Q&A with Kerri Schuiling

Dreyma Beronja, News Editor

Kerri Schuiling was appointed as interim president of Northern Michigan University on Oct. 1 after then president, Fritz Erickson, was terminated by the Board of Trustees. Before stepping into the role of interim president, Schuiling was NMU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

Since her time as interim president, many important issues have been brought to the University’s attention by faculty, students and community members in hopes of being changed before the new president steps in.

One goal for the University was to have better communication between the BOT and students.

Schuiling was appointed provost and vice president in 2014 and was the lead developer of the Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST), the NMU Center for Rural Health and SISU: The Innovation Institute. She was also in support of the medicinal plant chemistry baccalaureate program that was launched in 2017.

Outside of her later roles, Schuiling was also dean of NMU’s College of Health Sciences and Professional Studies, dean of Oakland University’s School of Nursing and associate dean and director of NMU’s School of Nursing. Schuiling graduated from NMU in 1973 and holds a master’s degree from Wayne State University and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. Schuiling is certified as both a women’s health nurse practitioner and nurse-midwife.

NW: Reflecting back on this year, what are some goals NMU is aiming for next school year?

KS: What we are looking at right now with the Interim Strategic Plan, the goals are in there. I hope students get involved in the listening sessions for that and give feedback on that. Definitely, for example, carbon neutrality. We have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040 or 2050, but that is too long of a goal. What they are going to do is make action plans and break things like that down into ‘what are you going to do in the first three years and ‘where should our focus be,’ ‘what are some of the changes we should make’ … really looking at what change is good, what change is not good and what is the best for our campus moving forward. We need to really seriously look at our enrollment. One of the things is we are losing our male students at an alarming rate. Why is that? We need to look at that. Obviously, diversity is a challenge and that is for faculty, students and staff all the way around. One of my favorite things about Northern is our Center for Native American studies. I am so proud of everything that they have done and they have been wonderful and very tolerant and patient with me. I have made missteps and I love Marty Reinhardt because he is quick to point it out to me and I learn. I am very proud of that as part of our campus and I hope that gets recognized more. I have a feeling that [CNAS] is going to help be a primary avenue for increasing diversity because I think they are doing really great things.

NW: What has been the most difficult part of being interim president so far?

KS: Well [COVID] really slapped us back but that’s where my health-related background really came in. I added a nurse to the team and I added the clinical sciences, Paul Mann and Josh Sharp who are doing the research and their research is so critically important. I try to err on the side of safety and I believe in science and the evidence and so that is how we go forward. This week has been interesting because I thought ‘oh people are going to want to take their masks off and I really didn’t want them to. I wanted to keep them in the classrooms because that is a willy virus. There is an epidemiologic blog that I follow and with Josh, we have been communicating and we know that there is a new variant. In Hong Kong, you can see it doing a U-turn and starting to go up and we have some freedom now but we need to be keeping those masks on where everybody is in close quarters. Let’s keep people safe and stay healthy. Let’s be able to have an in-person commencement.

NW: How are local (Marquette and surrounding areas) health officials involved in NMU’s COVID response?

KS: Our police chief and health center doctor, Christopher Kirkpatrick, communicates with the Marquette Health Department all the time and has weekly meetings with them. They are very involved. I also meet every month with the city manager and the CEO of the hospital too so we keep a beat on what is going on.

NW: How was the decision made to lessen mask restrictions in the hallways?

KS: One of the things that we looked at was the CDC changes and what the category changes were and looking at what our rates were. Of course, we look on campus but our community is the whole Marquette community so as those began to lessen, we felt that we were safe in doing that. Our students have been great about wearing their masks and following the mitigations but so has everybody else. I consulted with other schools too about the masking and other schools are doing pretty much the same thing we are. The decision was to be a little bit conservative. We know right now the evidence is saying we are okay to do this, but if you are at high risk and you are not vaccinated, vaccination is everything, then you should keep a mask on.

NW: When do you anticipate the new president will be found and brought to NMU?

KS: The timeline is that they will bring the candidates to campus at the beginning of September. The applications are due Aug. 1 and then the first couple of weeks in September they will be bringing in candidates for interview and those will be the finalists. There will be a group before that who will interview and they keep those names quiet because if you are in a job and you go and interview at another job, you could jeopardize your current job so they try to be respectful of that. I won’t even know who those applicants are, but the finalists we will all know. They anticipate that after those final interviews they will announce to campus at the end of September who the new president will be and I think they will probably start in January.

NW: How can students be involved in the search for the new president?

KS: The listening sessions were critical for students to be involved and when the candidates are brought to campus, go. Go to as much as you can get to and there will be a way that you can give your feedback. They want to know from students ‘who are you looking for? What does this person need to be to you?’ The board hires the president and fires the president and has a judiciary responsibility. That is their focus so they really took to heart the information that they collected during the listening sessions. So when those candidates come, there will be all kinds of opportunities to interact with them and they are going to be looking for feedback so get there and make it happen.

NW: How has the new BOT member adjusted to stepping into the position?

KS: She just was selected. In public schools, there are appointees so the governor appoints them so this is Missie Holmquist. She is the CEO of UPHP (Upper Peninsula Health Plan). Missie has not been seated yet so she is going to be in Lansing and she is going to be approved but [last week] we are doing her orientation. Now she is an alumn of Northern and she started out at UPHP as a receptionist. People who know her, they really like her, they feel like she communicates well, and she really has a sharp head on her shoulders. I mean, she started as a receptionist, finished her degree and now she is the CEO of this huge organization. I am excited to have her. I like it when we have somebody from Marquette who knows the culture. I don’t know her really well but I am looking forward to working with her. I met her a few times and they have all been very positive.

NW: What is NMU doing to reuse and repurpose vacant buildings on campus such as Lee Hall?

A: So Lee Hall is going to get torn down. For a while, I was really campaigning for it to be rehabbed but when they actually looked at it, the cost and it is full of asbestos so the cost is just astronomical. So they will be taking it down. If there was a building I would have put up a fight to keep, it would have been Kay Hall. That was a gorgeous building. So to me, [Lee Hall] is an eyesore. I was told that the size of the building and there is some structure in there that if they even change it at all, the building would probably fall down. There is also one of the old buildings, I think West Hall, that is going to be taken down. It has mold in it, they found out. So some of those old buildings, especially with asbestos, are going to be taken down. They do have a master plan online that you can find about how they will be doing things moving forward.

NW: What are the plans for the old NMU Den?

KS: They are moving hospitality in there. The hospitality program I think is going to be offering food. I wondered if they are going to compete at all but they said ‘no, it is going to be different. It will just be another option. It will be accessible and won’t be hidden.