Dear Students and Colleagues,
It has been nearly three weeks since the tragic events of February 14. It would be unreasonable to expect our campus to have moved on without remnants of fear, anxiety or grief. Our family has been injured, and we turn inward to comfort each other and gather strength for the journey ahead. The tremendous response from across our campus and the overwhelming appreciation we have gained for each other is a testament to the strong sense of community that defines NIU.
All of us have seen wonderful expressions of caring over the past few weeks – kindnesses both large and small, from people we see every day and people we have never met. The outpouring of support from far and near has been a great inspiration, and we remain indebted to all who have offered a hand in our time of need – counselors, religious leaders, community members, colleagues from across the country – all those who have reached out have offered a healing touch at a difficult time. We can never repay them, but we can and must offer our heartfelt thanks for their generosity.
Even as we acknowledge our loss and express our gratitude we must also look forward, as we have family business to attend to. Three key issues present themselves for our consideration:
First, we must decide how we want to memorialize that which has been lost – precious lives, a sense of security, our belief in the sanctity of an open campus. Part of our healing process must involve a family discussion about these issues and how to express our feelings through a permanent legacy.
Our goal is to create a special place on our campus where generations of the NIU family can come to remember those we lost and reflect on what we can each do to honor their legacy. To that end, I am forming a February 14th Memorial Committee, chaired by Vice President for Advancement Mike Malone and including students, faculty, staff, families and alumni, to solicit opinions and develop ideas for a fitting memorial. That memorial will be made possible through private donations and will represent the best thinking of a broad-based NIU group.
Second, we must address the very real space needs brought about by the closure of Cole Hall. Much has been written on this topic in recent days, but little of that discourse has come from our campus community. I want to make sure that the most important voices in this debate – those of our students, faculty and staff – are heard and heeded.
Student government is already working on this issue, gathering opinions and discussing options. Provost Ray Alden and Paul Stoddard, executive secretary of the University Council, are likewise assessing campus views on our immediate, mid-range and long-term space needs related to the closure of Cole Hall. The domino-effect of class space reallocation has impacted nearly 10,000 students in more than 150 class sections. The Provost’s work group, consisting of faculty, staff and students, is looking carefully at all of the details involved in short- medium- and long-term replacement of instructional space lost in the Cole Hall closure.
Third, we must engage in a campus-wide discussion about the future of Cole Hall. Immediately following the tragic shootings on February 14, we closed Cole Hall through the end of this fiscal year. We now face the question of what to do with this facility in the future. Our answer should represent a consensus opinion formulated by all members of our campus community. We must decide whether to remove the building or keep it; to reopen it in its present form or change its purpose or configuration. Any decision carries emotional and financial costs. I have expressed my own view that we should decommission Cole Hall as a classroom building. I made that judgment after talking with scores of students, parents, faculty and alumni who told me they could not fathom returning to Cole Hall to teach or study.
In the days that have followed that tragic event, different voices and opinions have emerged, and we must take in all those viewpoints before moving forward. In the spirit of shared governance, I pledge to do all I can to facilitate the expression of all opinions. To that end, we have established a confidential email mailbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) to which any and all members of our community may submit opinions. Ultimately, our decisions on an appropriate memorial, reassignment of classroom spaces and the future of Cole Hall must address both the emotional and practical considerations we face as an injured but united campus community.
Once consensus is reached, it will be up to the NIU family to communicate our needs to our state leaders and ask for assistance in meeting those needs. We know all too well the fiscal constraints facing our state, and we remain mindful of that reality even as we advocate for our campus. I remain confident that our elected officials and the citizens of this state will step forward at the appropriate time to assist NIU in addressing our classroom space issues.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for the efforts you have made to welcome back our students and resume our university life following our tragedy. We are by no means done with our grieving, and we know that healing is a long journey with many bumps along the way. Yet I could not be more proud of this wonderful NIU family. We have found the best in ourselves and in each other – let us never forget that. I remain, as always, in your debt and most grateful to be a part of NIU.
John G. Peters