Baker Report: Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty

Briana Smith
Briana Smith

Following nearly nine months without a state budget, it’s understandable that the political standstill in Springfield continues to weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of our university community.

We’ve seen that on the faces of our students, including Briana Smith, who joined me on the stage last week during our Unity Rally for a State Budget that called for a resolution to the impasse.

Briana is a MAP grant recipient; her mother, a single parent, earns less than $10,000 a year. She looks at her life like a puzzle, the pieces of which interlock to lay a solid foundation for a bright future.

Even though one piece is missing – the financial security that comes with MAP funding, or NIU’s prolonged ability to credit the tuition accounts of those more than 5,000 students who receive it – Briana is forging on with courage and optimism. She is resilient in the face of uncertainty. She is taking care of her business, even when others are not.

The same is true of our employees, something I saw Tuesday during our town hall meeting.

My main message to the more than 300 students, faculty, staff and annuitants who participated in person and online was clear: NIU is well-positioned to make it through the state budget crisis, and that I am confident our lawmakers and governor will resolve their differences.

Just as important to that reassurance is how we got here – through careful planning, through changes in how we operate and through tough decisions that are saving us millions of dollars.

Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman discusses Program Prioritization during the town hall meeting.
Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman discusses Program Prioritization during the town hall.

We are committed to linking our budget to our long-term goals. To help us do that, we initiated a Program Prioritization process well before the current state-level crisis. The comprehensive process is examining all of our academic and administrative programs across the university, 469 in total. This is heavy lifting – but important strategic work to ensure that we are able to attain our goals and fulfill our mission.

None of this is possible without the dedication of those who are devoting their professional lives to our university.

I am profoundly grateful for everyone who continues to stand with us while we keep moving forward and turning our challenges into opportunities. As I said during the town hall meeting, our students are receiving an extraordinary education. They are taught and mentored by award-winning faculty and staff in strong programs. Our alumni are pleased with their education and have very high employment rates in their areas of interest.

Our state leaders know that higher education is vital to Illinois. They know that higher education stimulates economic development. They know that higher education provides the ladder out of poverty and leads to innovation and a stronger society.

Once the clouds over Springfield part, and they will part, NIU will move forward better than before – thanks to you. Your commitment, and your resilience, sustain and inspire me.

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