John Peters, Northern Illinois University’s long-time president who was praised for his leadership during the deadly 2008 campus shootings, announced Thursday that he will retire after this academic year.
Peters, 67, president of the DeKalb-based university for more than 12 years, is the longest-serving public university president in the state.
“We've shared triumph and tragedy, and in some ways, I feel we've experienced an entire lifetime together. But a university presidency isn't a lifetime appointment,” Peters said Thursday during his State of the University address.
Peters, known by students for his likable, approachable personality, consistently championed the importance of NIU being a “student-centered” university. In 2010, he received the top President’s Award from a national student affairs organization.
“He has been an amazing president. He has been somewhat of a grandfatherly-type person to the university,” said NIU senior Austin Quick, speaker of the Student Association. “He has been a steadying presence in a university that has had its ups and downs.”
Peters is credited with leading the university’s first large-scale fundraising campaign, which raised $150 million. During his tenure, NIU achieved the highest-possible Carnegie ranking for research universities and was admitted to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, reserved for the top five percent of public universities in the country.
Peters also oversaw much construction on campus, including eight new or significantly renovated buildings. A not-yet-named residence hall opened this fall for more than 1,000 students, a building that some already had been speculating could be named for Peters when he retired.
In January 2012, he presided over the re-opening of Cole Hall, where a former student opened fire in a lecture hall on Feb. 14, 2008, killing five students and himself and wounding 21 others.
Peters told the Tribune on Thursday that the timing felt right to step down. His last day will be June 30, 2013 – 13 years after he began.
“There is never a perfect time, but there are certain benchmarks that I looked to. I wanted to accomplish certain major things,” Peters said, citing the fundraising campaign and helping the university heal from the 2008 tragedy. “It is a good time for the university because things are in place and a good time for me as well.”
Peters announced his retirement amid some recent turmoil at the university. Two high-ranking NIU administrators resigned this summer while under investigation for misconduct -- one for allegedly having a university employee clean his home during work hours – and NIU police are continuing to investigate other allegations of employee misconduct.
Peters said he plans to split his time between the Chicago area and Knoxville, Tenn., when he retires. He may continue to help with NIU fundraising efforts, as well as stay involved in national student athletics issues. He serves on several NCAA committees.
“I have eight months to go, and I am going to make the best of every day and put the university in the best position it can be,” Peters said. “After 13 years, NIU is in pretty good shape, and now it is time to pass the baton on to another president.”Copyright © 2015, RedEye