3.4.13

TRANSITIONS.

Northern Illinois names Douglas D. Baker (Ph.D. Nebraska) as its twelfth president.
Baker said he plans to hit the ground running at NIU.

By this fall, he will form working groups to address special topics or challenges, such as identifying the needs of the region’s employers, finding ways to leverage NIU’s competitive advantages, building a more sustainable financial model and fine-tuning action plans to improve student success in retention, graduation and employment rates.

“We spend a great deal of effort on recruitment of students, who spend a lot of money to get a degree,” he said. “I want to make sure we also are doing all we can programmatically to make sure they find employment and are on a track to becoming lifelong learners.

“My sense is the 225,000 NIU alumni can play an even bigger role in student success by helping in recruitment, mentoring, internships and post-graduation networking. NIU alumni represent a tremendous resource, and we need their involvement throughout the pipeline.”
That's all helpful. An emphasis on recruiting potential honors students is likely to be more productive than selling the Orange Bowl, Tuesday Night Football aspects of life in the Mid-American.  I'm troubled, though, with the business jargon, which crops up again in a Daily Chronicle report.
Baker emphasized his focus on students, saying his top priority in his first year would be to focus on the student aspects of the Vision 2020 plan and modify the broad set of goals for the university's future to maximize its potential.

"Being a student-centered university is critical," Baker said. "I think the 2020 plan is on target. ... We're going to work hard to make it operational."

The Vision 2020 Initiative was one of Peters' major goals for the university and will progress in some form under Baker when he officially takes over July 1.
Potential is either unbounded, or an outcome dependent on resource constraints. Put another way, one cannot power an Apollo mission with bottle rockets. The encouraging possibility, for colleagues with longer time horizons, is that a full-on bout of strategic planning may not immediately follow the installation. And the new man recognizes the university's strong points.
"NIU's big enough to matter, but small enough to care about the students that it serves," Baker said.

Baker said NIU has its greatest days ahead. Cherilyn Murer, Board of Trustees chair, said Baker would bring NIU to "different heights and different directions, and we see this as extremely positive."

"His enthusiasm and the enthusiasm of his wife, Dr. [Dana] Stover, I think is perfect for this university at this time," Murer said.

Baker said he knows NIU has faced obstacles. He said NIU must emphasize a campus culture where there's ethically inspired leadership at every level; he said he would not let the university be distracted by its challenges.
I note only that it is difficult to square "small enough to care" with departmental staffing levels that might be best practice at a liberal arts college one-fourth our size.  We somehow make do, but again, that's for people with longer time horizons than mine to grapple with.

The editorial board at the Northern Star is guardedly optimistic.
The Editorial Board asks that Baker starts by reviewing the amounts [c.q.] of power executive administrators have. It is no secret the Editorial Board thinks Eddie Williams should be terminated. As executive vice president of Finance and Facilities, Williams oversaw the departments that were in the spotlight for scandals this past year. We hope Baker looks into positions like Williams’ and enforces more checks and balances across the university.

Baker told the Editorial Board he has experience in bridging the gap between students and administrators through his work at the University of Idaho. Communication is key to any successful relationship; therefore, the Editorial Board would like to see him give students a voice in governing decisions like tuition increases and other policies that will directly affect the student body.

Considering the alarming number of recent scandals that have swept NIU, transparency through communication will be the ultimate disinfectant.

He should also bridge the gap between the campus and the city of DeKalb. If we are going to move toward the “communiversity” the city of DeKalb’s website boasts, students need to be actively involved in this town. Scheduling meetings with the mayor should be a priority.

Now more than ever, NIU needs an assertive leader that will step in to do what is best for the campus. Approaching this position with a passive attitude will only mirror past mistakes NIU has made. Unfortunately, there are many problems Baker will inherit: Enrollment numbers are not ideal, state funding is bleak and retaining strong athletic administrators is an issue. We’re not expecting him to fix these problems in the near future. We’re just hoping he is prepared to work.

There is no “clean slate” button. Baker has to be ready to clean up.
There's a little more optimism at the Daily Chronicle.
The past year or so has been one of ups and downs for the university that will be your new home. There have been triumphs and progress – like the football team’s trip to the Orange Bowl and the opening of two new residence halls in fall 2012.

Of course there has also been a lot of controversy. University employees have been indicted. The university police chief has been fired, and has alleged racial bias. The FBI carted years’ worth of records out of the NIU Police Department last month. Executive Vice President Eddie Williams has been placed on paid administrative leave because he was named in the search warrant.

These should be taken as a sign that changes need to be made in how the university operates, and in who operates it. NIU is too good an institution to be having these kinds of scandals splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the region.

We admit to being a bit taken aback at your $450,000 base salary – it’s almost $125,000 more a year than your predecessor – but that might be worth it if you can help the university meet its goals.

However, it’s also worth noting that these recent scandals had nothing to do with departments that deal with the university’s core mission of educating students.

Students, it appears, are as interested as ever in becoming Huskies. As we reported in Tuesday’s Daily Chronicle, more students are applying to NIU than ever before. More than 18,000 applications have been received from would-be freshmen seeking admission for the fall semester, the most ever at this point in the year.

There will be challenges in the years to come. There has been talk about a higher education bubble that could be primed to burst, and the state of Illinois is not exactly the most reliable funding partner these days.
That college bubble bears further study, as does that reference to the university's core mission. If the new president seems willing to let the faculty do what it does best, and limit the administrative intrusions and the management fads, perhaps those new students -- or at least, the ones that are coming for the degree programs and the performing arts and the honors program -- will in fact think positively of their time here.

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