First virtually-held State of the University
Written by Jack Graue on September 10, 2020
Photo courtesy to ISU YouTube
NORMAL, Ill.- The university, like the nation, is experiencing a plethora of changes, the State of the University was held virtually for the first time ever in Illinois State history.
Recorded on Sept. 8 and published Sept. 10, ISU President Larry Dietz presented the State of The University Address. Covering many topics concerning the University and its students, the address conveyed motivation as well as concern for health.
Dietz wasted no time in address to expand on the issue in the mind of all students: COVID-19.
Specifically, the large gathering convened Monday night, Sept. 7 2020, to welcome YouTube celebrities known as the NELK Boys.
The comedy group drew a large crowd that, for the most part, did not social distance or wear masks. Dietz warned of ‘penalties that could jeopardize your academic standing at ISU’ for those not following guidelines.
“It gives me no joy to convey my great disappointment in the actions of those who gathered,” said Dietz. “Hundreds of faculty and staff members at the University have been working non-stop to ensure that your education can continue in a safe and healthy environment. The actions of some were an insult to them, to the Town where you are a citizen, and to your families who support you being here.”
Thanks was given to students who did not attend the large gathering, and the president highlighted successful areas of COVID-19 containment.
“I am beyond grateful for their selfless service, and whether or not you agree with the constantly evolving COVID-19 plans—their efforts demand our respect and recognition,” said Dietz.
Dietz also said that there has been some news media reporting suggesting that Illinois State compares poorly to the other Illinois public universities in the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak and the University’s response.
“The truth is—many state universities don’t test nearly as much as Illinois State, and don’t transparently report positive cases as does ISU,” said Dietz. “Other universities test so often that their positivity rates skew lower through simple division. The ultimate fact is the coronavirus impacts Illinois universities in a similar fashion—the more students—the more likely the incidence of coronavirus—and creative counting and reporting doesn’t alter that fact.”
Dietz moved to the topic of finances, citing Illinois State’s exceptional enrollment as a reason to be confident in the abilities of the university.
The total fall 2020 enrollment stands at 20,720—that is less than 1% lower than last year’s total enrollment, and larger than the total enrollments for both 2015 and 2016—making it the second highest total in the last four years.
“It is simply an amazing number given our circumstances—and it clearly demonstrates that despite a predictable avalanche of derisive social media—students and their families still believe in quality, and still choose Illinois State University,” said Dietz.
However, the new freshman student count dropped about 10%.
“That is a miniscule figure given our world’s circumstances, and of course, the total numbers are bolstered by last year’s record enrollment,” said Dietz.
Utilizing the normal budget of $69 million for this fiscal year, $8 million is being devoted to testing and cleaning services. The University will also be receiving a $1.5 million grant to help students succeed and graduate college.
“Certainly, the University will make a significant investment in keeping the campus safe—it is an endeavor of the highest calling,” said Dietz.
The Federal CARES Act resulted in a grant to Illinois State of approximately $8 million to be passed along to students as aid.The Financial Aid Office is administering those emergency grants based on applications submitted through an online process.
In addition, the University has also used the COVID-19 Redbirds Response Fund to provide emergency assistance to students. To date almost 7,000 students have claimed CARES Act funds and 160 students have received support from the COVID-19 Redbirds Response Fund.
“When Redbirds Rising began, we knew our goal was ambitious,” said Dietz. “Over the course of the campaign, thousands of alumni and friends stepped up, making Redbirds Rising the University’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. I’m humbled by our shared success and grateful for the vote of confidence cast in the Illinois State experience.”
The president also passionately spoke on the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists on campus. Dietz feels proud to help in the road to equity.
“As Illinois State’s president, I understand part of my role includes speaking out—then walking the talk— about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Dietz. “I would add to that by saying it is the role of every one of us to speak out and act out.”
The total number of African-American students is up 5% and the total number of LatinX students remains virtually unchanged, according to Dietz.
“Equity is not an easy road. It pushes against a centuries-old narrative that things are supposed to be a certain way,” said Dietz. “It means admitting that our history, and the systems established throughout that history, can be flawed, can be brutal and can be perpetuated in how we see the world.”
Accordin to Dietz leaders in higher education are trained to find solutions, fix problems, serve as good stewards of the public trust, and care for students, faculty, and staff.
“It can be difficult for us to hear of a student’s pain and not want to act,” said Dietz. “But we are learning that when it comes to addressing disparities in race,economics, ability—we must first listen and understand before weattempt to assuage the pain. We as leaders, as teachers, as guides, must listen and learn if we are to truly hear the students voicing their frustration, trauma, and pain.
In October of last year, students stood on our Quad with voices raised, calling for change. “They continue with a steadfast voice that I respect and admire,” said Dietz.
Members of the University leadership met with students to discuss anti-Black sentiment on campus and across the nation. “We are continuing that work and continuing to meet,” said Dietz.