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Reshaping NIU for a bold future

October 11th, 2013

During my first three months as president of Northern Illinois University, I’ve been able to see firsthand how rich NIU is with world-class faculty and staff who are committed to our university and students. For this talented team to be fully empowered, it is critical that the members operate within an organizational structure which reflects our goals and commitments and effectively utilizes our resources. This requires continuous innovation and change to maintain our leadership and relevance in what has become a global economy. With these factors in mind, it has become clear that NIU can be well served at this time by initiating important organizational changes.

Today I announce a series of immediate changes designed to achieve greater levels of collaboration and integration within the academic and operations structures at the university dealing with Academic Affairs, Finance and Facilities, the Convocation Center, and Marketing and Communications. These changes will better align everyone around our keystone goal of student career success.

By enabling and promoting robust collaboration and integration, we can build on our many strong academic programs to better meet the needs of continuously changing job markets. In great part these markets are evolving in response to the fact that we now live in a global economy which directly affects Illinois and Midwest employers as well as other markets our students choose to pursue. To effectively serve northern Illinois as well as prepare our students for success in today’s economy, our faculty, staff, and students must engage in the global marketplace of education, innovation, and competition.

It is evident to me that NIU has substantial opportunities to take our international programs to a new level and help us attain our first learning outcome dealing with students: attaining a global perspective. I believe this will have a very positive impact on enrollment, enhancing the student academic experience, attracting and retaining outstanding faculty, and growing our research programs. As one example, NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies has a 50-year legacy of partnerships with its associated countries. Linked to that long-standing relationship, this fall the Princess of Thailand was on campus and received an honorary doctorate from NIU.

We also have emerging and important partnerships with China. In the last two months, we have had delegations from potential Chinese partner universities visit us and vice versa. Given the significant economic and political role China will continue to hold in coming decades, we need to provide opportunities for NIU students, faculty, and staff to have strong cross-cultural experiences. In turn, we have sizable opportunities to bring international students to NIU and enrich our educational environment.

To do this effectively will require the full attention of experienced leadership with in-depth knowledge of NIU’s capabilities. To accomplish this, I have asked Ray Alden to assume a new position, vice president of International Affairs. The Division of International Programs will report to Ray and will collaborate with and build on the strengths found in our many academic programs with strong international relations. It will also build on the good work of Deborah Pierce, who will serve as associate vice president for International Affairs. Next week, Ray will lead a delegation from NIU to China to visit potential partner universities that hold a great deal of promise for enhancing our enrollment, research, and outreach activities. Ray will provide the leadership for advancing strategic plans to achieve new international goals.

Lisa Freeman, NIU’s vice president for Research and Graduate Studies, has been appointed interim executive vice president and provost. Shortly, we will begin a national search for an executive vice president and provost. At the end of her Interim term, upon the appointment of an executive vice president and provost, Lisa has requested to return to her position as vice president for Research. NIU’s research portfolio and its economic development impact on the state and our region remain crucial to the university’s success in the future. As a result, going forward, the vice president of Research will report directly to the president and will collaborate closely with the executive vice president and provost and the academic leaders across the university.

During the last few months, Steve Cunningham has served as acting executive vice president for Finance and Facilities. During that time, Steve has worked to streamline his organization and has reduced administrative staff by a net of four people. In addition, he continues to actively work with members of the General Assembly on pension reform and other business process efficiencies at the state level. Steve’s state policy expertise is highly valued and much-needed as we work to balance declining state resources with the need for regulatory relief to provide flexibility to meet our objectives. This is an overwhelmingly large portfolio, and I believe NIU will be better served by more focused structural domains. As such, Steve has agreed to serve as vice president for Administration, overseeing the areas of Human Resources, Facilities, Risk Management, Compliance, and other business operations.

To address our critical budgetary challenges, I am creating a separate structure headed by a chief financial officer who will have oversight of NIU’s accounting, controller, budget, and institutional research functions. An interim CFO will be announced soon, and a national search initiated. The new CFO will report directly to me.

One additional change I am making in operations is to transfer the responsibility for management and operation of the Convocation Center and Huskie Stadium to Sean Frazier, associate vice president for Athletics. Sean has extensive experience managing the operations of major events venues in his previous position at the University of Wisconsin. I am charging Sean with growing the contribution these great facilities provide to our students, community, and our revenue base.

Information technology is needed to support data management and integration of activities across university units. Currently, many of our information technology units and functions are dispersed within the university and not centrally coordinated. The complexities of our increasing dependence on information technology in every department on the campus require additional integration and collaboration. I have restructured the responsibilities of the chief information officer to have broader scope and will have this new position report to the president. The CIO will be asked to integrate and coordinate our information technology systems across the university. Dr. Anne Kaplan is currently chairing a national search to fill this position. Anne will continue to provide leadership to divisional units focused on outreach and engagement, including the Center for Governmental Studies, the P-20 Center, and branch campuses. Many of these programs have been innovative and collaborated well with stake holders across the state. They will be asked to continue that work and seek ways to closely link with academic affairs to advance our progress toward teaching, research, and artistic goals.

Collaboration and integration of NIU’s many independent division and college marketing and communications efforts are also required in order to maximize our effectiveness as we promote NIU. The University Communications Advisory Council — chaired by Kathy Buettner, vice president of NIU’s Division of University Relations — is an initial step in coordinating the many marketing and communications activities across the institution. More needs to be done to ensure that our messaging is consistent, on point, and enhancing our recruitment efforts and public image. I’ve asked Kathy to continue her work with the vice presidents and deans and build a revised organizational structure to enhance the integration and collaboration of NIU’s marketing and communications functions. Furthermore, I believe a renaming of this area from the Division of University Relations to the Division of Marketing and Communications better identifies its key functions.

Collaboration and integration are taking place in other parts of the university and early results are encouraging. As an example, NIU Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Eric Weldy has been collaborating with academic leaders, marketing and communications, alumni and athletics staff to develop and implement a plan to enhance student recruitment and retention.

The same theme is evident in NIU’s “town-gown” relations. DeKalb has the potential to become an even more vibrant college town. Bill Nicklas, vice president for Public Safety and Community Relations, is working with community leaders on several fronts, including plans for improving adjoining neighborhoods with a focus on stronger ties in the areas of housing, public safety, and economic development.

While the organizational changes I am announcing today are crucial to how we move forward as a community, I know that our major opportunities for innovation and change will be driven by unleashing the responsible involvement of our faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders with an aligned focus on student career success. As an example of this, I am pleased to report that NIU filled its football stadium for the first time in over a decade at our first home game last month. The Athletics Department did a great deal of work in recent months with many campus and community partners to increase attendance. Also, congratulations to the football team, and all of the sports teams, for their strong showings this fall.

In addition, NIU students, faculty and staff, alumni, and community leaders came together for a “Discover the Possibilities” workshop early this fall to identify additional steps that could be taken to improve the football game-day experience and attendance. I want to thank Student Association President Jack Barry and his leadership team, Mayor John Rey and other community leaders, Athletics Director Sean Frazier and his team, and other students, faculty, and staff for their enthusiastic collaboration which resulted in this success. In the process, our students gained real-life problem-solving and leadership experience with a shared focus on student career success, a model of unleashing and collaboration which we are now extending across campus through a series of workshops with more than 800 volunteer participants. We will continue to discover possibilities and move the institution forward through these efforts.

Together Forward,

Past Presidential Messages

President Baker’s Event Calendar
November 2
NIU vs. UMass