NOTE: Video of the convocation is available at http://bit.ly/VFAim6.
In his first fall convocation address as Northern Michigan University president, Fritz Erickson discussed his early impressions of the university, his desire to engage the full campus community in developing a useful strategic plan and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. He delivered this afternoon’s address in the auditorium of the new John X. Jamrich Hall.
Erickson identified three qualities about Northern that have become most apparent since he assumed the post on July 1. The first is an enduring commitment to students. Erickson said that has been demonstrated at orientation and other activities, as well as in conversations with faculty and staff. The second quality is a deep commitment to community, whether in the form of collaborative research with colleagues or investing volunteer time and service off campus. Finally, Erickson described Northern’s “shy sense of excellence.” He said the reluctance to share and celebrate achievements has not served the institution well.
“We should not let our humility trump our excellence,” he said. “Walk across campus and you see that the folks who keep the grounds take great pride in their work for students. We have a collection of extraordinary academic programs, ranging from certificates to graduate degrees. Our faculty and staff are committed to providing a world-class education and world-class living and learning experiences to all of our students. How can we expect others to engage and partner with us if we are not willing to proclaim the excellence that is so much of what we are? I hope you join me in developing a series of precise activities designed around further promoting NMU excellence.”
Doing so might help to distinguish Northern from other regional universities vying to recruit a smaller pool of prospective students attributed to declining high school demographics. Erickson said NMU has adjusted its budget to accommodate long-term enrollment challenges, but must also focus on investments that will expand the institution’s reach and growth potential.
“Now is the time to be innovative, creative and entrepreneurial,” he added. “We must reach out to new populations of students, better embrace diversity in its fullest sense and explore new partnerships that will allow us to take our collection of extraordinary programs out to more communities—both face to face and online.”
Some of these initiatives are likely to be referenced in a new strategic plan that will move Northern beyond the existing Roadmap to 2015. Erickson said experience has taught him there are two types of plans: “those high-gloss, overproduced and catchy documents that sit on shelves collecting dust; and those that truly provide a working framework.” He emphasized that the latter requires an engaged process in which the university community collectively identifies and embraces a set of core values. That effort will begin this fall.
Erickson reaffirmed his desire to empower NMU employees by encouraging them to share ideas with him. He also offered this final thought on process: “When I arrived, I was handed a complex and hierarchical organizational chart with lots of boxes and a lot of lines in a giant pyramid. … I believe hierarchical structures in higher education limit our engagement and limit our creativity. Rather, I believe we all (faculty, staff and students) are a community of scholars. … Through a commitment to shared governance and shared responsibility, we are able to provide the very best to our students.”s
Erickson introduced Jan, his wife of 34 years. He said both have been amazed by the warm reception they have received from the community over the past six weeks.