James D. Norris
Professor Emeritus, History
1979 – 1995
Dr. James Norris came to NIU in 1979 as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and served the University for more than two decades. Charged with leading the university’s largest college to a new level of excellence, “Dean Norris fulfilled that assignment brilliantly,” agree former NIU President William Monat and Emeritus Professor James Banovetz.
Dr. Norris strengthened scholarship as well as teaching and service in the college. University of Connecticut Provost Peter J. Nicholls, calls him “a master at communication” with a unique ability “to instill in all…a sense of shared mission.” He is remembered as an administrator who brought out the best in faculty, in part because he was one of them. While serving as Dean, he published three books of history, won numerous grants and awards, and taught a large general education course in History each spring.
Dr. Norris guided the creation of new academic units, which addressed student demand and developing trends including: Computer Science, Statistics, Women’s Studies, Social Science Research, and the Center for Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault. While shoring up older doctoral programs, he championed new Ph.D. programs in Biological Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, and Geological Sciences and laid groundwork for Ph.D.s in Physics and Geography bringing additional distinguished scholars to NIU. Distinguished Research Professor Clyde Kimball observes, “James Norris had a cosmic view of the needs and aspirations of the many diverse disciplines for which he had responsibility” and an “energetic drive to develop academic programs that would enhance NIU’s reputation as a comprehensive university.”
Such accomplishments were often won in the midst of severe financial and political pressures. During one five-year period, Dean Norris was forced to cut every college budget and increase teaching loads of many departments. Still, such decisions and his system of merit-based salary increments were generally regarded as fair, collegial, and transparent.
Professor Emeritus Joseph Grush, who served as Associate Dean and worked closely with Dr. Norris for years states, “I consistently found Jim to be an administrator with impeccable integrity, deep-seated values, and an uncanny ability to recruit outstanding talent to serve as senior faculty, department chairs, center directors, and college staff.”
From arrival on campus until his retirement, Dr. Norris identified first and foremost as a faculty member. The mutual respect that he shared with his colleagues was reflected in their selection of him as Executive Secretary of the University Council and then as President of the Faculty Senate in 1998 – 2000.