The Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees today finalized the appointment of Lisa C. Freeman as acting president of the university, effective July 1. Freeman will become the first female president in NIU’s 118-year history.
Calling her appointment “a historical milestone of no small consequence,” John Butler, chair of NIU’s Board of Trustees, said that “Dr. Freeman’s capacity to step into this role stems from a culture of inclusion and respect for talent that she and others have been nurturing for many years.
“This is also a time for us to unite in common purpose and move forward, and Dr. Freeman is the right person to lead NIU in that direction,” he added.
Freeman has focused her academic career on bringing people and resources together to solve complex challenges.
“We are unified in our love of NIU and our desire to do what’s in the best interest of the university and our students,” Freeman said during Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
“What I will pledge to you and the campus community is that we will be guided by the principles of shared governance, mutual respect and transparency in decision-making,” she said.
“But I will also adhere to a very simple proposition, and one I believe very deeply—that the strength of NIU is from the bottom up, and not the top down. That means that our best ideas come from staff and faculty and always have, and we in leadership need to listen very carefully and actively to them. My administration will cultivate and actively seek the best ideas and thinking from everyone on campus.”
Freeman has served as executive vice president and provost at NIU since May 2014, after serving in the same post on an interim basis. From 2010 to 2013, she served as NIU’s vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. She is also a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.
In her most recent role as NIU’s chief academic officer and second ranking administrator, Freeman had a broad array of institutional responsibilities, which included providing administrative and programmatic direction to Academic Affairs, Human Resources Services and Student Affairs. The Division of Academic Affairs is comprised of seven degree-granting colleges, the University Libraries, the Graduate School, International Affairs and a number of units dedicated to academic support services, undergraduate academic affairs, faculty affairs, resource planning and institutional effectiveness.
“Time and again, I’ve seen staff and faculty come together to tackle really large issues,” Freeman said. “Our work in Program Prioritization, which will proceed and hopefully accelerate, is a wonderful manifestation of what our people can do when they work together on common goals.”
Butler outlined several “significant challenges and opportunities” that Freeman will address as acting president, including executing a productive recruitment strategy; implementing strategies to address fiscal headwinds; defining a comprehensive vision that differentiates NIU from other universities; and continuing process and compliance improvements.
Prior to coming to NIU, Freeman spent 16 years at Kansas State University, where she served as a principal investigator on research and training grants; taught courses in pharmacology and in the responsible conduct of research; and acted as a mentor to numerous graduate students, postdoctoral trainees and early-career faculty members.
Freeman earned a bachelor’s degree in 1981, and a master’s degree and a doctor of veterinary medicine in 1986, from Cornell University. She went on to earn a doctor of philosophy at The Ohio State University in 1989, and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine.
Freeman replaces Doug Baker, who announced earlier this month that he was stepping down from the post, effective June 30. Freeman will continue as acting president until a permanent replacement is hired. Freeman said she will not seek the permanent role of the presidency.
Christopher McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will now serve as acting executive vice president and provost.
During the past decade of service to NIU, McCord led the creation of the university’s first interdisciplinary degree programs, integrated student engagement and community engagement into the college’s mission, formed three interdisciplinary centers and expanded international engagement. He has also played a leading role in the university’s strategic planning, particularly the recent Program Prioritization effort, where he served on the Administrative Task Force and subsequently guided the implementation of the resulting action plans across the university.
Other accomplishments include leading the revision of the curricular approval process, creating new mechanisms for joint appointment faculty, collaborating with the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning to create the Student Engagement Fund, serving as a member of the IT Steering Committee and serving on the board of the university’s Research Foundation. McCord is also a faculty member in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
“Whether through formal efforts such as Program Prioritization or personal initiatives all across the university, we have launched numerous efforts to adapt to new times, new conditions and new opportunities,” McCord said. “We must continue with the good work that we’ve begun, and bring to completion the transformative efforts that we have undertaken to make ourselves a better place for students, faculty and staff. We may be limited by resources, but we are not limited by imagination or willpower.”
Prior to joining NIU, McCord spent 21 years at the University of Cincinnati, including four years as associate dean for graduate affairs in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. He earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics in 1981 from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1986 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.