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WIU President Guiyou Huang inaugurated

Rich Egger
WIU President Guiyou Huang told the audience at his inauguration that the importance of public universities has never been more clear. "Not only do we shape the lives of students, creating pathways to social mobility, but we play a critical role in the economic development of the regions we call home."

Even though the pandemic delayed Dr. Huang’s inauguration by 15 months – he took office on January 1, 2021 – he felt it was still important to hold the ceremony.

He called it a big symbol of collaboration and celebrating, and a chance for the university to put its best foot forward.

Plus, he feels like he’s just getting started.

“I’m still newish as a president,” Huang said with a chuckle during a post-inauguration interview with Tri States Public Radio.

Huang, who is WIU’s 12th president, told TSPR that America has a great educational system and that he has benefited from it. He called the nation’s higher education system the envy of the world.

“You don’t have to be wealthy or powerful to get a good education. If you work hard, if you have a vision, you have a goal, you can achieve it,” he said.

Huang said a higher education paves the way for social mobility and economic prosperity. He said a highly educated workforce is essential; a country that doesn’t invest in its young people has no future.

“You have to invest. Nothing comes free in that regard,” he said, adding that a comprehensive liberal arts education will produce good citizens, which he said is healthy for democracy.

Rich Egger
WIU Board of Trustees Chairperson Doug Shaw addressing the audience early in the ceremony.

The ceremony

The mid-afternoon event on March 31 featured music, speeches, and the presentation of the presidential regalia and medallion.

During his speech, Huang said life is full of irony and serendipity. He said often the convergence of circumstances can lead to one’s destiny.

“Never in my wildest dreams as a college student in China could I have imagined I would be standing here at the helm of an American institution poised for significant change,” Huang said. “It seems that only in America does this happen to an immigrant student.”

Huang said we are living in tumultuous and uncertain times. He said that makes higher education institutions more relevant than ever.

“The importance of universities like Western – regional, public, comprehensive universities – has never been more clear. Not only do we shape the lives of students, creating pathways to social mobility, but we play a critical role in the economic development of the regions we call home,” he said.

Huang called these challenging times for higher education, but also said there are clear signs of positive momentum at WIU.

He said he plans to continue pushing the five priorities that he’s been articulating for the past 15 months:

  • Recruitment and enrollment. “We have developed and are implementing a recruitment plan that calls for an enrollment increase by 20% over the current levels by 2027.”
  • Retention
  • Justice, inclusion, diversity, and equity. “Western is making renewed efforts to diversify our faculty, staff, and student populations, ensuring a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive campus and community.”
  • Institutional distinctiveness
  • Internationalization

“These priorities are to ensure a robust future for Western characterized by healthy enrollments, financial prosperity, and student success,” he said.
Huang said Leathernecks have knowledge, courage, and power.

Ilon Lauer, Chairperson of the Faculty Senate and a Professor of Communication, also sounded positive notes during his speech.

Lauer said Huang has ushered in a new commitment to transparency, faculty governance, and ambitious but realistic planning for WIU’s future.

“For many, this commitment has catalyzed unprecedented enthusiasm by our faculty, staff, and broader community. And this is no small feat,” Lauer said.

Lauer noted that during the past decade alone Western endured a decade of declining enrollment, chronic state underfunding, unprecedented layoffs, and a crisis of confidence topped off with a global pandemic.

He said Western has resiliently faced its hardships head-on and now has a new outlook that’s optimistic, hopeful, and reinvigorated.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.