Baker Report: Looking Up, Looking Ahead

NIU staff members listen during the Sept. 2 town hall meeting.NIU staff members listen during the Sept. 2 town hall meeting.
NIU staff members listen during the Sept. 2 town hall meeting.

In recent weeks a number of senior NIU leaders and I met with more than 200 of our department chairs and supervisors.

Thanks to those conversations, the beginning of my third fall semester here comes with an even-deeper understanding of our organization and a greater sense of the feelings of our people. In turn, those who attended or listened in have a deeper understanding of our current context and how we are addressing opportunities and challenges.

The themes from those conversations helped shape the administrative panel invited to join me and present at Wednesday’s town hall meeting. Our shared goal was to address key concerns among faculty and staff through short presentations and an open question and answer format.  Chief among the university community’s concerns is the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield and how or if it will affect payroll.

Here was my answer: NIU will make it through the academic year. I also expect that Gov. Rauner and the General Assembly will find common ground long before the end of the academic year by striking a delicate balance between higher taxes and spending cuts.

As I shared from the Carl Sandburg stage Wednesday, we recognize how hard our employees work to promote Student Career Success and fulfill the full NIU mission while they also raise families, pay mortgages and put food on the table.

That’s why I am pleased that Lisa Freeman, Al Phillips, Eric Weldy and Dani Rollins were able to convey their perspective, and that is that things are looking up here. The pieces are being put in place across the university to address our challenges and turn them into opportunities to increase enrollment in coming years, streamline our processes so that we can better serve each other as colleagues and better serve our students and stakeholders. We are also strengthening our bonds with local communities and they are reaching back to help us succeed.

New NIU parents take a bus tour of DeKalb.
New NIU parents take a bus tour of DeKalb.

We are off to an amazing start. There is much work yet to do, but I like our position.

Eric talked about this summer’s two-day student orientation programs that undoubtedly helped with recruitment and retention. Families loved the new format. Our new Huskie families built immediate and important connections as they truly explored the campus and community, learned about our resources, listened to some of our professors deliver lectures and stayed up late laughing over pizza.

Dani talked about new ideas and structures in our critical work of admissions. She’s actively asking our “customers” what they think of us, and she’s making changes accordingly. She’s interested to know what you hear about NIU and what might help us enroll more students. She’s also fostering a culture of “servant-leaders” among her staff.

Al and Lisa talked about how we’re striving to control our financial picture in spite of the uncertainty in state government. We are working to build a sustainable budget through controlled spending, enhanced efficiency and boosted revenues. Meanwhile, our program prioritization process will help us to better align our resources with our mission.

I’ll talk more about these topics in my next NIU Insider podcast; we’re also creating a FAQ section on my website to address these issues. Questions, as well as suggested topics for future podcasts, are welcome through an online form or via email at president@niu.edu.

So, as you enjoy your three-day weekend – on a holiday created to honor the hard labor of people in this country – please think about what Lisa said. We all love this university, and we want to put NIU on a strong path to the future. In doing so we will help students – and their loved ones – achieve their dreams. That’s core to our mission.

Go Huskies!

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