DEKALB, Ill. — Northern Illinois University (NIU) President John G. Peters announced Oct. 11 that he will step down June 30, 2013, closing the book on 13 years of leadership as the university’s 11th chief executive officer. Peters made the announcement during his annual State of the University Address, held inside historic Altgeld Hall.
“I can’t express in words my love for this university and its people — for its faculty, staff and students who every day invigorate and inspire me,” Peters told the audience. “We’ve shared triumph and tragedy, and in some ways, I feel we’ve experienced an entire lifetime together. But a university presidency isn’t a lifetime appointment.”
Known as “The Student’s President,” Peters has built a legacy that will shape NIU far into the future. His Vision 2020 Initiative positions NIU to become the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest by establishing and achieving strategic goals for the coming decade in areas of student, faculty and facility excellence.
When Peters assumed the NIU presidency June 1, 2000, he embarked on a mission to bring new recognition and expanded resources to the university. Under his guidance, NIU was admitted to the nation’s most prestigious public university association, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, an honor reserved for the top 5 percent of universities nationwide.
During Peters’ administration, NIU ascended to the highest-possible Carnegie ranking for research universities, gained admittance to the elite Universities Research Association and secured a voice on the NCAA Executive Committee when he was appointed to represent the Mid-American Conference.
As president, Peters has championed engaged learning — “Such programs cultivate critical thinking, encourage greater creativity and enhance communication skills,” he said during his speech — and cheered the news that more than 2,000 NIU students participated in some form of enrichment activities last year.
He expressed equal pride in the University Honors Program, which graduated a record 172 students in May and welcomed 226 freshman and 104 transfer students this fall. The Honors freshmen bring an average ACT score of 29.
Meanwhile, he announced, NIU has committed more than $10 million toward merit scholarships this year for incoming and current students. The number of new students enrolled with such financial support rose 8.5 percent this fall to more than 2,000.
The landscape of NIU’s flagship DeKalb campus also has changed during Peters’ tenure. Among the most visible contributions is the New Residence Hall — “the crown jewel of the Residential Renaissance” — which opened its doors this fall and houses more than 1,000 students.
Additionally, Northern View, apartment-style living geared toward students with dependents, upper-classmen and graduate students, opened in 2008 as the first new building for student housing at NIU in 40 years. The New Residence Hall and Northern View were both built under Peters’ leadership, making use of public-private partnerships.
Peters also utilized low-interest Build America Bonds to remodel and modernize residence halls Grant Towers C and D and Gilbert Hall as well as the Holmes Student Center and the coming intramural sports complex on the West Campus.
In January 2012, Peters presided over the reopening of Cole Hall, which had been closed since 2008.
“The building, with its lobby providing a sweeping view of central campus, including the nearby Memorial Garden, has been transformed. It is now home to the Anthropology Museum and high-tech, collaborative-learning settings that maximize the educational experience. It will be looked to as a national model,” Peters said during his address. “Cole Hall is now a symbol of rebirth, resolve and resilience. It is personally inspiring for me to know that this building will now foster learning for tens of thousands of 21st century students.”
Always looking for innovative ways to continue to grow NIU, the Peters administration launched the True North capital campaign, which has raised more than $163 million. Since 2009, average annual private giving has risen from $10.1 million to nearly $14 million. Campus improvements fueled by True North have included Barsema Hall, the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, the Yordon Center and the coming Chessick Indoor Practice Facility.
NIU alumnus and benefactor Dennis Barsema, chairman of the NIU Foundation Board of Directors, said: “The imprint President Peters has had on Northern Illinois University has been indelible, and it has been a privilege to work alongside him. Under his leadership, the university has reached out to its alumni more than ever before. Thanks to those efforts, we have re-engaged with our alumni and energized them, as demonstrated by the dramatic increase in giving to the university during his tenure. While Dr. Peters’ impact on the university can be measured in many ways, I believe that those accomplishments may be among his most important.”
Driving it all is the steadfast vision held by Peters, who in 2010 won the NASPA President’s Award from the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, that NIU become “the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest.”
Cherilyn Murer, chairman of the NIU Board of Trustees, said she and her colleagues on the university’s governing board applaud Peters’ service.
His stewardship has transformed the university “with a boom in new construction on campus, an emphasis on student-centered research and engaged learning and an enhanced national reputation,” Murer said.
“On behalf of both present and past members of the Board of Trustees, I would like to express our collective gratitude for the many contributions President Peters has made to better Northern Illinois University during the course of his tenure as president,” Murer added. “We are grateful to him for his dynamic leadership during a time of tremendous growth and change for NIU. We wish John and Barbara Peters nothing but the best in the future, and look forward to their continuing to be part of the NIU community in the future.”
Murer also extended grateful appreciation to Barbara Peters for her service during her tenure as NIU’s First Lady. Her welcoming manner brought a sense of caring and family to the NIU community. She also shared her scholarship of 20th century women’s fashion and Northern women during NIU’s early years.
“During her 13 years at NIU, Barbara Peters epitomized grace, dignity and strength every day,” Murer said.
Peters pledged a smooth transition, saying that he plans to “provide advice and counsel” to the next president during the transition and continued assistance to the NIU Foundation in its efforts to raise funds to support new scholarships and academic programs.
The president also promised to “make every day count” during the next eight months, similarly challenging the campus to identify any “small obstacles that might be removed with a little ingenuity, initiative or elbow grease” to best meet the needs of students.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished during my time as president of this great university,” he said. “But the main achievement over the last 13 years has been to shine a light on the great works of NIU faculty, staff and students. There hasn’t been one day that I haven’t felt supremely blessed to work alongside you.”
A national search for Peters’ replacement will begin this fall under the direction of the Board of Trustees. Peters expects that the board will select a search firm and announce the formation of a presidential advisory search committee by Thursday, Nov. 8.
From the Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue