Presidential finalists discuss NMU future

Cody Boyer

Two NMU presidential candidates visited campus in the last week, answering questions from the community and presenting themselves to the public.The final two candidates will be on campus Thursday, April 10 and Tuesday, April 15.

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Erickson

On Thursday, April 3, Robert Ackerman, professor of law and former dean at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, spoke to the NMU faculty, staff and student body, as well as the Marquette community, in a short public forum. On Tuesday, April 8, Fritz Erickson, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. was given the same opportunity. Both candidates spoke at 4 p.m. on their respective dates in NMU’s University Center.

During Erickson’s introduction on Tuesday, Rick Popp, chairman of the Board of Trustees said the committee in charge of selecting candidates carried out their objective well.

“I’m so pleased and want to thank Dr. Sook Wilkinson in leading our Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAT) and several other people who are either board members, community members, faculty members and others who were part of the advisory committee,” Popp said. “You did your job. Your job was to find some great candidates, and we have four great candidates I think all of whom could do the job.”

Following a short introductory presentation by the candidates, the floor was opened for audience questions. Questions addressed enrollment issues with NMU, as well as what roles universities play in society, possible program enhancements and other various future concepts for the institution.

Ackerman
Ackerman

Ackerman said, in terms of present conditions at NMU, the institution is in a firm position and can only continue to move forward.

“Northern is a place that is built on solid foundation,” Ackerman said. “The university is well-managed; fiscal management appears to be sound. Certainly the endowment could use some enhancements, and I think that very much is part of the role of president. I believe in processes that are collaborative, that are transparent and that are data-based.”

On Thursday, Erickson said his past experience with the Upper Peninsula and working at institutions like Michigan Tech are part of the inspiration behind his attraction to NMU.

“Given the fact [my wife and I] had lived up here in the Upper Peninsula, we liked the Upper Peninsula, we liked this size of a community and we liked the idea of where a community and university really can be one and can be integrated,” Erickson said. “Those are the things that really drive us.  It says to me that this is the university that really has a set of opportunities to really grow and define itself.”

While both candidates were asked about an array of topics, both were questioned at length about their thoughts pertaining to the importance of diversity at NMU.

From his experience with high populations of Arab-American and Jewish students as dean at Wayne State University, Ackerman said a university’s ability to bring two cultures together is extremely beneficial.

“I think diversity is very important,” Ackerman said. “I think it is the very essence of a university and I also think there are many numbers of different ways to express diversity. One real asset we seem to have is that those two groups have been able to develop a respectful, meaningful dialogue between one another, especially on the campus of the law school. That’s what a university is supposed to be about, the kind of place that offers people a ‘safe space’ where people of different views and different backgrounds can engage in productive and respective dialogues.”

According to Erickson, college diversity not only includes racial and ethnic factors but also ideological diversity. Erickson said his experience at Ferris State behind building the university’s Center for Latino Studies reflects his thoughts on the importance of international studies.

“International students bring a level of diversity to a campus that can’t be found in really many other ways,” Erickson said. “It’s very important for our students to have experiences with other students from other countries and other cultures. Many of our graduates will go on and work in multinational corporations and in ways that connect them with a broader international community. There is a mutual benefit.”

Fritz Erickson is a former professor of education and psychology at Michigan Tech and received his bachelor’s degree at Western Michigan.
Fritz Erickson is a former professor of education and psychology at Michigan Tech and received his bachelor’s degree at Western Michigan.

The next candidate to speak at NMU is Greg Cant, founding dean of the Offutt School of Business and Robert J. Johnson chairman of economics and business administration at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Cant’s presentation is slated for 4 p.m. Thursday, April 10. Next week, Cynthia Pemberton, provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of education at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, N.D. and the final presidential candidate, will speak at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15.

For extended responses from both candidates, visit www.thenorthwindonline.com for the extended versions of their presentations.

“I think there are others that might be close or tied with it, but there is nothing more important than this process for a university than selecting a leader for the university,” Popp said. “Now it is up to [the Board of Trustees] to find the best fit and that’s part of this process.”

According to the NMU Board of Trustees, students, faculty and the public may give their thoughts on the candidates at feedback sessions, which take place the day after each candidate presentation at 2 p.m. at the UC.