Erickson terminated at NMU
Fired by board after seven years
MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees voted 8-0 on Friday to terminate the employment of NMU President Fritz Erickson, effective immediately.
Board Vice Chairman Steve Young mentioned the need for “a change and direction in the leadership” as reasons for the termination during the special session of the board held via Zoom.
Erickson had served as NMU president under a contract that began on July 1, 2014, with the contract most recently amended on July 1, 2018, said board Chairwoman Tami Seavoy. The contract was to be effective through June 30, 2023.
Young made the motion to terminate the contract “not for cause” effective immediately and authorize the board chair to sign documents and take necessary steps to carry out the board’s directives. The board unanimously passed the motion.
“It’s been a difficult few weeks for me personally and as a member of this board,” Young said. “I do not take my duties as a board member lightly, and am always guided in my decision making by the principle of what is in the best interest of this university.
“That’s the bottom line for me, as I know it is for all trustees on this board as well.”
Young acknowledged that Erickson has done outstanding work in his time at NMU.
“For instance, he and his team have helped us navigate the choppy and uncertain waters that COVID has presented to all of us, and his team has implemented several new programs that have been successful, such as medicinal chemistry, FROST (Forensic Research Outdoor Station) and several others, to name a few,” Young said.
“On the financial side, we have maintained a level of stability that other universities our sizes have not been able to maintain, either before or during the difficult time of COVID.”
However, Young said more needs to be done in certain areas.
“I believe we need more leadership and forward thinking in the areas of strategic planning, more thought and action as to what we want this university to look like, not tomorrow or the next 48 hours, but in the next six years, 10 years, and out into the future, and not only that, how do we get there?” Young said.
“I believe we need more critical thinking and idea generation from the president’s office. In the area of enrollment, we need bold action. Declining enrollment is never something we should accept. Rather, it’s something we should wake up every day thinking about. How can we reverse that trend and grow?”
There also should be improved communication at a “microlevel” with the board, said Young, who also noted he wants to see more leadership with fundraising and capital improvements “that are critical” to the university’s future.
“There’s been good things that have happened, but we can and must do more, and all of this leads back to what I’d said earlier: What is in the best interests of this university?” Young said.
Not mentioned at the meeting were the current negotiations between the administration and the NMU-American Association of University Professors faculty union, which have been at odds for months over a contract, including base salary increases and other forms of compensation.
A ratification vote for the union is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Jamrich Hall, room 1100. If a majority of union members vote to ratify the contract, the NMU Board of Trustees will vote on it next week. Its regularly scheduled formal session is Friday.
AAUP President Dwight Brady issued the following statement:
“Everyone on campus, including the faculty, were surprised at how quickly this meeting came about, and we are still processing the magnitude of the board’s decision. Nevertheless, we will continue to move forward with the ratification vote of the proposed contract on Sept. 28.”
Seavoy said until a special meeting can be scheduled to appoint an interim president, she asked Gavin Leach, vice president for finance and administration, and Kerri Schuiling, provost and vice president for academic affairs, to work together and provide NMU with executive leadership. She also asked them to help Erickson with an “orderly departure” from his office.
In a prepared statement from Seavoy, she said she expected “thoughtful and critical action” from Erickson on many issues.
“For these reasons, we have lost confidence in his ability to effectively lead the university,” she said.
It was her intention as well as the intention of Young to come to an agreement that would have allowed Erickson to voluntarily step down by the end of this year.
“Regrettably, we were unable to reach such an agreement after several weeks of negotiation,” Seavoy said. “Therefore, we determined that termination would be in the best interests of the university.”
Seavoy said that at the Oct. 1 formal session, the board will discuss the appointment of an interim president until a permanent replacement can be appointed.
A search committee will be appointed to seek Erickson’s successor, she said.
Erickson said in a telephone interview that it’s “hard to say” whether the faculty union issue had any bearing on his termination, and wishes it had gone more smoothly.
“I’m just really appreciative of the opportunity that I had to lead this fine university,” Erickson said.
His plans call for transitioning from administration to faculty since he has tenure in education and psychology.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com.