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ISU Trustees Advance Engineering College, Freeze Tuition, Hike Housing Costs

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YouTube/Illinois State University
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State Sen. Jason Barickman, left, and state Rep. Dan Brady, far right, presented Larry Dietz with a proclamation marking his pending retirement at Illinois State University president.

Illinois State University's board of trustees heard from frustrated graduate student workers on Friday before it took the next step toward creating a new engineering college.

During the their quarterly meeting, trustees unanimously adopted a plan to seek approval for the new college from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).

Graduate student workers told the board the university should prioritize a labor contract with them before pursuing any big spending projects.

Graduate teaching assistant Natalie Jipson said the university should take care of its underpaid and undervalued graduate workers.

“It is unethical for us to approve millions of dollars for any new project while employees of this university have to go to the food pantry in order to feed their families,” Jipson said.

ISU and the grad students’ union have been unable to come to terms on a contract.

University president Larry Dietz indicated the resolution approved Friday does not commit any funds to the new college and there will still be several steps the university will have to take for the college to become reality, such as approving degrees, facility designs and construction if IBHE signs off on the new college.

“There are many stages to this development of this program and this is simply the beginning step,” Dietz said.

But several graduate student workers and their supporters said during public comment that Dietz’s attempt to move ahead with the engineering college sets a bad precedent, since the Academic Senate voted against the project in March.

“In the interest of preserving shared governance on this campus, we urge this board to not permit the president to circumvent the votes of the Academic Senate,” associate sociology professor Richard Sullivan told trustees.

Trustee Robert Navarro said he supports the concept of a new engineering college, but is conflicted.

“I do think that we have an opportunity to do and do it right,” Navarro said. “This has been a real struggle for me.”

Room and board

In another matter, ISU students will have to pay 3% more for room and board next year, but tuition will stay the same at $384.13 per credit hour for in-state undergraduate students. Trustees approved the increase of about $300 per undergrad for housing.

Trustee Rocky Donahue said the pandemic has added financial uncertainty for the university and for students.

“We’re in crazy times, Donahoe said. “We don’t know financially what the world is going to look like when we come out of this.”

Navarro cast the only no vote.

Capital projects

Trustees also approved about $33 million in construction projects, including a new lab building for the Mennonite College of Nursing and temporary classroom space needed during renovations to the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts. ISU plans to demolish buildings at 402 and 404 W. Locust St. to build the 20,000-square foot nursing lab. That project is expected to cost $18 million. It would be paid for through general revenue and fees.

Fine arts facilities are undergoing a nearly $62 million renovation. Trustees approved renovating spaces for classrooms, labs and offices during construction. The $15 million project for temporary accommodations could come through financing and university funds.

Enrollment projections

ISU officials hope a return to a more typical college setting next year will bring more students to campus. Dietz said he's encouraged by enrollment projections for next fall.

“Enrollment for the fall semester is looking very, very positive,” Dietz told trustees. “We have made up some gaps we had previously and deposits for the first-time-in-college (FTIC) students are up 6.5% compared to the same time last year.

Dietz said graduate student admissions are up 10% and transfers are up 2%. Enrollment dropped about 1% this school year during the pandemic and many students had to learn remotely.

Presidential search

ISU trustees interviewed four finalists for university president this week, according to trustees’ chair Julie Jones. She said a committee of nearly three dozen students, faculty, staff and alumni reviewed applications from more than 50 qualified candidates. Most of the work was done virtually.

“Conducting this search during the pandemic ... with more than 60 search and support members brought with it a few challenges, but the process yielded outstanding candidates,” said Jones, adding ISU plans to name Dietz's successor in the next few weeks.

Dietz is retiring June 30 after seven years as university president.

Honoring Dietz

State Rep. Dan Brady and State Sen. Jason Barickman presented Dietz with an Illinois House proclamation honoring Dietz for his more than 50 years in education.

“I am very humbled by all this and very grateful,” said Dietz, noting he and wife Marlene plans to continue to live in Bloomington-Normal after retirement.

Trustees also took time to commend Dietz for keeping the university “strong and stable,” managing the school’s response to the pandemic and shepherding the university through various construction projects in his seven years as president.

“He was the first person at the right time to come in and to fill that spot and to get this university back on track,” said trustee Bob Dobski, referring to a “hiccup” the university encountered after Al Bowman’s retirement when Timothy Flanagan occupied the president’s office 2013-2014.

In other business, ISU trustees

  • Approved agreements for new computers, software and support with Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. The contracts total $8.4 million.
  • Approved a five-year, $1 million contract for bread for campus dining services through Alpha Baking Company.
  • Signed off on resurfacing of the outdoor track for $650,000.
  • Approved new M.A. and M.S. degrees in English.
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Corrected: May 10, 2021 at 8:08 AM CDT
WGLT corrected Natalie Jipson's spelling and job title.
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