Hanging prominently on the wall in Eddie R. Williams’ office is his framed, signed original offering letter from Northern Illinois University when he was extended his first full-time teaching position as an assistant professor of mathematics in 1970.
Forty-three years and a lifetime of personal and professional achievement and service later, Williams announced he will retire from NIU May 31, 2013.
A freshly minted Ph.D. from Columbia University (N.Y.), Williams applied to become a math professor at various colleges and universities in the Midwest. Receiving several offers, he accepted the NIU position in large part because of the opportunity to be employed at a university committed to its students, to teaching and providing access and opportunity, the fundamental cornerstone principles of successful public universities.
As an assistant professor, Williams developed a math course for disadvantaged students that was used in the CHANCE math program and he created a math lab for the course and co-authored a textbook with Don Ostberg. Over the years, he served on several doctoral committees and for 35 years as faculty adviser of the Northern Black Choir. People describe the soft-spoken, reserved Williams as mentor, adviser, friend and role model to countless African-American students.
Williams received tenure in the Department of Mathematics in 1976.
He was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and was also named acting associate budget officer in the university’s Office of Budget and Planning. In 1980, Williams transitioned to full-time university administration as associate director of the NIU Office of Budget and Planning, giving up his teaching assignments in the math department after two years of serving in a dual teaching/administrative capacity. Promotions followed as his role in university budgeting and planning efforts expanded, first to assistant VP for Administrative Affairs and director of Budget and Planning in 1983, followed by his appointment as vice president of Finance and Planning in 1986.
Raised the son of a preacher, Eddie followed in his father’s footsteps and was ordained as a Baptist minister and served as assistant pastor at South Park Baptist Church in Chicago under his father’s leadership. He is often described as the “busiest person I’ve ever known” or one of the “most productive people I’ve ever met.” Not a minute of each day is wasted; he is known to sleep only between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. When Eddie’s father, the Rev. E.R. Williams Sr., passed in 1997, Eddie was asked by his church congregation to assume the senior pastor role.
Consistent with his commitment to service, Dr. Williams was recruited and commissioned (1980) as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserves. Dr. Williams was promoted several times eventually to the rank of captain. He recently retired from the Naval Reserves after 27 years of exceptional service to his country.
Appointed executive vice president and chief of operations in 2000, Williams oversees one of the two largest divisions of the university: the Division of Finance & Facilities. More than 1,600 full-time university staff perform tasks as diverse as plowing snow, cleaning buildings, accounting and financial services, to architectural and engineering services designing and building new facilities and renovations across the 800-acre campus.
“In all the years I’ve served in higher education, I’ve never worked with anyone who has such a deep, strategic understanding of the university’s budget. He had the foresight to plan ahead and to position the university to weather the economic ups and downs brought on by dwindling state funding and enrollment fluctuations,” said NIU President John Peters.
Williams’ service to NIU will be most remembered for his skills and ability to effectively manage the resources of the institution in the midst of difficult fiscal challenges caused by diminished state support for higher education in Illinois, increased financial pressures caused by rising costs and the state’s cash-flow shortfalls, all while balancing the demands and needs of a dynamic university and its students, faculty and staff.
Anne Kaplan, vice president of Outreach, Engagement & Information Technology, who along with Eddie Williams are NIU’s longest-serving senior administrators, said, “I’ve worked with Eddie for more than 35 years – through institutional crises and institutional triumphs. I have enormous respect for his effective fiscal management and his unshakable commitment to students who depend on public higher education. That combination has served NIU well,” Kaplan added.
- Avoiding the elimination of any academic program or student services
- No faculty or staff layoffs, furloughs, or forced retirements
- No major impact on essential operations or the ability of the institution to address needs, priorities and emergencies
- Finding critical funding for academic support for classroom upgrades, strategic planning initiatives and scholarship support for students
- New operating and management software systems for university financial, human resources, and student services functions
- Funding for the Vision 2020 Initiative including a campus-wide Wi-Fi network, support for faculty research and campus infrastructure improvements
Over the past 25 years, Williams was responsible for the development of the university’s state budget request and provided support, justification, oral and written testimony on a variety of issues before state agencies including the Board of Higher Education, the Illinois General Assembly, the governor’s staff and the Office of Management & Budget.
“He has a deep love for people and has been willing to say ‘no’ when necessary to ensure the university is positioned to weather the financial ups and downs without having to furlough or lay-off workers,” said Jerry Blakemore, vice president and general counsel. “Although most people here on campus don’t really have an understanding of the impact the lengthy delays in receiving the university’s appropriated funding from Springfield is causing, Eddie quietly shoulders the burden and works diligently behind the scenes to ensure the university has enough cash to make its payroll each month.”
Williams’ retires from NIU with a lasting, visible legacy.
During his tenure, he oversaw the development of 21 new buildings and facilities, as well as seven major building redesign and renovations.
The list of new campus facilities that represent some of the major facilities built under his leadership and oversight includes: John E. LaTourette Hall; the DeKalb campus parking structure; the development of all three NIU satellite educational centers (Rockford, Naperville and Hoffman Estates); Barsema Hall; Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center; the Campus Child Care Center; the Latino Resource Center; the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology building; the Campus Life Center; the East stands of Huskie Stadium; the Chilled Water Plant; the Yordon Academic/Athletic Center; the First-Year Residence Hall; Northern View Apartments; and the Center for the Study of Family Violence & Sexual Assault.
“He’s an unsung hero and a man who has devoted his entire professional career to help shape NIU into the great university it has become. His impact on NIU has been profound and can be seen in the many success stories of students who desired the opportunity an NIU education offered and soared to great personal and professional heights,” said Brian O. Hemphill, president of West Virginia State University and NIU’s former vice president of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management.
For over a dozen years, Williams has served as treasurer of the university’s Board of Trustees and university administrative liaison to the Board’s Finance, Facilities & Operations Committee.
“Dr. Williams and I worked closely together during my tenure on the Illinois Board of Regents and on NIU’s Board of Trustees,” said former NIU trustee Myron Siegel. “During those 18 years, Eddie was integral to the financial protection and integrity of NIU as we fought our way through the annual budgetary and legislative process in Springfield.” Siegel was NIU’s first chair of its Board of Trustees.
Williams was asked by Peters early during the NIU president’s tenure to assume the role of chair of the university’s crisis management/operations team. In this capacity, he coordinated the university’s response to incidents ranging from weather alerts, internal/external data, system and electrical failures, matters pertaining to student/faculty health and safety and other emergencies.
During the tragedy that occurred Feb. 14, 2008, and in the days after, Williams was a driving force of support and leadership at the university.
During this difficult time, Williams was on the site interacting with law enforcement, later managing the university’s administrative crisis response team, and developing effective responses, procedures and resources as necessary when needs became known. He also met with the families of the injured, visited and comforted those that were hospitalized, and attended most of the memorial and funeral services of the deceased.
In an effort to heal the campus, he provided leadership for the campus candlelight vigil at Holmes Student Center.
“I’ve worked with Eddie Williams for 18 years. He’s been a mentor, friend, pastor and adviser to me through my tenure at NIU,” said Kathy Buettner, vice president of University Relations. “He’s a very special person, and I consider it a privilege to call him my friend. His legacy will live on through the numerous campus facilities and lives of faculty, staff and students he has impacted over his 43 years at NIU.”