BLOOMINGTON — As 500 students are beginning their careers at Illinois Wesleyan University, the school's president is about to end his.
“The start of a school year is an exciting time, even though it's my last one here at Illinois Wesleyan,” said, Dick Wilson, who announced in December he would retire after 11 years as president. His successor is expected to be named in the next month or two.
His time left at IWU may be short, but the list of things to do isn't.
“I haven't felt like a lame duck at all,” Wilson said Monday, the first day of classes on the Bloomington campus. “The university moves on, regardless of who is president.”
On Friday, Wilson did what he has done at the beginning of every school year since becoming president: had breakfast with faculty and staff.
They talked about challenges facing higher education, but he also shared humorous stories like the time, shortly after being named president, when he was staying in a guest house and he locked himself out while barefoot and wearing pajama shorts.
Last week, he also was involved in welcoming new students to campus. The weeklong “Turning Titan” orientation included both learning and social activities as well as a “mission day” during which incoming students worked on several projects, from the campus Peace Garden to a Habitat for Humanity house.
Freshman Katherine Henebry, an English writing and business marketing major from Springfield, said, “So much has changed in the past week. It feels like I've been here a month.”
She said her parents told her “to focus on my academics” but they also said “you still want to go out and make friends.”
Accounting major Sevin Headley, a freshman from Fairbury, said she didn't know anyone when she arrived at IWU, but made a lot of new friends during orientation.
After her first day of classes she already had a paper due at the end of the week that she would have had all semester to write in high school.
But she exuded excitement, not disappointment, over the differences from high school.
After some concern in May, Wilson is pleased IWU started classes having met its goal of 500 new students — 475 are freshmen, 25 are transfers. Fifty new international students are part of that total. In addition, the number of returning students exceeded expectations, he said.
Total campus enrollment won't be official until the 10th day of class.
As IWU works to maintain its enrollment, Wilson said it also is maintaining its commitment to a solid liberal arts core for all its students, including those in pre-professional programs.
“It's a distinction for us; that's where our niche is,” he said.
It's part of what attracted freshman Zack Kuenstle, a biology-pre-med and music major from Arlington Heights.
He said liberal arts courses give students “critical thinking skills and make you a well-rounded individual.”
As Kuenstle, Henebry, Headley and other freshmen make the transition from high school to college, Wilson will be making the transition to retirement — but not before helping in his successor's transition.
Then he and his wife, Pat, intend to "take off for about a year and give the new president some room," he said.
After that, they expect to stay in the Bloomington-Normal area.
"We have a lot of friends here and, of course, a great fondness for the university," Wilson said.