The Year Before Us

Remarks at the Faculty Reception
October 22, 2013
Bill Perry, President

 

Good afternoon. I am pleased to be with you today to share a few remarks regarding the year before us.
Thank you for your dedication to Eastern, to your discipline, and to your students. What we have achieved as an academic institution has rested on your shoulders. We are grateful to you. For our new faculty among us, thank you for choosing EIU. I have been privileged to meet with many of you in new faculty orientation and afterward. Again I welcome you to our university and appreciate the intellectual energy you bring to us.

As we meet today, we are already well into the academic year and we have seen several positive developments. To name just a few:

  • We cut the ribbon on the new Honors College Offices, which include a seminar and resource room for our students. Having the Honors College on the Quad is important. We have come to this point through the efforts of many, including the deans of the Honors College, Herb Lasky, Bonnie Irwin, John Stimac, and now Richard England; including Vice Presidents Lord, Weber, Martin, and Nadler consistent strong advocates; and including the many faculty who have taught honors courses so well and thus built the reputation of the program. The new offices also give us a better space for recruiting honors students and attracting alumni support.
  • The building for our Center for Clean Energy Research and Education, located next to our Renewable Energy Center, is well underway. The Center has come about because of the coming together of faculty from diverse disciplines to focus on clean energy research, education, and outreach. Because of faculty dedication, this important Center has come to fruition. Dr. Peter Ping Liu, Director of the Center, has provided excellent leadership on the academic side. Vice President for University Advancement Bob Martin provided leadership in developing private funding for a significant portion of the cost of the building.
  • Our freshman class this year is larger than last year’s and it has a stronger academic profile. Our Commitment to Excellence Scholarships, which were instituted as part of our strategic plan plank on academic excellence, were a positive factor in this development, and we continue to invest in them.
  • Our US News and World Report ranking is now number 7 in the 12 state Midwest region for masters comprehensive universities. This improved ranking could not have occurred were it not for the great job our faculty do in teaching and research. When you consider participation in the National Conference for Undergraduate Research you see EIU with the most presentations from Illinois universities and in the top handful of universities participating. When you consider the NSF study on earned doctorates you find, for master’s universities, that EIU is number one in Illinois and in the top 5% nationally. These are just two objective measures of the commitment of our faculty to critical thinking and encouraging the best from our students.

In addition to these four items, I could list many more with respect to our students, staff, and faculty in research, teaching, service, and campus environment. We celebrate such achievements in many ways, many media, and in many venues. We are a strong performing university in many dimensions. Our faculty, staff, and students make it so.

One major factor that makes EIU different from our peers is our faculty. Your dedication to our students, your belief in excellence, personal relationships, and opportunity, and your expectations of greatness from yourselves and your students makes all the difference in the world, and the results in retention rates, graduation rates, and alumni satisfaction rates show it. Thank you for your contributions to EIU.

In the year before us we will keep working on identified opportunities and identify new opportunities to move our university’s programs forward. Your support and dedication is key as we do that in an environment in which it will be too easy to succumb to pessimism because of several issues. To name just a few: pension discussions, public concern on affordability of a college education, public concern regarding the value of a college education, insufficient state support for higher education, and declining numbers of Illinois high school graduates. Eastern has always moved forward in all environments, because we have looked for opportunity, while dealing with the environment. We have always done more than solve problems; we have solved problems and created vision and opportunity.

I am confident that by working with our shared governance groups, following our strategic plan, and wisely using program analysis, we will continue to change our culture in positive ways to build our future. Peter Block, in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, states, “We change the culture by changing the nature of the conversation. This is more than improving the conversation or becoming more skilled at dialogue. It is about choosing conversations that have the power to create a new future.” As we work together we will engage in discussions about a future that is evolving for higher education in general, and in particular for Eastern. We must choose conversations that, in Block’s words, “have the power to create a new future.” Surely, we must honor the parts of our past that have served us and our students well, but be wary of letting our history unduly constrain our future. A couple of years ago I spoke briefly about Robert Heilbroner’s book, The Future as History, and how our optimism allows us to plan and imagine a rich and fulfilling future for our university in the midst of an ongoing stream of history, many of the currents of which we cannot control or influence. Our optimism and strong belief in values of excellence, personal relationships, opportunity, and service will serve us well going forward.

Together in the coming year, we will seek and choose opportunities to advance EIU. I look forward to our collaboration in building an ever brighter future for our university.