Illinois Wesleyan Inaugurates President Eric Jensen
April 4, 2016
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A new chapter in Illinois Wesleyan University history officially
began April 2 when Eric R. Jensen was inaugurated as the University’s 19th president.
Held in the Shirk Center Performance Arena, the ceremony featured calls to leadership
from individuals representing various constituencies, musical performances and a poem
for the inauguration written by English professors Michael Theune and Joanne Diaz.
In his inaugural address, Jensen broadly defined the term “collaborative engagement”
which also served as the theme for inauguration activities. Watch his remarks.
Jensen said in his mind, the term refers to the institutionally personalized initiative
Illinois Wesleyan will formulate to a nationwide movement that is not uniform among
institutions. “It is a movement that is in part driven by demand, as prospective students
and their parents include personalized academic experiences on their shopping lists,”
he said. “It is also, in part, a reflection of enabling changes on the supply side,”
noting that at its best, appropriate technology can allow faculty and staff to focus
on “deep interaction” with students.
In response to these systemic changes, some institutions are responding with “signature
work,” a term popularized by the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
“A defining trait [of signature work] is ensuring that all graduates integrate and
apply their learning to complex problems and projects in ways that make clear not
just to potential employers or graduate schools, but also to the students themselves,
the great things of which they are capable,” Jensen said.
He noted signature work varies greatly in content and design among institutions, but
always “requires a level of student-faculty interaction that is simply not feasible
at many, perhaps most, schools, and so it will never be integrated into their curricula.”
The institutions that do implement such initiatives will increasingly differentiate
themselves from the rest and likely create distinct advantages in recruiting students,
By the Numbers
44: Colleges and universities represented in the procession
22: Members of the Inauguration Committee
800: Programs printed for investiture ceremony
54: Inches in height of new podium made by Steve Ogan, Assistant Manager of Maintenance
48: Inches in height of a standard podium
500: Chairs arranged by Physical Plant in the Shirk Center Performance Arena
1,630: Guests who were served food at inaugural events
120: pounds of pork and chicken prepared for the Backyard Barbecue
64: Gigabytes of data recorded over the weekend
6: “Big heads” of President Jensen available for photo opportunities
105: Social media posts using #ilwesprez
Such guided work serves to emphasize the enormous advantage that the breadth of a
liberal arts education confers, he said. “We are, in the end, training leaders,” he
said, noting the liberal arts tradition in developing the whole person in preparation
for leadership continues today. Later in his remarks, Jensen emphasized Illinois Wesleyan
will continue “our notable focus on the whole person.” He cited President Minor Myers,
jr. and his oft-quoted remark of going into the world to do well, but more importantly,
go and do good. “We are in the business, at some level, of encouraging students in
the development of their better selves—of helping them understand how, in ways large
and small, to leave the world better than they found it,” Jensen said, noting collaborative
engagement will not just preserve that heritage but also enhance it. He also noted
broadening opportunities for collaborative engagement also means increased accessibility
to economically, racially, ethnically and geographically diverse students.
The official installation was conducted by chair of the Board of Trustees George Vinyard
’71 and secretary of the Board Jean Baird ’80 by presenting Jensen with the silver
In celebrating Jensen’s inauguration, the University community was joined by representatives
from colleges and universities across the country, including Kathleen Murray ’79,
president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. When Murray was provost at Macalester
College in St. Paul, Minn., Jensen was provost at Hamline University across town,
and it was Murray who first suggested Jensen take a look at the presidency of Illinois
In an interview after the investiture ceremony, Murray recalled that initial conversation.
“I knew [Eric’s] work well enough to think this could be a match. He brings a lot
of experience as a faculty member and a chief academic officer, and he’s had to work
through the difficult times that most of us [in higher education] have struggled with
in the past decade,” said Murray. “I think he has a really clear understanding of
how to maneuver through that. And he’s just a really nice guy.”
The ceremony itself was the centerpiece of a weekend full of inaugural events and
activities, from alumni presentations to a vocal jazz concert. Inaugural committee
member Paxton Johnson ’18 said seeing the committee’s hard work come to fruition was
personally rewarding. An English-writing major from Paxton, Ill., Johnson said an
inauguration is not about one person, but rather an opportunity for the university
as a whole to celebrate a new era with new leadership. “Having everybody come together,
from students, faculty, staff to alumni, was the best way to celebrate IWU,” she said.
“I was honored to be a part of that.”