Contact Dr. Baker
Office of the President
Altgeld Hall 300
DeKalb, IL 60115
Good afternoon and thank you all for being part of this great day.
I want to start with a quote:
Today, at NIU, we find ourselves in a position where we can assume leadership in forging what I shall call the New University. If the vision I am sharing with you today comes about, I believe the New University will once again claim the prideful allegiance of its faculty, students and alumni, but this pride will be based not on nostalgia, sentiment and football victories, but on continuing participation in the life of the mind.
These words were spoken by Rhoten Smith, NIU's 6th President, at his inauguration 45 years ago. It was a very different time. NIU was dealing with peak enrollments fueled by the Vietnam War, and with social and political unrest across our nation. Dr. Smith recognized that NIU was at a turning point, and could "assume leadership in forging the New University" by achieving two main goals - "Excellence and Opportunity."
NIU is once again at a turning point. In fact, it is a critical time for higher education in this country. The world around us has changed much more rapidly and decisively than it has within our halls. As a result, we have been on a path of declining funding, declining enrollments, and declining job prospects for our graduates - a trend that is clearly unsustainable.
Yet, we see workplaces that are thriving because they are engaged in transformational change. They have embraced a rapidly evolving global economy that rewards those who think beyond traditional boundaries.
At NIU, we have a heritage, we have a place, and we have a wealth of dedicated people with the capacity to ratchet up our connectivity to this changing world. In so doing, we can set a new example for shaping graduates who will live fulfilling lives and provide leadership in our communities and throughout the world.
We must now “forge the New University” of the 21st century. We owe it to our students today, and to their grandchildren tomorrow, so that they, too, will have the opportunity to be part of our Huskie family.
It’s a tremendous honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to guide such an effort, to lead this venerable institution with nearly 120 years of history. I am thrilled, humbled and excited to stand before you today as Northern Illinois University’s 12th president.
I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to:
NIU is known for its leadership, including internationally in such diverse areas as polar research, the Arts and Southeast Asian Studies.
We are known nationally for our top-ranked programs in accountancy, business ethics, public administration and other disciplines. In fact, U.S. News and World Report says we are one of the Top 100 National Public Universities.
Oh, and we also happen to have a football program ranked among the nation’s top 15. It also has graduation rate of 85 percent, the third highest among the top 25 ranked teams. In fact, that 85 percent rate applies across all of our varsity athletic programs. We do it the right way.
We’re also known for providing affordable excellence. PayScale.com places us in the top one-third of universities for return on investment.
And I’m proud to announce that, just yesterday, NIU won the inaugural “Place” award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for “excelling in community, social, and cultural development work.” This recognizes our work in broadband development, our Center for P-20 education and our engagement activities in Rockford. Thanks and congratulations to Anne Kaplan and Lisa Freeman.
These are things in which we can take pride. They represent the high-quality fabric of our institution. And it is my goal to continue and build upon these successes.
Also filling me with confidence for the future are the personal stories that you have heard today.
More than rankings or statistics, these people speak to our core focus, which is Student Career Success.
Student Career Success -- you have probably heard me use that phrase. This is the focus of the “new university” for the new millennium.
Preparing students for career success provides them with a deep and meaningful body of knowledge and skills to help them succeed. It is more than vocational education … rather it builds creativity, communication and critical-thinking skills that allow students to thrive not only in the workplace but also in life. Allison Delgado, for example, who spoke in an earlier video, actually turned down a great job opportunity in the suburbs because she recognized an extraordinary life opportunity, working for the Peace Corps with young people in Uganda.
A university focused on student career success has caring faculty and staff providing rich, transformational learning experiences. We saw this in the video earlier, faculty such as:
These stories speak to our existing focus on student career success. The future NIU that I envision, and I think and hope that we all picture, will provide these life-altering experiences to every student who strives to succeed.
My vision for the New University is this:
Toward that end, we know students thrive when they have mentors to guide them. So let’s offer a mentor to every student enrolled at NIU; that’s right, every student enrolled at NIU –from peer mentors for freshmen to alumni mentors for sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students. This will require galvanizing our alumni base. It is 225,000 men and women strong and is a tremendous competitive advantage for our students and university.
We need to ensure that every student who seeks an internship will get one.
This is a bold statement and a big challenge, but we are up to it. We have to be.
Those are all noble goals, but getting there is going to require changing the way we do business – including fundamental changes to our infrastructure.
For instance, it is great to say that we want to connect 21,000 students with 225,000 alumni, but the infrastructure to do so does not fully exist. If we are going to commit to such a goal, then we must realign our budget to support important efforts.
Some of that change is already underway. Last month I announced a series of structural changes, including:
My thanks to Lisa Freeman for taking on the interim Executive Vice President and Provost role and to Lesley Rigg for taking on the interim Vice President for Research role.
These are important first steps, but they are just the beginning of what needs to be done.
Many more changes – both large and small – will need to be made in order for us to unleash our Huskie potential and ultimately facilitate the end goal: student career success.
Frankly, I cannot do it alone. So, who will make the changes?
The answer is you—the faculty, staff, students and alumni of Northern Illinois University, as well as our local community. I am counting on you.
Earlier I mentioned our sixth president, Rhoten Smith. His own university education had been interrupted by WWII, when he piloted a B-17 bomber, facing many formidable challenges. He also faced many serious trials as a university president.
In fact, Rhoten famously calmed a rowdy demonstration by joining a student sit-in on the Lincoln Highway bridge. And despite the chaos of his times, NIU flourished.
Among President Smith's legacies during his 4-year tenure:
Just as in Rhoten Smith's era, this is a chaotic time in higher education. Change is happening rapidly, and we must respond.
Over the last month or so, nearly 800 people -- faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university -- took part in a series of meetings we called Bold Futures Workshops.
The sessions were exercises in communication, brainstorming, prioritizing and bridge building.
We asked participants to ponder what our priorities should be, to visualize ways to solve our biggest challenges.
The goal was not to solve every problem in four hours. Rather, it was to get people to think beyond traditional boundaries; to demonstrate the power of abandoning our silos and the power of building coalitions.
It was an effort to unleash the intellectual might and passion of our Huskie community. Going forward, we must embrace a collaborative culture of change and innovation – all of us, or we will become irrelevant. The charge to the participants was to take those ideas and their passion and go make changes to improve NIU.
Will you make mistakes? Yes. So will I—but I'm trying to keep a high batting average.
The only unacceptable mistake is to accept the status quo.
The good news is, as I pointed out earlier, we have a solid foundation. We are already an outstanding university - but we can, and we must, be even better.
How can we improve our community? How can we make it more sustainable and desirable for prospective students? How can we improve on their educational experiences? How can we assure they are job and life ready?
I'm confident these answers will come—from all of us. I’m confident, too, that as in the case of Rhoten Smith, one day the future will look back upon us with no small measure of Huskie pride.
Thank you again, for the privilege of being the 12th president of Northern Illinois University. Together, we are going to think beyond traditional boundaries – and accomplish great things.
Forward Together. Go Huskies!