Douglas D. Baker, Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Idaho, has been selected as the twelfth president of Northern Illinois University.
An award-winning professor of business and scholar of management and leadership in higher education, Baker, 57, will assume the presidency on July 1.
NIU’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to hire the 57-year-old Baker, an expert in organizational strategy, structure and motivation.
NIU’s new president will give students “a voice at the table.” That’s according to Bruce Pitman, Vice Provost and Dean of Students at Baker’s most recent employer, the University of Idaho. Pitman says Baker will challenge students to engage outside the classroom.
"Dr. Baker will be paying great attention to student contributions to the institutional decision-making processes,” he said.
He said that Baker will have high expectations of students. “They can expect to be challenged to be involved in highly engaged learning outside the classroom. They can also expect from him a voice at the table.”
Pitman says he’ll miss working for Baker, adding that NIU is getting a great president.
Baker said he hopes to bring NIU to the fore as a national model for a 21st century public university.
“NIU is clearly a university with strong students, an excellent staff and outstanding faculty, who are not only exceptional teachers but also top researchers. The university’s focus on student engagement is right on target, because ‘job one’ for any university must be student success in the rapidly changing social and economic environment. I believe I can help the university build upon its vision.”
--- Douglas D. Baker, 12th President of NIU
Baker added that the university has the resources to make a difference in the region and beyond, and to provide a world-class experience to students, while at the same time fostering a sense of community.
“NIU is big enough to matter,” he said, “but it’s small enough to care about those it serves.”
Baker says he embraces the university’s goal to be the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest. He says there’s a lot of work to be done, including harnessing competitive advantages, such as a large regional alumni base.
“We must develop a more sustainable financial model that’s less reliant on state funding,” he explained. “We must emphasize a campus culture based on ethically inspired leadership at every level.”
Reporter Holly Bowen has covered the University of Idaho for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. She said access to University of Idaho administrators wasn't always easy, but she says Dr. Baker was professional to deal with.
"When I would be able to get in touch with him through the university's PR channels, he was always very friendly, very willing to answer questions," Bowen said.
She says Baker knows firsthand the struggles that come with dwindling state aid.
"He oversaw quite a few budget cuts at the university," Bowen said. "Here in Idaho, our legislature is very conservative. There are some issues here with higher education not being funded as much as universities would like."
She said Baker was involved in key budget decisions as state funding dried up. He'll be dealing with a similar situation at NIU, which is owed more than 70-million dollars in delayed state payments. The school also faces a 5 to 7 percent funding cut in the next budget cycle.
“NIU will be forever grateful to Dr. John Peters for his outstanding service and leadership,” said Cherilyn Murer, Board of Trustees chair. “In working to find his replacement, we were blessed to have a number of highly respected candidates, and we landed our top choice.
“Dr. Baker possesses a unique set of credentials, as an award-winning business professor, a skilled academic officer and a researcher who has studied university leadership and motivation,” she added. “The NIU Board of Trustees believes that his background and expertise represent a strong fit with the needs of the university over the next decade.”
Faculty Senate President Alan Rosenbaum, co-chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, agreed.
“The PSAC was impressed with Douglas Baker’s wide range and depth of experiences. At his core, he is an educator who is deeply committed to the student learning experience. He is also a faculty advocate who places high value on shared governance. He is well equipped to navigate the complex issues that face higher education today, and I believe he will build upon the university’s national reputation for engaged learning, research and service to the region.”
Kenton Bird, Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Idaho, has served as Chair of its Faculty Senate for the last three years.
Bird says Baker’s relationship with the faculty was a positive one, built on strong collaboration and a genuine interest in what the rank and file was thinking. And he didn’t let protocol or tradition get in the way. Bird expects that will be the case at NIU as well.
“Don’t be surprised if you see him in your student union building with a cup of coffee in his hand and meeting informally, or dropping in to an academic department.”
-- Kenton Bird, University of Idaho Faculty Senate Chair
He says Baker had been a finalist for similar positions at the universities of New Mexico and Wyoming in the past year, so he was not surprised when he was hired by NIU.
Bird says Baker is a global thinker interested in the future of higher education, and Bird says he and other faculty members have had many fruitful discussions with Baker on the problems facing colleges and universities moving forward.
“That’s something I have appreciated,” Bird said, “and I will miss after he leaves for Illinois.”
Baker became Provost and Executive Vice President of the University of Idaho in 2005. He served Washington State University as Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs from 1998 to 2005 and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Education from 2003 to 2005.
Baker was engaged in active strategic planning and implementation at the University of Idaho. He taught courses in Management, Organizational Behavior, Organizational Design, Strategic Planning, Human Resource Management and Research Methods as a Professor of Management at Washington State University, where he began in 1981 as an Assistant Professor.
He has received numerous awards for teaching excellence, including the Shell Oil Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1990 and in 1984.
Baker received his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, following baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. He has worked as a consultant to national and international businesses.
Baker’s wife, Dana L. Stover, has been assistant dean for Recruitment, Retention and Assessment the College of Business and Economics at the University of Idaho. She joined the faculty in 1999. She specializes in assurance of learning and assessment and pedagogical issues in management education, organizational design and organizational change.
The couple’s eldest daughter, Hannah, is a 2012 graduate of The Evergreen State College. She works as a 3-D artist at Laika, an animation studio in Oregon. Their younger daughter, Robin, is a junior honors scholar at the University of Idaho, majoring in biology with minors in statistics and natural resources.
“Dana and I are thrilled to be coming to NIU,” Douglas Baker said. “It’s a big job, and a big responsibility, but I’ve always believed that higher education is the key to success in our society and world.
“NIU is a great institution, and we will work hard to help move the university to the next level,” he added. “We can’t wait to get started.”
NIU sent out a campus-wide email Monday inviting faculty, staff, students, and other members of the “NIU community” to attend the Board of Trustees meeting at Tuesday afternoon. A welcome reception was held for the incoming president following the meeting.
Current NIU President John Peters did not attend Tuesday's ceremonies. A member of his staff said he was attending a long-planned Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting in Elgin at that time. Peters announced last fall he would leave the university June 30th. The presidential selection process got underway soon afterward using a “closed, hybrid search process,” at the advice of an Atlanta, Georgia search firm.
All meetings between candidates and the NIU Presidential Search Committee were held off-campus and participants had to sign confidentiality agreements to protect the identities of the prospective presidents. The same was true for “stakeholder” groups that met with the candidates.