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Baker named new president of NIU in DeKalb

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 1:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 7:08 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – The man chosen as the next president of Northern Illinois University said the community atmosphere was a key factor in his decision to come to DeKalb, as is the great opportunity he sees to "unleash [NIU's] potential and passion."

The NIU Board of Trustees on Tuesday voted to make Douglas Baker, 57, the 12th president of the school. Baker, who is the executive vice president at the University of Idaho, was introduced during a special meeting of the board at Altgeld Hall shortly before the BOT unanimously approved hiring him.

A public ceremony where the community can met Baker is being held from 1:45 to 3:30 p.m. today. Baker will take the helm at NIU effective July 1, following the June 30 retirement of John Peters.

The board approved a five-year contract with Baker, according to NIU spokesman Brad Hoey, with a base salary of $450,000. Peters' salary for the 2012-2013 academic year is $337,491.12, according to NIU.

Baker said his three main goals are student-centered excellence, research excellence and the financial sustainability to transform NIU into the national model for a 21st century public university.

"NIU's potential is limitless," he said. "We are just tremendously excited to get going."

Elliot Echols, the student representative on the Board of Trustees, said it was Baker's commitment to students that set him apart from other finalists. Echols said Baker presented a strong understanding of the student population and its changing demographics.

"He's very excited about meeting with students," Echols said. "I see him as a person who students can articulate their thoughts and ideas to and it won't fall on deaf ears."

Trustee Robert Marshall Jr. said the feedback he received from those who know and met Baker during the process was tremendous. Marshall said it was clear Baker could connect to faculty, staff and students because of the impression he made with each group.

"He's ready to hit the ground running," Marshall said. "He already has."

According to the University of Idaho's website, Baker became provost and executive vice president there in 2005. He previously worked at Washington State University as Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs from 1998 to 2005 and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Education from 2003 to 2005.

Baker received his doctorate from the University of Nebraska, following baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. He has worked as a consultant to national and international businesses.

Baker described his leadership style as collaborative and goal-oriented.

“I believe in working with people to agree upon a common set of directions and letting people do their work,” he said in a news release issued by NIU. “I’m not a micro-manager, but I expect goals to be attained.”

Faculty Senate President Alan Rosenbaum, co-chairman of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, said the group was impressed with Baker's wide range and depth of experiences.

“At his core, he is an educator who is deeply committed to the student learning experience," Rosenbaum said in the news release. "He is also a faculty advocate who places high value on shared governance. He is well equipped to navigate the complex issues that face higher education today, and I believe he will build upon the university’s national reputation for engaged learning, research and service to the region.”

By the fall, Baker pledged to form working groups to address special topics or challenges, such as identifying the needs of the region’s employers, finding ways to leverage NIU’s competitive advantages, building a more sustainable financial model and fine-tuning action plans to improve student success in retention, graduation and employment rates, according to the news release.

Baker was born in Hood River, Ore., the son of two teachers. He also spent portions of his formative years in Kansas and Ohio, according to the news release.

Baker’s wife, Dana L. Stover, is the assistant dean for Recruitment, Retention and Assessment at the College of Business and Economics at the University of Idaho. She joined the faculty in 1999 as an assistant professor and was later promoted to associate professor.

The couple has two daughters, Hannah, a 2012 graduate of The Evergreen State College and Robin, a junior honors scholar at the University of Idaho studying biology.

The selection marks the end to a months-long process that started after Peters announced in October that he would retire after the 2012-2013 academic year.

A 28-member search committee of university faculty and officials selected Baker as one of four finalists out of an initial pool of about 48 candidates. On March 23, small groups of faculty, staff, alumni and foundation board members, as well as community leaders, met with the finalists.

Peters, who was appointed president in 2000, became one of the university's most prominent figures after shepherding the campus community through the fatal 2008 shooting in Cole Hall. He also led NIU to the highest possible Carnegie ranking for research universities.

More recently, the university has weathered an FBI search of its police station, misconduct allegations against high-ranking officials, and an improper scrap metal recycling operation involving university-owned materials.

Baker said he was aware of the issues surrounding the university and would face those challenges head on, but said that he would not let any external factor distract the university from accomplishing the core responsibility of educating students.

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