DeKALB – Lisa Freeman thanked her husband, Doug Rose, whom she called her best friend, as she was officially installed as the 13th president of Northern Illinois University on Friday.
The formal ceremony installing Freeman, the first woman president in the institution’s 125-year history, was held before hundreds of spectators at Boutell Memorial Concert Hall in NIU’s Music Building. NIU Board of Trustees Chairman Dennis Barsema and former Chairman Wheeler Coleman presented Freeman with the university mace and presidential medallion, symbols of university authority, during the proceedings.
“I am moved beyond words to be here today, and honored beyond my wildest dreams to be the 13th president of this wonderful university,” Freeman said. “I pledge to do my best to uphold the proud traditions of this institution and to help create its strong future.”
Colleagues from Freeman’s alma mater, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; Kansas State University, where she worked as a faculty member for 16 years; and the American Council on Education, as well as representatives from campus boards, spoke at length of Freeman’s abilities. Many called her “perfect” for the role of NIU’s president, especially because she served in the role as the interim leader since July 2017.
“Everything we do needs to be done in an inclusive, not exclusive way, where role models and open doors exist for everyone, where the exception becomes the norm,” Barsema said. “While it is always an honor to welcome a new chief executive, it is of particular significance to do this for the first time for the first female executive of NIU.”
Barsema’s comments received thunderous applause.
Khiree Cross, president of the Student Association, and who is set to graduate in May, praised Freeman’s accessibility.
“From representing NIU in the Illinois Legislature, to having a slice of pizza with students, it is so refreshing to see a top administrator so engaged and always available to the student body,” Cross said.
Freeman came to NIU in 2010 as vice president of research and graduate studies, and later served as executive vice president and provost. In September, NIU board members named her the new president after she had spent more than a year as acting president.
Kathyrn Jaekel, assistant professor of adult and higher education, spoke on behalf of the faculty. She said Freeman “encouraged a sense of belonging” on campus. Jaekel also read some comments her students made about Freeman.
“She shows up with such advocacy and support, that our students, faculty and staff feel seen,” Jaekel read.
Catherine Doederlein, president of the supportive professional staff council at NIU, reflected on Freeman’s acts of kindness. She spoke about Freeman getting up early on a snow day to deliver donuts to the university’s grounds crew as they worked to clear the campus.
Carol Crenshaw, member of the NIU Foundation, the university’s fundraising arm, said Freeman puts her money where her mouth is. Freeman and her husband, created a $25,000 annual scholarship to give financial aid to students every year she holds the presidency.
“We see a leader who can make NIU a first-choice destination,” Crenshaw said. “A leader who will galvanize our alumni and donors.”
Barsema said when the board was creating a checklist of attributes for the future president, they realized the person they were describing already was in the seat.
“Since arriving on our campus in 2010, she has realized what it means to be a Huskie,” Barsema continued. “Huskies have grit, love doing it the hard way, aren’t afraid to take risks, fail and get back up. Huskies support each other. Most of all a Huskie is someone who never gives up.”