NIU Selects Idaho Business Professor as University's 12th President

Award-winning professor of business, proven high-level administrator and scholar Douglas D. Baker succeeds John G. Peters.

Douglas D. Baker — an award-winning professor of business, proven high-level administrator and scholar of management and leadership in higher education —has been named the 12th president of Northern Illinois University.

NIU’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday, April 2, to hire the 57-year-old Baker, whose appointment will be effective July 1. He currently serves as provost and executive vice president at the University of Idaho.

An expert in organizational strategy, structure and motivation, Baker said he hopes to bring NIU to the fore as a national model for a 21st century public university.

“NIU is clearly a university with strong students, an excellent staff and outstanding faculty, who are not only exceptional teachers but also top researchers,” he said. “The university’s focus on student engagement is right on target, because 'job one' for any university must be student success in the rapidly changing social and economic environment. I believe I can help the university build upon its vision.”

Baker added that the university has the resources to make a difference in the region and beyond, and to provide a world-class experience to students, while at the same time fostering a sense of community.

“NIU is big enough to matter,” he said, “and small enough to care.”

Baker will replace current NIU President John G. Peters, who last fall announced he would step down June 30, after 13 years at the helm. The announcement prompted a national search for his successor.

“NIU will be forever grateful to Dr. John Peters for his outstanding service and leadership,” said Cherilyn Murer, Board of Trustees chair. “In working to find his replacement, we were blessed to have a number of highly respected candidates, and we landed our top choice.


Douglas D. Baker and Dana L. Stover

“Dr. Baker possesses a unique set of credentials, as an award-winning business professor, a skilled academic officer and a researcher who has studied university leadership and motivation,” she added. “The NIU Board of Trustees believes that his background and expertise represent a strong fit with the needs of the university over the next decade.”

Faculty Senate President Alan Rosenbaum, co-chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, agreed.

“The PSAC was impressed with Douglas Baker’s wide range and depth of experiences,” Rosenbaum said. “At his core, he is an educator who is deeply committed to the student learning experience. 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.”

Baker holds a Ph.D. in business from the University of Nebraska, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. He has served in his present position at the University of Idaho since 2005. His accomplishments there have included:

  • Leading strategic-planning efforts that set institutional goals and helped eliminate a long-standing fiscal deficit.
  • Overseeing a collaborative academic-program prioritization process that created a stronger and more efficient institution.
  • Hiring more than 15 senior leaders (including six deans in two years) to build a strong, cohesive administrative team.
  • Creating and staffing a university enrollment management system.
  • Instituting a focus on student retention that resulted in a significant increase in freshman-to-sophomore retention.

Prior to the University of Idaho, Baker spent 24 years in the Washington State University system, teaching courses in management, organizational behavior, organizational design, strategic planning, human resource management and research methods. He served on the Faculty Senate, including as its chair, and won MBA Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards five times, including Teacher of the Year. He also won the Shell Oil Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1990 and in 1984.

Baker eventually rose to lead the Office of Undergraduate Education and became vice provost for academic affairs for the Washington State University system before moving to Idaho. He has also worked as a consultant to national and international businesses.

“Dr. Douglas Baker has been successful across all facets of higher education,” said Robert Boey, who chaired the presidential search advisory committee and has served on the NIU Board of Trustees since its inception in 1996. “He’s a leader who works to create consensus, make decisions and move forward.”

Baker himself describes 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. “I’m not a micro-manager, but I expect goals to be attained.”

Baker said he plans to hit the ground running at NIU.

By this fall, he will 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.

“We spend a great deal of effort on recruitment of students, who spend a lot of money to get a degree,” he said. “I want to make sure we also are doing all we can programmatically to make sure they find employment and are on a track to becoming lifelong learners.

“My sense is the 225,000 NIU alumni can play an even bigger role in student success by helping in recruitment, mentoring, internships and post-graduation networking. NIU alumni represent a tremendous resource, and we need their involvement throughout the pipeline.”

Another critical resource, Baker said, is the community of DeKalb. “I look forward to working closely with the local community, which plays such an important part in not only attracting students but also enriching the college experience.”




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