There is much to like about Douglas Baker, the new president of Northern Illinois University, who made some of his journey from Idaho on a motorcycle, and who knows how to run a punch press.
When Baker was in middle school the family moved to Ohio, where the new president started college, though he earned his bachelor’s in Colorado. Baker said finding a job was simple when he graduated.

“When I got out, it was a pretty lucrative job market,” he said. “I had four interviews and got four job offers.”

Baker recounted 13 jobs he had from the time he was in junior high school through his time as vice provost at the University of Idaho: from being a busboy to working a punch press in a factory, to working with a lumber company in Washington and more. Baker was a true “roughneck,” as he put it.

Baker feels his diverse work background taught him a lot more than just a given trade.

“I had to interact with people from different backgrounds,” Baker said, “and I learned something about the human condition.”
Perhaps so.  His first missive to the faculty suggests that verbal clarity will not be an institutional priority.
In the coming days I will be forming primarily external task forces related to the guiding expectations related to defining and achieving student career success. These task forces will focus on six priorities:
  • Growing a vibrant and diverse student population;
  • Strategically growing our academic and research capabilities;
  • Responsibly managing our fiscal resources;
  • Ethically-inspired leadership;
  • Growing community partnerships; and
  • Engaging alumni and involving them actively with our students. 
It's probably more important that creating external task forces may not sit well with faculty and staff on campus that have been working these problems for years, than that the word "grow" is misused and overworked.

In the first point, will we be seeing an increase in the numbers of students, a development of their human capital, or greater heterogeneity of the student population? In the second point, will some departments see an increase in staffing, or will the strategy be greater reliance on external funding, with departments that fall short be further downsized, or adjunctified?  Does the fourth point mean everybody has to be made sensitive to the abuses of the coffee fund?  Without a college of agriculture, who is going to work with the local growing community (farmers, for those of you in Rio Linda)?

More substantively: what has changed in the past 35 years, such that the shine has gone off the job market for college graduates?  Is there a tradeoff in increasing enrollments yet worrying about completion that will take more than an external task force to contemplate?

No comments: