University News

State of the University Address - Founders’ Day 2012
President Jack Thomas - September 24, 2012

Let Us Not Forget

Good afternoon.

As we observe Founders’ Day here at Western Illinois University, let us not forget those individuals who have gone on before us, those individuals who have set a good example that paved the way for what we have become today. Our founders would be proud of our growth, from 1899 to 2012. They would be proud to know that we continue to be an epicenter for education and a fortress of activity regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Let us not forget that this institution was founded in 1899, and in 1902, opened the doors to Sherman Hall to 229 students. Today, we have over 12,000 students and two campuses.

We take pride in our great University. Since I began my tenure at Western Illinois University, I have embraced, and I appreciate, our core values: Academic Excellence, Educational Opportunity, Personal Growth, and Social Responsibility.

As president of this great institution, I will continue to work with all constituencies to move this university forward, while maintaining quality during a time of diminishing resources. We must remain undaunted by the many challenges that are before us. Let us not forget that our challenges include decreased state funding, declining enrollment, deferred maintenance for our facilities, and many others.

In order to build upon this University’s historic and stellar reputation, we will continue to focus on those economical and intellectual activities that will raise our profile and give this institution a competitive edge.

Let us not forget our university’s humble beginnings, but we will progress forward by continuing to be committed to shared governance and building consensus. We will continue to work attentively with all of our governing bodies and union representatives as we have always done. With the help of all constituents, this institution will continue to be that shining city that sits high on a hill.

We will enhance Western Illinois University’s reputation as a leading public institution of higher education in the great state of Illinois. We will continue to be distinguished for providing a quality and well-rounded education by focusing on strengthening our undergraduate and graduate programs and signature activities and maintaining the institution’s reputation for access and affordability, while maintaining admissions and academic standards.

Let us not forget the pride we should have that Western has been ranked 11th of the 39 public universities included in the U.S.News & World Report's "Best Midwestern University" listing. Overall, Western is ranked 49th of 107 public and private schools on the top tier list of "Best Regional Universities."

We have been chosen for the 8th year as a “Best Midwestern College” by The Princeton Review. GI Jobs Magazine has recognized Western as a Military-Friendly School for the fourth consecutive year. We have been named, yet again, to the U.S. President’s Honor Roll for Community Service. We are very proud of our national recognitions in various areas of service. While we revel in these lofty accomplishments, we will not rest on our laurels. We will remain steadfast and unmovable while we build on our achievements.

We will continue to focus on our enrollment as we did the previous academic year. This academic year, our enrollment has slightly declined by 2.7%. We do recognize that this is a common challenge that many of our peer institutions are facing as well. The enrollment challenge is due to various variables including the economic crisis, the decrease in high school graduates in the state of Illinois, the decrease in Monetary Award Program (MAP) funding, and many others. Fortunately, our enrollment decrease was minimal as compared to our peer institutions due to our proactive enrollment planning.

In order to further enhance our enrollment and retention, we must be innovative in our strategic planning. We will continue to focus more on targeted enrollment. We created the Strategic Enrollment Committee, which has been charged with developing a Strategic Enrollment Plan that will consider what we want to become in the future. We have created the Western Commitment Scholarship Program to provide more funding for scholarships to enhance our retention and graduation rates and to recruit even more high-achieving students. Annually, we award over $3 Million in scholarship support. We continue to be the earliest Illinois public institution to send potential students financial aid award notifications to encourage them to choose Western Illinois University. This past academic year, we placed greater emphasis on our Centennial Honors College by allocating more scholarships to recruit high-achieving students.

During the previous academic year, Jenna Verity was selected as our first Rhodes Scholar Finalist, which is a highly acclaimed global award for high achieving scholars. In an effort to enhance our profile as an intellectual enterprise, the Honors College will be nominating students for the Rhodes Scholarship, the Truman Scholarship, the Goldwater Scholarship and various other scholarships. The Honors College is also exploring the possibility of sponsoring a student for the Madison Fellowship. The Honors College is helping sponsor a team of WIU students to the Phi Alpha Delta National Pre-Law Honorary Society’s-- Mock Trial competition which will be held in Washington, DC. Let us not forget that our Quad Cities Campus is piloting an honors cohort this fall. These are all efforts to enhance our overall academic profile and to propel the Honors College to the forefront of the University.

We will continue to recruit more high-achieving and mid-range students, while remembering our mission and our commitment to first-generation college students. Currently, 55% of incoming first-year students self-identify as first-generation students. As a first-generation college student, I understand the challenges that many of these students face. If it had not been for public institutions like Western, I would not have been able to receive a bachelor’s from Alabama A&M University, a master’s from Virginia State University, and a Ph.D. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which are all public institutions. I am not boasting, but these are the kinds of stories that we must share with our students, to let them know that they, too, can be successful.

Let us not forget that we have an excellent history of providing access to a wide range of students, and we must remain an institution that is affordable. Despite the national trends of increased college costs, we are committed to remaining an institution that will not unreasonably put the increasing economic burden on our students. Though, we are forced to increase tuition and fees each year, we are still very affordable, when compared to our peer institutions. We will continue to assess the needs of the campus, and as I always say, we are a student-centered campus. We make decisions with our students’ best interests at heart. As a public institution, we must support all of our students and ensure that they have every opportunity to excel in their studies and compete in a global society.

This past academic year, we had a comprehensive review of the First Year Experience Program that included faculty and staff from academic and student affairs. The new changes will be implemented in the coming year. We expect greater results in the future. This fall, we implemented the Building Connections program, in which 220 faculty, staff, and administrators are mentoring first-year students. It is our hope that this program will help students to make a connection to the campus early on. We anticipate this program will significantly increase our ability to retain our students at a higher rate so that more of them will graduate from Western. This is an effort in which we all should be involved. I understand that this takes some time out of our busy schedules but it is something that must be done. This initiative is so important, that I am currently mentoring 10 first-year students. Five were assigned to me through the process, and I randomly selected 5 others.

In response to the College Student Inventory Survey that first-year students took, we recognize that 77% of them need part-time employment in order to meet their financial obligations here at Western. Therefore, we are committed to creating more employment opportunities for our students in the coming years.

As I stated during my remarks at the faculty assembly, we will continue to benchmark other institutions in an effort to identify best-practices and enhance services where necessary. We want to be sure that we are meeting the needs of all undergraduate students as well as our graduate students. Based on a review of national best practices, we made some organizational changes during the past year. University Technology (uTech), now reports to the Office of the Provost and Academic Vice President. The Scholarship Office now reports to the Office of the Vice President for Student Services, and University Television now reports to the Office of the Vice President for Advancement and Public Services. These organizational changes will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the units of the University.

Let us not forget that Western has always addressed the challenges of the times. To meet the needs of the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success, we are pursuing a new Ph.D. in Environmental Science that was recently approved by the Board of Trustees. Western is well positioned to establish itself as a leader in multi-disciplinary research related to the environment of large river ecosystems, with the upper Mississippi river flood plain serving as a living laboratory. With our Kibbe Research Center and our Riverfront Campus, we are uniquely positioned to offer this program. We will be presenting this program to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and the Higher Learning Commission for approval. After approval, we will start this program in 2014.

Despite the challenges of a fragile economy, we have continued to advance in fundraising. We have made strides toward our Capital Campaign goal. We have raised $54 Million of our $60 Million goal (90%). By strengthening external funding and private fundraising, and building and cultivating financial and political support for Western, and its programs, we will be able to provide additional financial support for students with economic need.

We recognize that the quality of this institution is rooted in the faculty and staff who serve our students. We recently implemented a 2.5% pay increase for all faculty and staff. We will continue to support the faculty travel awards that I started when I was provost in 2008 so that faculty will continue their professional development as they engage in teaching and research and to keep up with the latest trends in their disciplines. We will continue to support the staff in their professional development. We will also enhance technology for our faculty and staff to make sure that they have the necessary tools needed to help our students.

There is great intellectual capacity here at the University, and we must do a better job in telling the Western Illinois University story. We cannot hide our light under a bushel. We must let Western’s light shine so that the world can see our good works. Recently, we hosted the first media day here at Western. We need to better publicize the exemplary works of all faculty, staff, and other personnel within our campus community and beyond. We must work together to improve our national and international presence so others will recognize and appreciate our contributions to the higher education community.

As we progress toward being an institution that is a model for dual campuses, we are proud to have opened the first building of the Quad Cities Riverfront Campus in January and to have had the groundbreaking ceremony this past August for Phase II. We will also continue to focus on our capital projects: the completion of Phases II and III of our Riverfront Campus in the Quad Cities, and the new science complex in Macomb, which we have elevated to a higher priority on our capital request list.

We have just completed the design phase of the Performing Arts Center, and currently we are ready to start the bidding process. We are anxiously anticipating our Macomb campus being filled with construction equipment this spring as we break ground on the Performing Arts Center pending the release of funding from the state of Illinois.

We are working to beautify the entrance to our Macomb campus by creating a Welcome Center as a part of the grand entrance on the North edge of campus. In July 2012, we imploded Wetzel Hall and are constructing the area into a green space and park. Currently, we are renovating Thompson Hall and the University Union. Just a few days ago, we held ribbon cutting ceremonies for the newly renovated Corbin/Olson Residence Halls and the Three-Dimensional Art Facility at the Heating Plant Annex. We are pleased that students, faculty and staff will be able to use these newly updated facilities.

We must work together as a team of professionals who believe in the strengths of one another. We must focus on our common goals and commitments of making Western Illinois University the best institution in the world. We must put aside our differences and work together. Do not entertain negativity. We must find positive and proactive ways of enhancing the University and our community. So today, as we celebrate founders’ day, let us not forget from whence we have come. As we take a stroll down memory lane, let us not forget. Let us not forget our challenges and let us not forget our victories. Let us not forget the contributions of our past presidents.

Let us not forget Henninger,
And Let us not forget Bayliss.
Let us not forget Morgan,
And Let us not forget Beu,
Let us not forget Knoblauch,
And Let us not forget Bernhard,
Let us not forget Malpass,
And Let us not forget Wagoner.
Let us not forget Spencer,

And Let us not forget Al Goldfarb. Let us not forget all of those faculty, staff, administrators, and students who have made great contributions to Western Illinois University. On this 2012 Founders’ Day, let us not forget the accomplishments and the great history, tradition, and legacy of Western Illinois University. Let us not forget.