Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
Northern Illinois University defensive end Joe Windsor
was wearing a T-shirt that said Believe the Hype
when I met him during an exercise program for seniors last week.
He explained that the shirt and slogan were from Nike, but I
think it represents what is happening with a new leader today
at Northern Illinois University.
The campus has experienced corruption, shootings, administrative
turmoil and a loss of morale in recent years, plus an enrollment
downturn that affects the bottom line. But with the arrival of
a new president, there seems to be an air of optimism around
the institution. I have spent more time on campus the past three
months in meetings, Lifelong Learning Institute classes, at rallies
and even Homecoming than any time over the past five years. While
there, one picks up a lot of scuttlebutt about the atmosphere
and communiversity attitude.
President Douglas Baker has jumped into his new position
with a fervor and enthusiasm not seen in many years, but since
he has just passed his first 100 days, it remains to be seen
if he can make a lasting course change on the Titanic,
as some called the university headed for the proverbial iceberg
a year ago.
The newspapers are reporting sweeping changes
underway, with some new appointments and shifts in the upper
echelon. When I was a student there 50 years ago, we had a very
paternalistic administration of suits that ran things
its way with
New NIU President Douglas Baker and First Lady Dana Stover
at the alumni tent on Homecoming Saturday.
(Kay Schrader photo)
This photo from the Northern Illinois University archives
shows the administrators who ran Northern Illinois University
50 years ago, including then-president Leslie Holmes (pointing).
little shared governance with faculty or student
groups. I hope that has changed over the years.
The community is mostly interested in three things when
it comes to town and gown:
Primary in peoples minds is the economic impact of this
major employer, which has a total operating budget of $446 million
and personnel costs of $225 million. The university employs about
3,800 people, not including students. Of course, the income for
retail businesses, service providers and rental housing also
is an outcome.
Probably second is the safety and security of the surrounding
neighborhoods. The hiring of a new police chief, who actually
cooperates with other law enforcement agencies, is a big step.
But the incidence of crime, including drug dealing and random
shootings, still haunts the area.
Then in third place, but equally significant, are the educational
opportunities, cultural events and prestige of a first-class
How much of this can be placed on the back of a college
president is hard to measure, but the buck stops at his desk,
and his leadership during his first year will set the tone. The
entrenched fiefdoms, political nepotism and good old boys
network will be challenges that havent been tackled successfully
by recent administrations.
I see some positive signs that should help Baker succeed.
One of the newest vice presidents, Bill Nicklas, comes from our
surrounding municipalities with a thorough background in community
relations. DeKalbs new Mayor John Rey wants very much to
be a partner with the university and not have an adversarial
relationship. Over the years other mayors may have only seen
the NIU president a scant few times a year, but Rey and Baker
are in touch on almost a weekly basis so far.
So the megaship is slowly turning a few degrees. Being an alumnus
of NIU, I can only stand on the sidelines and hope for a win-win
in the coming months.