DeKALB — President Lisa Freeman was awarded her presidential investiture Friday for the celebration of her executive office.
At 2 p.m. Friday in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall of the Music Building, students, faculty, staff and representatives from other universities gathered for the ceremony. The processional honoring of Freeman was composed of 74 academics currently in positions at NIU or other universities.
Since 2010, Freeman has served as a member of NIU’s senior leadership team and as a faculty member in different capacities. From 2010 to 2013, she was the vice president of research and graduate studies and in 2014 was appointed interim vice president and provost. On June 30, 2017, Freeman was named acting president.
Freeman was named acting president to replace former NIU President Doug Baker, who resigned from his post after he allegedly mismanaged university and state funds.
On Sept. 20, 2018, Freeman was appointed the 13th president of NIU and is the first woman to serve in that role. Student Association President Khiree Cross said he is happy to see Freeman take on this role.
“I remember my first encounter with Freeman,” Cross said. “I didn’t even know she was in higher administration because she was so humble, listening exactly to what I was saying. Now, it’s really fulfilling to see her as president.”
The NIU Choir and Avalon String Quartet performed a rendition of NIU’s alma mater song and provided music throughout the ceremony.
Various speakers remarked on Freeman’s career and their hopes for her future success. Dennis Barsema, Board of Trustees chairperson, and his predecessor Wheeler Coleman presented Freeman with the university medallion and mace. The university medallion and mace are symbols of her position’s authority and academic designation, according to NIU’s website.
The items were first presented to the 10th president, Rhoten Smith, in 1968. The medallion is to be worn by Freeman at commencements and other important university events, and the mace is used during the processional and recessional academic ceremonies, according to NIU’s website.
“We are an engaged, student-centered research university,” Freeman said during her address. “We believe in the values and vision articulated in the Illinois Agenda for College and Career Success — that ‘Higher education is a public good’ and that ‘Illinois will provide effective and quality education for all people.’”
Freeman also expanded on the recently updated university mission, vision and values statements during her address. She said they signify a new path and set of goals for NIU.
Freeman said the updated versions are indicative of mobility for NIU’s future.
“The updated statements […]reflect our priorities, speak to our aspirations and capture our intentions,” Freeman said. “The language is suggestive of movement, purposeful movement, as heard in our vision to be an engine for innovation to advance social mobility, promote personal, professional and intellectual growth and transform the world through research, artistry, teaching and outreach.”
Cross said he feels entirely confident in Freeman moving forward. He said SA feels its interactions with her have been honest and transparent.
“I think [Freeman] has already made great efforts in working with the Student Association and making sure we have a say in the conversation while making administrative decisions that affect students,” Cross said. “She’s always inviting. She challenges future SA members to continue to build the relationship we currently have with the administration.”
Of the planned actions Freeman outlined in her address, Cross said he feels most strongly about her goal to further amplify diverse voices on campus. He said her attention to inclusion serves her relationship with students.
Speaker of the Senate Tristan Martin echoed these statements and said SA is optimistic in working with the president, much as they have been before.
Martin said the revised university mission, vision and value statements reflect a shared vision throughout all levels of administration on campus.
“Not only did [Freeman’s] peers mention what she hopes to accomplish here at NIU, but the speech she gave was extremely convincing,” Martin said. “She’s very creditable toward our values and what students are looking to gain from the university. I think she’ll be able to foster that here.”
Undeclared sophomore Jeremiah Ray said he decided to attend due to the notability of the event.
“Being a student on this campus and being able to sit down with the leader of our campus is an inspiration,” Ray said. “I like that she has office hours, and her door is open to anyone who might want to talk to her.”
Many of Freeman’s current and former colleagues spoke to her capabilities during and after the event.
Cherilyn Murer, founder, president and CEO of CGM Advisory Group and a graduate of NIU’s School of Law, said the inauguration of Freeman marks a new path for the university.
“After 18 months, it was evident,” Murer said. “This is a great day for NIU and for higher education.”
Michael Durnil, president and CEO of the Simon Youth Foundation, met Freeman in 2004 while attending the American Council on Education.
Durnil said he counts Freeman among his closest colleagues and believes her to be the unequivocal choice for the office of the executive.
He said he knew Freeman would be a university president from the moment he met her.
“I know her values and experiences will serve this academic community well,” Durnil said. “I’ve known [Freeman] for the last 15 years. I’ve seen her through some very difficult times and very wonderful times, and I think [NIU] is very lucky to have her.”
Roman Ganta, director of the Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases at Kansas State University, said Freeman’s love for all people she meets informs her role today.
They met when Freeman served as the associate dean for Research and Graduate programs for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the university.
“Over the years, I’ve seen [Freeman’s] talents while being a researcher and administrator,” Ganta said. “She was one of the most successful in gaining [National Institute of Health] funding [while at Kansas State University] to do research on human and animal health. We can tell from our experiences with her that she is a great person and that she wants to lead with everyone behind her.”
Coleman spoke on Freeman’s aptitude for her current role. He said he feels the university to be in good hands for the duration of her presidency.
“I’m extremely happy,” Coleman said. “We’ve got a smart, dedicated president that will live out the true mission of NIU. I can’t wait to see this institution after she has an opportunity to put her stamp here.”
He said the next five and ten years hold a lot of promise for NIU.
He also said he feels most confident in her plans to increase enrollment and get back on track.
“We’ve got to grow enrollment, which is against a lot of odds,” Coleman said. “We need to improve our financial discipline and also push for diversity and inclusion at multiple levels. I believe [Lisa Freeman] can carry out the new mission of NIU.”