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As it does every February, Illinois State University held its Founders Day celebration, an observance of the university’s history and traditions, and a time to honor the accomplishments of faculty, staff, and students.

Illinois State is also proud of the accomplishments of its many alumni. At this year’s Founders Day celebration we had the pleasure of bestowing an honorary doctoral degree on a bright and talented alumna, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress Jane Lynch.

As I look back over our university’s history — and particularly its recent history — I acknowledge with pride that Illinois State is an institution that has, for the most part, determined and controlled its own destiny, even in Illinois’ present state of economic and political turmoil.

Despite approaching two fiscal years without a full state budget, the prospect of losing up to $89 million in state funding over those same two fiscal years, and the drastic consequences facing many of our sister institutions, Illinois State University continues to thrive. That is something of which all of our students, faculty, staff, and 200,000-plus alumni should be proud.

We have managed to set our own course and stay that course, and we have succeeded by putting our students at the forefront of the university experience. We have kept our professors in the classrooms and our student support staff members in their offices. We have not skimped on course sections nor have we over-inflated class sizes.

We have made sacrifices. More than 120 non-faculty position are now vacant, but we have invested those scarce and precious resources where they are the most student-critical, in the convergence of teaching, learning and scholarship.

Our metrics tell us we have been rewarded, with a quarter-century freshman enrollment record, and a total student population over 21,000. We have achieved prominence in a number of national publications that rank universities for their quality and value. We have also been named a Great College to Work For by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Illinois has thrown us many political and economic challenges and we have met them as one university community.

Also facing us today are burgeoning national political and social challenges. They control the headlines and light-up social media channels. It is very easy to become ensnared in the all-consuming rhetoric, and succumb to the contentious narratives. But once again, I am proud that Illinois State has managed to control its own destiny, and again, we have succeeded by putting our students first. We have committed ourselves, to every extent legally possible, to protect the freedoms of all of our students and scholars, ensure their safety and security, and offer the resources that help them grow and excel. And again, our efforts have been rewarded, in a passionate and articulate student body that serves as a national model for civic engagement.

I am proud to be part of the Illinois State University community, and I am especially proud of the loyal and committed faculty and staff who show great dedication to the university and to the students it serves.

Dietz is president of Illinois State University. 

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