Freeman discusses presidential goals, plans facility updates

Noah Thornburgh

NIU President Lisa Freeman became an administrator on something of a whim, she said. After teaching at Kansas State University, the opportunity to shadow a K-State administrator arose — a possibility that had not been on her radar, she said.

Two years after her initial appointment as interim president at NIU and one year after her official instatement as president, Freeman’s goals for the 2019–2020 academic year have taken shape, available for download on the university’s website.

Facility and academic plans

This year was remarkable for Illinois higher education, Freeman said. The state government passed a budget on time, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker released a higher education plan in January.

The capital budget, passed in June, plans potential appropriations for long-term projects, such as overdue facility maintenance and construction.

Freeman said the capital budget represents a recognition of higher education’s value and the long-term needs of Illinois’ state universities, NIU included.

“This is a chance for us to reimagine our academic spaces and classrooms,” she said. “If you’ve been to DuSable [Hall], you would agree they could use [it].”

Aside from the facilities, Freeman plans to test methods of teaching in first-year required courses to decrease equity gaps. Black and Latino populations have a first-year retention rate lower than the campus average of 73%, according to the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.

One section of Math 110 will be taught using a method of “co-remediation,” as a pilot program. Freeman said co-remediation tries to avoid holding students back when they struggle in certain sections of a course by using data tracking and personalized instruction.

“[Co-remediation is] more effective than telling students, ‘You can’t start this course; you have to make up something first,’” she said. “Students are capable of filling in gaps while they’re learning new material.”

She said advances in technology mean detailed data will be available for instructors and tutors to personalize assistance for students.

Freeman’s goal is to extend co-remediation to other 100-level classes.

Diversity, equity and inclusion remain a categorical focus in this year’s presidential goals.

“It’s not enough just to be diverse,” she said. “I think universities, which are places where ideas are brought forward, challenged and developed, do best when the number of different lived experiences and perspectives contributing to that idea pool is greater. So we will offer a better intellectual environment [and] a better background for innovation if we have people who have different experiences.”

Freeman is the university’s first female president and, including her, the top three leadership positions are held by women: Beth Ingram, executive vice president and provost, and Chief Financial Officer Sarah McGill.

Freeman said rising in male-dominated fields through her doctoral work taught her the benefits of diverse work environments.

“You can have great role models, sponsors and mentors who don’t look like you, but it is really helpful when you can see people who look like you who have achieved the goals you’re setting for yourself,” she said.

Addressing student concerns

Within this category, Freeman’s goals address four specific student concerns: the Disability Resource Center’s relocation, full implementation of preferred or proper names, enhanced behavioral health services and increased sexual misconduct awareness and prevention education.

Freeman said the university has not yet decided on a new location for the DRC but plans to receive recommendations in the fall so relocation can be completed by spring 2020. This comes after the SA Senate passed legislation in April urging the administration to move the DRC from its location at 385 Wirtz Drive due to alleged accessibility issues.

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Freeman said there is an inconsistency in preferred or proper name fields across departmental forms that can cause students pain, such as when transgender students have changed their name or international students don’t have a surname and are not given a space to give their preferred name. The university plans to fix these inconsistencies across campus.

The university plans to enhance behavioral health services.

“We certainly don’t have the resources to go out and hire an army of psychiatrists, but we do have the potential to work with community partners more effectively than we have before,” she said.

The university plans to partner with Safe Passage, a non-profit supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence, to address concerns about sexual misconduct on campus, Freeman said.

In May, students protested what they perceived to be issues in the Title IX process concerning investigations and wait times.

Freeman said the expanded partnership is not entirely reactionary; the university had applied for a grant related to sexual misconduct education before the protests.

Freeman will continue her office hours, available in 15 minute slots.

She said she wants students to question the university — she wants administrators to be able to explain the reasoning behind their actions.

“I want all of our students to understand that when they raise a concern or an issue or suggest that we could be doing something differently, we view that as a real positive,” she said. “We want them to help us be better. And we want them to help a life skill of not being afraid to advocate for change.”