March 17, 2008
Dear Colleagues and Students,
I write to you today to provide updates on our continuing recovery from the events of February 14th. Last week marked the one-month anniversary of the tragedy. Each new day brings different emotions and new challenges, yet I sense throughout our campus community a strengthened resolve and deepened commitment to each other and to the mission of Northern Illinois University.
Our daily challenges are complicated by the need to process and understand what has happened to us. To that end, I want to express the thanks of a grateful campus to all of the counselors and other health professionals who have helped guide that journey for so many of us. We are grateful as well for the healing work of our faculty and staff, who have taken on an extraordinary range of new roles in support of our students.
A number of key issues related to campus recovery require significant campus conversation. Among those issues is the pressing matter of classroom space related to closure of Cole Hall. That discussion must include all members of our campus community, and must address the classroom space needs of 12,000 students who attended classes in Cole Hall this year. Provost Alden and his staff have done an outstanding job of temporarily relocating the classes throughout campus to conclude this semester. However, many of these new class locations are less than ideal learning environments and some will not be available to us next fall. We have a significant classroom space issue for Fall 2008 and beyond without the use of Cole Hall as a classroom building.
Since establishing a confidential email box two weeks ago, we have received nearly 700 opinions from students, faculty, staff, alumni and families. The scope of that response – and the wide range of views expressed – have convinced me of the need to expand opportunities for input. To that end, I have asked all of the leaders of our shared governance system to establish public forums and other venues through which members of our campus community can make their voices heard.
All members of the NIU family must have the opportunity to express their feelings on this critical issue in the manner and through the venues most comfortable for them. Among the most commonly-expressed opinions received thus far are calls for NIU to demolish Cole Hall and build a new classroom building; leave Cole Hall standing but remodel it for a new, non-classroom purpose; repurpose Cole Hall and build a new classroom building; and perform minor renovations to Cole Hall for continued use as a classroom facility. While options are not limited to those general categories, we must address our space needs in a timely manner to ensure adequate classroom space – temporary or permanent – is in place and available for students and faculty this fall.
The Student Association has scheduled a series of public forums this week on the Cole Hall issue -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Campus Life Building. Other public venues are in the works for faculty, staff and alumni and will be announced shortly. In addition, the presidents of our Operating Staff Council, Supportive Professional Staff Council, Faculty Senate and University Council will be hosting small-group venues and email feedback to obtain and inform their representation of campus views.
Finally, I am establishing an advisory task force with representation from each of the campus constituencies (students, faculty, staff and alumni) to help process input and identify areas of consensus on how we should proceed. Once this group has identified areas of consensus, each president of our shared governance councils and the alumni association will present these options to their constituencies for further evaluation and consensus. With this final input, the advisory committee will then meet with me to make recommendations. Whether through conversations with your campus representatives, written statements, small group meetings or public testimony, I encourage all of you to let your voices be heard.
We need to move purposefully over the next six to seven weeks if we are to obtain true consensus before students and faculty disperse for the summer. I have set a goal of May 1, 2008 for completion of this process in order to take this information to the NIU Board of Trustees and to plan properly over the summer for the Fall 2008 semester.
Thank you again for all that you do to build community and support each other. We will continue to need that support in the weeks and months ahead, and I know it will be there. As always, I remain enormously proud of this institution and its people, and thank all of you for taking time to help shape the university’s path to resolve its classroom space needs temporarily and more permanently over the coming weeks.
Forward, together forward,
John G. Peters