Editorial Board discusses NIU future, diversity with Freeman


Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

The Northern Star Editorial Board sits down with NIU President Lisa Freeman in the Board of Trustees room in Altgeld Hall.

By Yari Tapia

DeKALB – The Northern Star Editorial Board spoke with NIU President Lisa Freeman about the future of the university. Freeman discussed her position as president, her plans during the COVID-19 pandemic and her strive for diversity on campus.

What does being a president of NIU as a job entail in layman’s terms? 

Freeman said her job is similar to a chief executive officer position. Her job is to find ways to make an impact on students.

“So, we need to know about all aspects of the university’s mission, teaching and learning, research scholarship and engagement,” Freeman said. “I need to make sure that the various pieces of our organization work together to give students the best experience and give society the most impact.”

What are NIU’s biggest challenges?

Freeman said we are all facing challenges coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said operating like normal would be a challenge since life will be different than it was before.

“Making sure that we can offer an education that’s the quality that our students deserve,” Freeman said. “But that we can do that without charging so much tuition.”

Handling COVID-19 

Freeman said NIU will not be requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students entering the Fall 2021 semester.

“It is legally more challenging for a public university to put a mandate in place and doing that might invite litigation; that would be expensive and distracting,” Freeman said.

Freeman said what NIU has done and will continue to do in order to handle COVID-19.

“Our preference, if the IDPH – Illinois Department of Public Health – doesn’t come out with a mandate, is to strongly encourage students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated,” Freeman said.

NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman sits at desk April 19 in the Board of Trustees room during an interview with the Northern Star Editorial Board. (Patrick Murphy | Northern Star)

Anti-racism training and diversity

NIU is taking multiple actions to improve the diversity on campus whether it be through training sessions, curricula or programs, Freeman said

“Within the next couple of days, we’ll be introducing a new website that’s comprehensive and shows all the work going on around, across the university to promote social justice, to embrace diversity and embrace and advance diversity, equity and inclusion,” Freeman said.

Freeman said there will be a new anti-racism training offered at NIU by professionals who are trained to facilitate conversations about race. Freeman said the training will not be mandatory, but students will be encouraged to complete it.

In regards to hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff, Freeman has considered a number of ways to increase the percentage of diverse staff.

“We did educate our search committees about implicit bias and ask them to think about being inclusive in the candidate pools that they consider,” Freeman said. “We looked at where and how  we advertise our faculty and staff positions and realize that if we advertise in more diverse publications, we would potentially attract more diverse faculty.”

Addressing financial problems

Freeman said NIU removed test scores from scholarship criteria to not disqualify students with high GPAs and low test scores after realizing the cause for lack of student success was usually a lack of funds.

Freeman said NIU is using federal funds to help reimburse the university for expenses related to COVID-19. She is also looking into a different approach to saving money by jointly purchasing supplies with other Illinois universities.

“Any dollar that is spent not on students is a dollar that we like to get as much out of it as possible,” Freeman said.