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Anne Kaplan leaves legacy of accomplishment, support

May 11, 2020

Retiring after 46 years of service

There’s a reason why Anne Kaplan has been involved in nearly every major NIU development over the past 40+ years: she’s the person everyone wants to have at the table.

They know she’ll bring good judgement. That she’ll listen intently and pull disparate thoughts into a coherent course of action. They know she’ll be a calm and thoughtful presence, the cooler head that prevails.  That she’ll bring the historian’s view and a commitment to the long game.

And beyond all that, anyone who’s ever worked with Anne knows that she lives by the mantra, “Amazing how much can get done when we don’t worry about who gets the credit!”

Anne Kaplan, vice president of the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development is retiring after 46 years of service at Northern Illinois University.

After 46 years, Anne Kaplan is ready to take a break, and colleagues are giving her plenty of credit for the difference she has made at NIU.   

While most current colleagues know her as the Outreach vice president, Kaplan spent 25 years before the creation of the Outreach Division as the chief aide to and primary strategist for a dean, then a provost and finally a president. She worked in key, make-or-break roles, mostly behind the scenes, on virtually every major initiative to come out of the academic and executive sides of the house.

Armed with a master’s (and later a doctorate) in history, Anne Kaplan came to NIU in 1974, working first in the College of Continuing Education and then the Graduate School. In 1978, she went to the Provost’s office and soon became responsible for developing a new way to assess academic programs.

“As a historian, Anne brought to the academic planning program the unique skills of her specialty to organize and make sense of vast amounts of information,” said former President (and Provost) John La Tourette.

“Given the IBHE scrutiny we were under, faculty were understandably threatened by program review,” he explained. “Anne established a much more forward-looking and less-threatening process that made our programs more competitive and reflective of the skills students needed.”

As the assistant provost for academic development and planning, Kaplan did the heavy lifting on a successful proposal to establish the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. She not only developed the proposal, but also worked the political end by  showing state officials that the region needed more engineers.

In making the case for Engineering, Kaplan and then-Provost La Tourette recognized the need to strengthen all off-campus academic programs for working people who could not commute to DeKalb. The result was the establishment of three regional centers in Hoffman Estates, Rockford and Naperville.

“Anne was the point person on achieving the vision that NIU could be the ‘modern land-grant university’ responding to the needs of the region,” said La Tourette.

The former president also praised Kaplan’s ability to recognize opportunities that others didn’t always see. In one such case, Kaplan’s persistent work to acquire the art and artifacts of retiring Burma scholars resulted in the establishment of NIU’s Center for Burma Studies.

Champion for Quality of Life Issues

After 46 years at NIU, Anne Kaplan will retire on June 30, 2020.

In lieu of a gift or (virtual) party, Anne requests that those interested in honoring her legacy consider a donation to a Foundation fund that supports causes she cares about.

Visit Anne’s Legacy page, read about the four areas she suggests as worthy recipients of your support in her name, and leave a message of congratulations on her extraordinary NIU career.

If you prefer to simply leave a message, submit your thoughts to Applaud a Colleague.

When she wasn’t helping formulate strategy or long-range planning, Anne Kaplan always found time to throw her support behind projects that improved quality of life for employees, students and community.

“Anne helped create and administer many programs that help all people on campus, but especially women,” read her nomination for the 2001 Wilma Stricklin Award for the Enhancement of the Climate for Women on Campus.

“She has provided a genuinely feminist style of leadership,” the nomination read, “capable of making tough decisions but also stopping to support a female colleague through the stresses of eldercare, personal or family illness or tragedy.”

Kaplan’s many contributions toward the betterment of campus life included  spearheading implementation of the Americans With Disabilities Act on campus; creating the Secretarial Advisory Council, which helped improve the status and salaries of clerical employees; finding and creating services for the LGBT community; negotiating cost-savings agreements with local healthcare providers; and creating a new model for affirmative action resources. She also had central roles in the creation of University Resources for Women and the Women’s Studies minor.

But of all the quality-of-life projects she championed, none was more important to her personally than childcare.  

Grateful that her own child had a way to school, after-school care, enough to eat, health insurance and all the other advantages of a well-supported child, Anne chose to give back.

She helped obtain a bus to take children from their schools to after-school care. She pressured NIU to adopt family-friendly policies. She served tirelessly on boards that oversee child- and family-related social services. She worked behind the scenes with former NIU First Lady Shirley Nelson and others to establish the Campus Child Care Center. And in later years, she established a scholarship to help student parents pay for tuition at the center. Years before “It takes a village to raise a child” entered the popular lexicon, Anne Kaplan lived its message.

New governing board, vice presidencies

Kaplan continued to work for La Tourette as he moved from the Provost’s role into the presidency in 1986.

“One could not want for a better counselor, who could take the heat out of an issue and articulate the best solution to a problem,” recalled La Tourette.

Among Kaplan’s most challenging assignments in the President’s Office was overseeing the creation of the structure, operating principals and administrative support for the new Board of Trustees, the university’s first independent governing board in almost 80 years. In addition to studying the best models for board operations, Kaplan also recruited staff from the former Board of Regents in Springfield who helped ease the transition.

In 1996, Kaplan was promoted to the first of three vice-presidencies, and in ensuing years she has overseen such widely varied units as Human Resources, Athletics, Public Radio, Internal Audit and Information Technology (in addition to outreach and engagement).

Athletics proved to be a particularly steep learning curve, but Kaplan proved a good student.

“Anne helped tremendously as we integrated our program into the mission of the overall university,” recalled former Athletic Director Cary Groth. “Her objectivity and guidance helped us recruit and retain quality athletes, coaches and staff. I learned more from her than I have learned working with any other supervisor or colleague in my career.”

“I often think, ‘what would Anne say or do’ when I’m confronted with a challenging situation,” Groth added. “Her positive influence on me was profound.”

The Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development

In 2000, the university had a new president and a new membership in the premier professional association for large, public research universities (APLU). The national conversation in APLU circles centered on engagement and development of regional economies. The old idea of “service” as articulated in the university mission typically played out as faculty committee work, but this new imperative sought deeper connection to communities and regions.

President John Peters created the Outreach division in 2000, pulling together a number of departments and functions that seemed liked obvious regional contributors – then  charged Anne Kaplan with making it work.

And work it did: The Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development (OERD) provides both original programming and support of engagement functions throughout the university. It houses the Pre-School-Through-Graduate-School initiative, or P-20; the Center for Governmental Studies; the regional centers in Hoffman Estates, Rockford and Naperville; the Lorado Taft Field Campus in Oregon; Northern Public Radio; and a host of niche programs aimed at building communities and supporting the people who live there.

During its first decade in existence, OERD obtained what remains NIU’s largest-ever grant – $65 million – to build a broadband network throughout northern Illinois. More than 2,200 miles of fiber optic cable have been laid throughout the region, and 750 community anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and libraries are now connected to lightning-fast internet.

Under Kaplan’s leadership, NIU became one of the first recipients of APLU’s prestigious Innovation and Economic Prosperity Awards. She also helped the university obtain Carnegie Foundation designation as an Engaged University – an honor that was recently repeated during a ten-year re-certification process.  

“NIU has been recognized nationally in numerous forums for success at creating sustainable partnerships focused on talent and place,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman.

“These achievements would not have been possible without Anne Kaplan’s vision and leadership. Her positive impact will last beyond her retirement. Anne’s legacy is NIU’s belief in the power of robust, diverse networks, and commitment to meaningful collaboration.”

‘Something better found me.”

For her own part, Anne Kaplan remains very high on NIU.

“Forty-six years ago I came here for a place to work while waiting for something better,” she says. “Instead, something better found me. The world is not full of people who get to spend 46 years doing work that is meaningful in an organization they care about.”

“I’m particularly proud of the progress we have made in expanding and making more visible the impact NIU has on our community and region.”

“Outreach and engagement are critical public university functions, and I believe they will become more important as the state and the country try to respond to the ongoing ramifications of the virus and its associated economic damage. NIU is well-positioned to contribute to the region’s recovery and to the development of new approaches to functions we took for granted just a few months ago.”

“On a position-by-position basis, the university’s leadership at the executive level, in senior management across the other divisions and colleges is, collectively, as strong as it’s ever been. Despite the current challenges, it’s a good time to be at NIU.”