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Kinzy Lauds ISU's 'Resilience' Amid COVID During 1st State Of The University Address

Terri Goss Kinzy speaking at podium wearing a mask
Eric Stock
Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy delivered her first State of the University address on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts concert hall.

Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy delivered her first State of the University address Tuesday, reflecting on a return to a more typical school year and outlining strategic planning the university has on its agenda in the coming year.

Kinzy, a former administrator at Western Michigan University who took over as ISU’s 20th president on July 1 for the retiring Larry Dietz, commended faculty, staff and students for their resilience in adapting to ever-changing protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every student, faculty and staff member worked to redefine higher education in ways I think we’ll only fully understand in the years to come,” Kinzy told a gathering at ISU’s Center for the Performing Arts concert hall.

As many restrictions have eased, the university is left dealing with COVID-19’s financial impact. Kinzy said the pandemic has caused a $25 million hit to the university — and about 35% of the costs, lost revenue and refunds have not been recovered or reimbursed through state or federal funding.

Kinzy told reporters after the address the university can manage that loss without staff or wage cuts.

“Illinois State was well prepared. We didn’t lay anyone off, we didn’t cut wages that many places did,” Kinzy said. “We are very strong, but it will have an impact on us for the long term on our ability to do creative and innovative things to advance education in Illinois.”

Kinzy said she hopes a new state commission on higher education funding will create a better funding formula for ISU, as it receives the least funding per full-time student among all state universities in Illinois — $3,820 per student.

Kinzy also expressed optimism that COVID won’t cause the same economic impact this school year.

“That is where we are right now. We are very confident that COVID is becoming less of an issue and we are hopeful that with our strong safety policies, we won’t have any of those challenges this year," she said.

In her address, Kinzy said 76% of students and 92% of faculty and staff are fully vaccinated, and noted the student vaccination rate has gradually increased since the university required the vaccine in late July. Students can opt out of the vaccine if they get tested weekly. Kinzy said the university will reassess options if the rate plateaus, and she urged the ISU community to "strongly consider" getting the COVID vaccine.

Strategic planning

Kinzy said the university will focus on developing a new strategic plan as the current one expires in 2023. While she said the university has made progress in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion, it must plan to do more.

“This is the direction we need to continue weaving equity into our very infrastructure,” Kinzy said. “Excellent examples will continue to be shared, so that examples tested in units can be expanded across the university and we can look at ourselves and reflect again and see what our future holds.”

Kinzy noted 28% of ISU’s student body comes from racially diverse backgrounds, while the incoming freshman diversity rate is 35%.

Kinzy announced the university also is looking to create a strategic plan on sustainability.

Kinzy said the university anticipates the Illinois Board of Higher Education plans to consider ISU’s application for a new engineering college in December and she hailed ISU’s plans for a new nursing simulation lab building that she said can significantly increase student enrollment.

“This addresses a state and national need,” she said.

Grad student labor dispute

Sign posted during speech
Eric Stock
A graduate student worker at ISU posted a sign during ISU president Terri Goss Kinzy's State of the University address on Tuesday.

A member of ISU’s graduate student union hung a large sign in the concert hall during Kinzy’s address which read, “ISU pays poverty wages.” A grad student asked Kinzy during the question-and-answer portion what she planned to do to improve those wages.

The university and union have been bargaining over a new contract for two years. Economic issues have been the main sticking point.

Kinzy said she looks forward to an agreement that’s “mutually beneficial for all members of the Illinois State community.” She said after the address what the university is offering the union is “extremely well benchmarked with our peer institutions and in some places, it’s actually much better.”

The union has set a strike authorization vote for Oct 4.

Missing student

Kinzy also took time during the address the disappearance of ISU grad student Jelani Day, who was last seen Aug. 24 in Bloomington.

“In consultation with Jelani’s family, we will continue to provide support to them and as a community, I ask that we all provide support to each other.”

ISU closure day

Kinzy said the university has added Wednesday, Nov. 24, during fall break as an administrative closure day as a show of appreciation for staff who “continue to work tirelessly to provide a safe environment for all.”

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