President Freeman talks tenure changes and more in university goals

Freeman spoke with the Northern Star about plans regarding tenure, student mental health, enrollment, Braven, Greek Life and an ambassador program for international students.


Sean Reed

NIU President Lisa Freeman (center) discussing student involvement in NIU’s Greek Life beside Associate Director for Institutional Communications, Joe King, during her meeting with the Northern Star on Monday at her office in Altgeld Hall. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Bridgette Fox, Written Managing Editor

DeKALB – NIU President Lisa Freeman’s university goals, which the Board of Trustees will use to evaluate her performance at the end of 2023, spoke about future standards – including broadening the criteria for tenure.

“I think we believe that some of the guidelines are outdated, and maybe excessively rigid, because the world has changed,” Freeman said.

NIU is looking to revise its definition of scholarship to make it broader, which would make tenure open to more staff with cross-department studies.

In the future, tenure could be available beyond departments and colleges.

“We’re also committed to exploring having tenure homes outside of academic departments, in entities like centers,” Freeman said. “That’s something other universities do. It’s something NIU has not done, but it’s something that I believe we should consider – and so do many of our faculty leaders and members of the leadership team.”



The entrance to NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Services located in the Peters Campus Life Building, Room 200. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

NIU will partner with JED Campus, a non-profit that assesses the mental health needs of students and recommends plans to the university.

“JED is a collaborative of higher ed institutions that has a methodology for assessing where you are, and helping you plan and implement programs that will deliver to your students, and then creating an ongoing cycle of assessment revision, to make sure that you have a sustainable mental health ecosystem,” Freeman said.

A collaboration with JED would be a 4-year program. The non-profit’s first year would be for assessing NIU’s mental health resources. Its second and third year would be implementing recommendations and for the fourth year it would evaluate and discuss the longevity of NIU’s plans.



Freeman’s university goals outline a “target range” that enrollment should reach for her to reach the Board of Trustees’ agreed upon standards.

If enrollment for the 2023-2024 academic year was below 15,360 students, Freeman would “fail to meet expectations.” If enrollment is between 15,360 and 15,570 students, Freeman would meet expectations, a difference of 210 students.

Enrollment for the fall 2022 semester was 16,549 students.

“When we are talking about our enrollment target range … as a starting point, if everything was the same as last year, this is what the number would be,” Freeman said.

NIU is also looking to put more students in classes taught by Braven Inc. online. NIU paid an estimated $2.3 million for a contract with Braven, according to online purchasing records.

UNIV 301, Braven’s course at NIU, has 162 students enrolled this semester (the end of academic year 2022-2023). Freeman’s goals outline a goal of 700-850 students enrolled in the course during the 2023-2024 academic year.

“That’s a scale up, but I think it’s achievable,” Freeman said. “I think it’s going to take some effort, and we’re making steps to increase enrollment. I think the first barrier was we started late, recruiting for Braven this fall, and no one had the experience to know if it would be valuable.”


Freeman spoke about NIU’s thought process behind starting the Greek Life Revitalization Task Force in September, 2021, which released its report of suggestions in November. The task force recommended ways to boost recruitment, solve housing issues and promote a sense of community.

Two street signs for Hillcrest Drive and Blackhawk Road located in Greek Row in the North Annie Glidden neighborhood during an overcast day. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

“Greek life does that for many students, it connects them, to the university, to their fellow students, to aspirations around academic success and philanthropy and being part of a community – and for that reason, we support Greek life,” Freeman said. “We are almost unusual at this day and age running towards Greek life, when other campuses are running away because of some of the things that go on that aren’t necessarily essential to Greek life, but that are often associated with Greek life, like alcohol abuse, for example.”



Her university goals outline an ambassador program for international students to be drafted by June 2023.

“We have heard from our international students, many, but not all of whom are graduate students, that it would just help them to have more peer mentorship and connection, as well as connection to faculty from their region with international experience,” Freeman said.