|President Watkins left legacy that continues to shine today|
|Written by Renee Changnon, Daily Vidette Features Editor|
|Wednesday, 21 March 2012 14:20|
Earlier this month, ISU lost an important member of its family when former President Lloyd Watkins passed away at the age of 83.
While President Watkins may not be as easily recognized by the current student body as our beloved President Bowman is, what President Watkins did for the university during his tenure has helped shape the campus we know and love today.
According to April Anderson, University archivist, Watkins was able improve the university in a variety of ways from when he became president in 1977 until he stepped down from the role in 1988 to return to the School of Communication as a professor.
“Watkins was instrumental in helping to improve academic standards while he was president. He pushed for and got approval to build Redbird Arena,” Anderson said.
According to Larry Long, School of Communication executive director and professor, upon arriving at ISU as an assistant professor, President Watkins welcomed him to campus personally and showed that he cared from their first introduction.
“I first came to Illinois State in 1979, as a brand new assistant professor. It’s really kind of a rare event for someone young and new to get the opportunity to be ushered into the President's office to meet the President and I got to do that,” Long said. “[He was] very personable, very engaging, and very interested in what the other person thought. He was interested in what I did and what my interest areas were.”
One of the main changes that came about while President Watkins was in office was his goal to help transition the university from simply a teaching school to the university we see today.
“[President Watkins] was truly interested in helping Illinois State make the transition from that stereotype that the university had as a normal school, only training people to go into teaching professions, to a more temporary comprehensive university with world class programs,” Long explained.
According to Anderson, a large portion of President Watkins' efforts on campus consisted of budget issues that he had to work through.
“Unfortunately, Watkins spent a great deal of time battling budgetary concerns. Due to inflation and decline in state funding, the University had to make some hard decisions, including an increase in student tuitions and fees,” Anderson said.
Long explained that President Watkins knew there were things he had to do in order to look out for the University, and he was able to work with others well.
“He was a visionary and he knew that there were some things that had to be done and there were some baby steps that had to be taken along the way. He was good at engaging with politicians, with government leaders, and so on who had to make those kind of decisions,” Long said.
During his Presidency, Long said that Watkins was very connected to his passion for teaching, which gave his students a unique experience.
“He was teaching rhetoric classes when he was President. I would say that’s very uncommon, but Lloyd really enjoyed working with students. It’s kind of cool because the students that were in his class didn’t go to Stevenson Hall where we were housed, they went to the President's board room and that’s where they had class,” Long said.
According to Anderson, after stepping down from his role as President in 1988, Watkins returned to the School of Communication where he continued to teach until retiring in 1991. He remained active in the community on various city and committee boards.
Anderson hopes that students take the time to understand what President Watkins did, as understanding his impact on campus can help build towards the future.
“It is important to know where you come from. Knowing Watkins — his life and his legacy — helps the ISU community connect to its past while it plans for the future,” Anderson said. “He set the stage for the University to become more financially self-reliant, something his successors build upon to this day.”