Editorial—Reflections on Erickson’s termination


North Wind Staff

It has now been over a week since the Board of Trustees unexpectedly terminated former President of the university Fritz Erickson on Sept. 24. The short yet widely-discussed BOT meeting prompted a great deal of bewilderment among our peers. For several days after the event, blindsided students watched and rewatched the Zoom meeting, analyzing each word spoken by BOT members, trying to fully understand the abrupt termination. It now has over 2,100 views.

The reasons for Fritz’s firing, according to Trustee Steve Young, “we need more leadership and forward-thinking in the area of strategic planning.” 

Young also cited a need for “more critical thinking and idea generation,” a greater focus on increasing enrollment numbers, better communication with the BOT and more focus on fundraising. 

According to Chair Tami Seavoy, “we expected more thoughtful and critical action from him on many issues.”

Why these issues were suddenly so urgent as to require a short-notice BOT meeting with the sole purpose of firing the president was not made clear by the board.

In a press release, Seavoy stated, “It was Vice-Chair Young’s and my intention to come to terms on an agreement that would have allowed Dr. Erickson to voluntarily step down by the end of 2021. Regrettably, we were unable to reach such an agreement after several weeks of negotiation. Therefore, we determined that termination would be in the best interest of the university.” 

Yet this did not answer the community’s question: why?

Students and the NMU community have been forced to try to read between the lines of the board’s statements to try to decipher what occurred behind closed doors. This left room for unnecessary speculation, which seems ultimately harmful to the interests of the university.

It should be noted that the BOT’s decision was not unpopular. However, we believe that more could have been done on the board’s part to increase transparency throughout the process. Perhaps when the short-notice meeting was called, a mass email could have been sent to students and faculty, alerting them to the process taking place. Or, perhaps even before that, the board could have given some indication that discussions were taking place.

Hours after the BOT meeting, the board sent out a two-sentence email stating, “NMU Board of Trustees met in a special meeting today (Friday, Sept. 24) and voted to make a change in leadership at the presidential position” and directed readers to a press release. By the time most of the campus community found out about Erickson’s termination, it had been many hours, sometimes even a few days, after the fact. Clearer, more timely communication from the university would have been immensely helpful.

Now, as former Provost Kerri Schuiling has been appointed as interim president, the administration has an opportunity to improve transparency regarding the presidential search process.

Schuiling said in her Oct. 4 email that “The NMU Board of Trustees are going to engage an executive search firm to support the search for NMU’s next president. Board members are currently in the process of vetting firms that have extensive experience with university presidential searches.” She added, “the Board plans to be transparent and inclusive and will invite input from each of NMU’s constituency groups: students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.”

We can only hope that this is true. NMU’s administration certainly needs to prioritize transparency in the coming months. We will believe in their intention to improve in this area when we see evidence and actions to support that intention. We’d like to see information on potential candidates and other signs of clear, direct communication to students. Many NMU community members have expressed a desire for a president with a different background that might reflect the direction we hope to see NMU move in.