 percent increase over last year’s appropriation. They also increased funds for the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which assists our students with the greatest financial need, and added additional funding for the new Aim High Program, which provides students some merit-based funds at the state level.
In addition, a capital bill includes $62 million for the Fine Arts Complex renovation and construction, $82 million for Milner Library, and $40 million for a host of capital renewal and deferred maintenance projects. These are projects that will span the next six years.
A note of caution about capital funding—it is easily appropriated, but not so easily released. It has been about a decade since Fine Arts Complex funds were originally approved, so—as they say—don’t hold your breath. I am appreciative of the first capital bill in almost a decade, and hopefully the capital funds will flow over the next several fiscal years.
You have heard me use the words strong and stable on numerous occasions to describe Illinois State, and we continue on an upward trajectory. Still, I want to manage our expectations by stating that we will remain cautious and responsibly frugal in our spending approach. As the charts below illustrate, even though the state of Illinois is reinvesting in public higher education, universities have sustained deep cuts over the past two decades—in capital as well as operational funding. I will continue to carefully review and personally approve all hirings, and we will continue to look for economies realized through non-faculty retirements and resignations.
In addition, there was no tuition increase for this academic year, though there was a modest fee increase to fund academic enhancement programs.
In the next couple of weeks, I will likely be announcing our largest freshman class in over three decades—somewhere close to 3,800 students. It will also be an incredibly diverse group—a third of the class will be racially diverse, moving our total enrollment of students from underrepresented groups to 26 percent.
We will experience the largest increase ever in the number of new graduate students—up 15 percent from this time last year. We will welcome our largest Honors class ever—almost doubling the number of Presidential and University Scholars. We have enrolled 150 more students than last year with ACT scores at 27 or above.
And we are increasing our outreach to students with financial need and merit, adding an extra $4 million to the $45 million provided last year.
In short—we are poised for even more success.
We have an impressive list of projects this year both in and out of the classroom. We will look to continue to expand our INTO Internationalization program and make further progress toward adding a degree program in engineering.
The Bone Student Center heads into the final year of its revitalization. Our new, two-story welcome center is an inviting calling-card for prospective students and their families. The inside of the Bone has taken on an open and exciting new look, and Milner Plaza is a refreshing destination. The Culinary Support Center at Watterson Towers is also incredibly impressive and provides an attractive campus entrance at North and Fell streets. In addition, we will formalize plans for a campus Multicultural Center.
We are also in the home stretch of our Redbirds Rising campaign and have pushed through our original goal of $150 million to already over $162 million and counting. This past fiscal year saw a historic mark for gift commitments of over $37 million from more than 50,000 donors, which is simply spectacular.
On Thursday, September 12, we will formally announce the naming of the College of Fine Arts and the School of Art in recognition of the generosity of alumna Wonsook Kim and her husband, Thomas Clement. The event will take place at 3 p.m. at the Center for Performing Arts. All faculty, staff, students, retirees, and community members are invited to attend this historic occasion.
As we look forward to a busy and successful fall semester, I will look forward to seeing you at our many academic, cultural, athletic, and special events. One of those events, I’m happy to say, is the return of the Illinois State University Faculty/Staff Chili Cook-off. This was a campus favorite for years. The campus cook-off will take place during Homecoming, which means we’ll be moving the Faculty/Staff Appreciation Luncheon to February as part of the celebration of our university’s founding.
I will continue to seek and appreciate your feedback and support, and I wish you the best for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Larry H. Dietz