Freeman reconsiders her candidacy


Acting President Lisa Freeman discusses her possible presidency in her office.

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — After unexpectedly stepping into the role of acting president for the last year, Lisa Freeman has reconsidered her candidacy for president.

NIU has been preparing for the presidential search after Doug Baker’s unexpected departure in June 2017. The Presidential Search Preparation Committee has been researching and exploring options moving forward since their first meeting Jan. 25.

“Essentially, the job hasn’t been posted so there are no other candidates at this time,” said NIU Spokesperson Joe King. “The Board, with input from the university community, will assess Dr. Freeman, and if for some reason they decide to go in another direction, then they would reopen their search process.”

Freeman has been at NIU since 2010 and served as the vice president for research and executive vice president and provost before becoming the acting president.

“Coming in and being able to share the spotlight on all the good things going on here and to tell the stories of our students and faculty at donor events and at Washington, D.C., and in Springfield, it just deepened the love and respect for the institution that I’ve already had,” Freeman said.

Freeman said the role of acting president gave her a different perspective and she was able to interact with more students and spend a great deal of time with alumni. She said she feels in her time as acting president, with great administration and across the colleges, Freeman and administrators were not only able to stabilize the university but move it forward.

“All of that was kind of in my head and in my heart when Trustee Coleman came and said ‘Would you reconsider your decision about not seeking the presidency,’ and I was so honored,” Freeman said.

Freeman said her hesitation with accepting a candidacy for president initially stemmed from the state of the university when she took over. She said the university had gone over 700 days without a budget and the situation made for hard decision-making.

“I really, for the good of the university and the community, didn’t want anyone to think when I was making difficult decisions that I wasn’t doing them for the good of the university but instead for the best interest of my candidacy,” Freeman said.

Freeman said she had been focused on getting as much accomplished with the remaining time of her acting presidency and felt great about what had been achieved in her time so far.

She said when Trustee Coleman approached her about reconsidering her candidacy, she did not have to think long because she was so honored by the opportunity.

“I think this university is distinctive among the public universities because of its shared commitment to providing access and opportunity to students from very different backgrounds,” Freeman said. “Also from being a research university and creating new knowledge and works of art, and bringing those two things together just creates great value for our students and for our community.”

Freeman said as acting president she had the opportunity to speak to companies that employ NIU students and learned they value the ability to work with people who have critical thinking skills and are eager to work. She said because students can customize their education, by the time they leave they have applied what they have learned in the real world.

She also said as a result of the opportunity to work and speak with alums, from recent graduates to those now retired, she has seen them talk with love and pride for NIU and show interest in paying it forward to current students.

“I think that that was just such an amazing experience to be able to look across that spectrum and see what this university means to folks,” Freeman said.

Freeman said she thinks the NIU community has come together after going more than 700 days without a budget, to figure out how to find resources to strengthen areas hurt by the budget impasse and sustain excellence. She said NIU’s greatest challenges, like most public universities in the midwest, are related to academics and enrollment.

“In terms of enrollment, the demographics are changing,” Freeman said. “All midwestern universities are finding it harder to maintain the enrollments that they once had and being successful in sustaining and growing enrollment is a long-term game.”

Freeman said they need to make sure to reach out to guidance counselors, parents and students and showcase the quality of the education students can get at NIU. She said student expectations are changing and they need to make sure they keep on pace with those changing expectations and by reaching students on different platforms.

Freeman said traditionally the two main revenue streams have been tuition and state appropriation and those need to be supplemented with support from donors and other outlets. Freeman said she thinks the university has been moving in that direction but needs to continue to do so.

“I’m pretty humbled to be considered in this way and I’m actually very pleased that there’s a big shared governance component to the process that the trustees have adopted.” Freeman said “It’s important for everyone to be able to express their opinion to the trustees about my candidacy, and I look forward to sharing more of my vision with the university community.”

Freeman will be addressing the NIU community about her goals and plans for the future of the university at the end of August.

“I really love NIU,” Freeman said. “I have a deep passion for the success of this university and I hope I have the opportunity to continue to act on that as the next president.”