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ISU president says this is an exciting and challenging time in higher ed

ISU interim President Aondover Tarhule
Emily Bollinger
Illinois State University Interim President Aondover Tarhule spoke of challenges and opportunities for the institution in his first State of the University speech on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023.

The interim president of Illinois State University said Thursday in the annual State of the University speech that the institution stands at an inflection point, telling the campus community that ISU has a bright future despite looming challenges in higher education.

Aondover Tarhule noted over the next 10 years, Illinois high schools will graduate 20,000 fewer students than the last decade, increasing the pressure on colleges and universities.

"New academic programs will help us become a more comprehensive university, help mitigate the coming enrollment cliff, and accomplish our mission to educate the next generation of Illinois students and prepare its workforce," said Tarhule.

ISU interim president Aondover Tarhule had a warm reception from faculty and staff following his state of the university address.
Emily Bollinger
ISU interim president Aondover Tarhule had a warm reception from faculty and staff following his state of the university address.

Total enrollment stands at 20,989, a 1.5% increase over last year. About 41% of this year’s freshman class comes from traditionally underrepresented groups.

“And 32% of our total student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups. I’m pleased to share that our student retention is 81.3% up from 80.3% last year,” said Tarhule.

ISU’s retention rate of students after their first year is about five points higher than Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, 10 points above Northern Illinois University, and a few points below Bradley University in Peoria.


Tarhule said the new College of Engineering, expanded space in the Mennonite College of Nursing, the DeGarmo Hall rebuild, and other new programs and facilities will help keep ISU competitive.

“Work on the Center for Visual Arts Rotunda Classroom Renovation is in full swing and on target for a spring (2024) reopening … with new lecture seating, modern finishes, and four new ADA accessible ramps,” said Tarhule. “Across campus, 10 classrooms were fully renovated, and technology upgrades were performed in 122 classrooms and conference rooms at a cost of over $800,000 in FY23.”

Other projects include the indoor sports practice facility and the Watterson Dining Commons remodel.


Tarhule said three engineering curricular proposals were submitted to the Illinois Board of Higher Education at the end of August.

“We look forward to receiving approval from the IBHE so that we may begin advertising and marketing the engineering programs,” he said.

Architectural and engineering designs are under way to make the John Green Building a "state-of-the art facility" to house the college and associated departments.

The new initiatives included three master's programs in public health, marketing analytics, and STEM master of business administration.

Tarhule also called for an increase in partnerships outside of the academic world, giving a shoutout to the "Connected Communities" initiative, a newly formalized relationship with OSF HealthCare to foster research, innovation, and economic development across the state.

"The program will bring together clinicians, university faculty researchers, and students to focus on innovation in clinical and patient education, health care engineering, data science, and cyber security," said Tarhule, noting a previous partnership improved child vaccination rates.


ISU interim president at a podium
Emily Bollinger
Interim university president Aondover Tarhule spoke for more than 42 minutes to faculty and staff.

Internally, Tarhule called on the campus community to remain collaborative.

"Embrace continuous improvement, user experience, and efficiency as decision-making paradigms. To paraphrase yet another sage, small and incremental improvements over time lead to stunning results," said Tarhule.

He urged departments to reduce unnecessary administrative barriers for current and potential students, to streamline procedures, and to consider adding online programs.

Equity, diversity, and inclusivity

Illinois State will have invested $4.5 million over the five-year period (2022-2027) in an incentive program to attract candidates who demonstrate commitment to equity, diversity and inclusivity in teaching, scholarship, and service, said Tarhule.

“Through FDEP and the precursor program, ISU has hired 42 tenure-track faculty in the past two years who advance our commitment to fostering an inclusive environment characterized by cultural understanding, engagement, ethical behavior, and social justice. We are delighted to have these new faculty join the ISU community,” said Tarhule.

He noted progress in rebuilding depleted faculty levels — 54 new tenure track faculty arrived for the fall. ISU has authorized 52 tenure-track faculty searches for the next academic year.

“For the three-year period (FY23-25), the university would have made 155 tenure-track hires, significantly rebuilding our faculty strength in the post-COVID era,” said Tarhule.

Tarhule also announced a 3.5% pay increase for faculty and staff effective in January. Salary studies continue with the goal of reducing faculty salary compression and addressing potential competitiveness challenges from other universities.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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