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Erickson addresses crowd at annual Fall Convocation

still transforming

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University has been proactively molding its future, said its president, Fritz Erickson, at Wednesday’s NMU Fall Convocation at Jamrich Hall.

“What makes universities work is really the concept of shared governance,” Erickson said, “and it works in a collaborative way and where ideas have the opportunity to see the full light of day, when they’re vetted, they’re debated, they’re argued over, because at the end of that process, we all make better decisions.”

He addressed the ongoing Strategic Resource Allocation process, which according to the website at www.nmu.edu/sra, is not intended to be a cost-cutting exercise but instead an evaluation of all academic and non-academic programs and services, and their resource allocations.

Another goal is to assess needs for higher levels of contribution to the university’s overall success, with NMU wanting to make additional investments in programs that are, or have the potential, to perform well.

Throughout the summer, deans and department heads presented certain transformation plans to the SRA’s Implementation Task Force.

“The transformation plans and presentations also highlighted the fact that we, as a campus community, have not been sitting around waiting for each round of the SRA process to unfold,” Erickson said. “Transformation occurred throughout, and when you review the transformative actions implemented in the past two years by departments, you can see how truly extensive it is.”

He said a document outlining the decisions on the most critical recommendations of each transformation plan has been posted at nmu.edu/sra.

“There are ongoing discussions on most of the campus transformation initiatives, and you’ll hear much more about those in the weeks ahead,” Erickson said.

A university-wide forum on the SRA, he said, is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Other forums are set for Oct. 29, which will focus primarily on the university budget, and for Nov. 5, when some of the innovation ideas will be explored.

The SRA has not been the only idea driver on campus.

Erickson said the idea of an NMU Rural Healthcare Institute has been brought forward.

“There is an opportunity here for us to become not only the state leader in rural health but really a national leader in this,” he said.

The NMU Foundation’s Internal Planning Committee, he said, has identified 10 priority projects that would be transformational to the campus and have high donor potential, with almost 20% of the ideas coming from students.

One of the four suggested campaign themes, he said, is rural health, with the other themes being the creation of “inspiring spaces,” exploring new frontiers and having NMU become a pre-eminent university.

The foundation’s External Planning Committee, he said, will consider the priority projects and help develop in-depth proposals for those they believe have the most likelihood of donor support.

Erickson also mentioned other NMU initiatives and programs, including the Educational Access Network, the Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute and the expansion of NMU’s chemistry laboratory space to support its medicinal plant chemistry program, with the lab having nearly $2 million worth of newly installed equipment.

He also addressed the NMU retention rate.

“Just since 2014, we’ve increased our retention by 5%, or a little bit more,” Erickson said. “Increasing retention is a big thing.”

He noted NMU has had an 18.7% increase in new students since 2016.

Kerri Schuiling, NMU provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the convocation kicked off NMU’s 120th year, which will be celebrated with a birthday party on Sept. 19 during Homecoming Week.

“Sept. 19 is the historical date of Northern’s first day of classes,” Schuiling said.

She said NMU recently received word it will receive a Native American Heritage Fund grant of $134,000 to help the Center for Native American Studies expand its Anishinabek language courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This will address the “endangered status” of the language in Michigan, she said.

Alec Lindsay, chairman of the NMU Academic Senate, said the core of its work centers on curricula and program evaluation, and making recommendations to the provost on faculty proposals for academic study and research as well as matters of general faculty concern.

He acknowledged Senate dialogues can be lengthy and contentious, but they are also insightful and productive.

Lindsay encouraged staff to join a Senate committee.

“NMU needs to have broad participation across campus,” he said.

He anticipates continued talks on some issues this upcoming year.

“The Strategic Resource Allocation process that was begun in 2016 generated considerable discussion from last year in Senate,” Lindsay said, “but in the coming year, I expect we are going to see curricular change proposals that owe much of their genesis to that process.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.