Campus opening, future projects in Community Leaders Forum


Sam Rush/NW

Katarina Rothhorn

On Tuesday, March 16, President Fritz Erickson held his fourth annual Community Leaders Forum with business and government leaders in the Marquette area. This was the first time the event was held over Zoom and Erickson’s focus was on NMU’s past, present and future responses to COVID-19. He touched on topics such as summer and fall plans, vaccinations, diversity on campus, sustainability efforts and potential construction projects on campus. 

Erickson opened up the forum with a shout out to NMU faculty, staff and students for being flexible during the pandemic and developing new ways of teaching and hosting events. He also emphasized the importance of working with community organizations such as the Marquette County Health Department when it comes to making decisions on COVID-19 protocols.

Among those protocols and restrictions that NMU has had in place are the campus visitor restrictions. However, Erickson said those restrictions are planned to be revised and lifted in the coming months. 

“I’m really happy to report that we have set June 15 as the day that we will be able to lift all or most of the visitor restrictions,” Erickson said. “In fact, one of the things that we are doing right now is we are going through a whole series of safety protocols so that we can.”

June 15 is also the date tentatively set for most campus activities to resume with fewer restrictions, including summer camps for the Marquette community. Most summer college courses will still be taught online with a few exceptions for lab work, but Erickson said he expects summer camp programs in athletics, academics and music to be available. 

For the Fall 2021 semester, Erickson said the plan for NMU is to be as fully operational face-to-face as possible. This includes almost all in-person classes, a return of student activities and sports. 

“However, at the same time we are making all the contingency plans that we need because we still live in an unknown time,” Erickson said. 

In order for the fall semester to happen in person, Erickson highlighted the importance of COVID-19 vaccines. Northern is currently in a partnership with the MCHD to distribute vaccines to the Marquette community from the Northern Center, and NMU has put together vaccination protocols for their own distribution of the vaccine to staff and students. At the moment, Erickson said they are just waiting on the allocation of the vaccine but he is “feeling pretty optimistic”.

“I think the idea of getting vaccines available for everybody is going to be absolutely critical for us to have that successful fall opening,” Erickson said. 

He then moved on to address the decline in student enrollment for the Winter 2021 semester, stating that there was a 7.2% decline after a 4.2% decline in student enrollment from the Fall 2020 semester. Erickson said he believes these losses were mainly due to decisions to stay home and that NMU is working to bring these students back to campus this next semester. 

The decrease in enrollment is a trend seen throughout the nation, particularly in disenfranchised groups. For more information on these enrollment numbers and trends, check out our recent post on the breakdown of winter student enrollment numbers

One of the ways he plans to increase enrollment is through summer events that allow students and their families the opportunity to experience Northern and the Marquette area. He also hopes to increase the use of the Forest Roberts Theatre and expand the role of the arts at Northern. 

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Northern is attempting to provide more inclusive spaces on campus by converting the third floor of Hedgcock into a cultural center. 

“We are looking to move Housing out so that we can have a lot of space,” Erickson said. “We want to make it available all the time and a true center of engagement.”

Northern has also set up the Center for Rural Health headed by Elise Bur and the SISU Innovation Institute which will be led by Brittany Paulk starting in May. Erickson hopes both of these institutions will help NMU on the transition to a post-pandemic environment.

“I think between the Rural Center and the SISU Institute, there is a real opportunity for us to develop cutting edge programs that not only serve our students but serve our community,” he said.

Erickson also brought up potential plans for new campus buildings and the expansion of current programs, including the career and technical education program and business programs.

In December, Erickson said they found out that the Capital Outlay Project that supports Northern’s career, technical and engineering programs will receive $20 million for career and technical education. Erickson is hoping to use this money to enhance their current program and even potentially build a new center for career and technical programs on the main campus. 

Erickson said Northern also has its sights set on a new school of business that will be located next to McClintock. He hopes the school of business will have more space to expand and focus more on rural economic development. 

In order for all of these new plans to happen, NMU needs to develop a budget. In January, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that her state budget suggested a 2% increase in funding for Michigan’s public universities. Erickson hopes this will make it into the House and Senate budgets as well in the next few weeks. This state funding will impact the tuition rates for the following year. 

“As soon as we can get those numbers and as soon as there is a resolution to the budget, we will be in good shape to set tuition by early summer,” Erickson said. 

To help with childcare costs and needs, Erickson mentioned a partnership with WeeCare that provides childcare assistance for students and faculty. 

“Our Human Resources Office heard from so many folks about the need for providing some level of childcare on campus,” Erickson said. “So we had a team that explored what were the best ways to address childcare needs and came up with this idea of participating in WeeCare which is very much about connecting people.”

Erickson closed out his campus updates with another relevant student concern about the sustainability of Northern’s campus. He highlighted the success of the Green Fund and student involvement, specifically the campus group EcoReps. He also stated that he will be looking into how to become more carbon neutral as an institution.