Erickson appointed president: NMU Board of Trustees comes to unanimous vote

Cody Boyer

The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees unanimously selected Fritz Erickson as the next president of the university.

NMU Board of Trustees members Garnet Lewis and Gilbert Ziegler called in, while (left side of table) Scott Holman, Steve Mitchell and Thomas Zurbuchen attended in-person alongside (right) current NMU president David Haynes, chairman Rick Popp, Sook Wilkinson and Stephen Adamini.
NMU Board of Trustees members Garnet Lewis and Gilbert Ziegler called in, while (left side of table) Scott Holman, Steve Mitchell and Thomas Zurbuchen attended in-person alongside (right) current NMU president David Haynes, chairman Rick Popp, Sook Wilkinson and Stephen Adamini.

The board held a public meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 22 to vote Erickson as the 15th president of NMU following three weeks of public forums with the final four candidates. Erickson will be replacing current president David Haynes after his two-year appointment concludes in June.

Rick Popp, chairman of the NMU Board of Trustees, said the board’s decision stems from the positive outcomes of all of the public forum events that brought the finalists to NMU.

“I’m so proud, being an alumnus and being from this area, in particularly of the public sessions,” Popp said. “The questions that were asked were relevant, insightful and they really enabled the candidates to show themselves. It also enabled the candidates to see what Northern Michigan University was and is all about.”

Erickson is currently the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. The board unanimously voted Erickson to succeed Haynes over two other finalists, including Cynthia Pemberton, provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of education at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, N.D. and Greg Cant, founding dean of the Offutt School of Business and Robert J. Johnson chair in economics and business administration at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

Steve Mitchell, member of the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC), said being a part of the process to find NMU’s next leader was a large undertaking for himself and his fellow board members.

“As a member of the search committee, I wanted to be on that committee,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to be on it because the most important thing we, as a board, do is to select the president. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t sitting here at the end of the day going, ‘Gosh, I wonder if there was one better candidate who be a better fit.’ The answer to that is no.”

Mitchell also said the process of narrowing down the list of possible candidates was a very careful process.

Erickson
Erickson

“All of us on the committee sat down and graded 54 different people using 15 different attributes,” Mitchell said. “It was the most grueling mental exercise I’ve had in a long time. It was tough, but we went through, had a meeting and we all got together. It was amazing, the consistency as we lowered that 54 down to 10.”

Robert Ackerman, professor of law and former dean at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and the first finalist to speak in public forum at NMU on Thursday, April 3, respectfully withdrew from the search prior to the board meeting according to the board.

Sook Wilkinson, chairwoman of the PSAC, said many of the applicants would have been good fits for the institution and the decision was difficult.

“Everybody came with the best interest of Northern Michigan University in their hearts,” Wilkinson said. “We all came together and worked brilliantly as a team. All four candidates, even the 10 semi-finalists, could have served very well as the president. Out of the four finalists, honestly, any one of them would have been a wonderful leader.”

During each candidate’s public forum, each finalist was asked questions ranging from diversity impact at the university to enrollment problems and how they would approach each topic as president.

Erickson said, with enrollment being an increasing issue nationally, his approach to dealing with enrollment decline fits with NMU.

“Enrollment issues are prone at every university,” Erickson said. “The universities that are successful at either maintaining or growing enrollment are universities that take a really diversified approach to enrollment. That means an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy.”

Stephen Adamini, member of the Board of Trustees and the PSAC, said Erickson’s fit with the university had to be seen to be believed.

“When I was in legislature, it was often said that everything that needs to be said, has been said,” Adamini said. “As Steve said, we had 54 resumes. When I read through all of those 54 resumes, every box was checked with Fritz Erickson. I said, ‘I really have to see this guy in person to see if he is as good as he is on paper.’ Then we interviewed him and he didn’t disappoint.”

Gilbert Ziegler, member of the board, said, while his first impression of all of the chosen candidates was unsatisfactory, he thinks the board has made a sound choice in choosing Erickson.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t have a candidate that had previous presidential experience,” Ziegler said. “Looking at Fritz, I think he could hit the ground running, knowing Michigan, understanding enrollment problems and where to go to get students. I think that overshadows my concerns.”

A welcome session was held for Erickson at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22 after the meeting in the Brule Room of the University Center. According to the Board of Trustees, Erickson is intended to be in office by Sunday, July 1. More information about Erickson can be located at www.nmu.edu/presidentialsearch/finalists.

“Although he may not have been everybody’s favorite, I didn’t hear anyone say, ‘Avoid that person,’” Adamini said. “Everybody said we had a tough choice to make. I wholeheartedly concur with the motion.”