Board appoints Freeman as the thirteenth and first female president of NIU

By Jessie Kern

The Board of Trustees unanimously voted Acting President Lisa Freeman as the thirteenth president of NIU, making her the first female president in university history.

The appointment was made during a Board of Trustees Special Meeting Thursday, with an agreement extending to Sept. 19, 2022. The Board also approved Freeman’s contract, which provides a base salary of $450,000 with a deferred compensation of $25,000 for each year completed as president and the potential for an additional performance-based compensation of up to $25,000.

Freeman said she hopes to inspire others to see the potential she and her husband Doug Rose see in NIU students.

“As president I will actively work to grow philanthropic work in support of our students and my husband Doug Rose and I want to lead by example,” Freeman said. “For the duration of my contract, we will annually donate $25,000, the total amount of any bonus I will be eligible for, to the NIU foundation for scholarships.”

Dennis Barsema, Board of Trustees vice chair, said the contract is what it should be for the president of NIU.

Trustee Bob Pritchard said incentive-based compensation should be viewed as a motivator for doing the things the Board and administration say they want accomplished and as a reward when those accomplishments are made.

Trustee Eric Wasowicz said he wishes the performance-based compensation was more. Wasowicz said he’s seen Freeman’s willingness and ability to take on tough decisions, which is not something everyone is capable of.

“To me this is the most important point, is that she truly, and I capitalize truly, cares for this university and that’s something that I’ve seen come out in every meeting and every interaction that I’ve had with [Freeman], that she truly cares for the university,” Wasowicz said.

Wasowicz said there are four main traits he associates with Freeman:  leadership, vision for the direction NIU is going, ability to make tough decisions and  genuine care for the university.

Barsema said there are key qualities Freeman embodies, in line with the presidential profile, which make her the perfect fit for NIU. He said the Board is very confident in her ability to care for NIU employees and students.

Barsema also said caring for everyone does not mean everything Freeman and the Board desire to do can be done because of outside factors, like economics. However, he said where Freeman sits now in a permanent position will ensure all employees receive great care and concern.

“I encourage everybody in the university community and family to support Dr. Freeman,” Barsema said. “That doesn’t mean we always agree with her.”

Barsema said there is always room for discussion and debate, and working with Freeman for the past eight years he knows her well enough to know she encourages the opposing viewpoint and hearing from those with a differing perspective.

Wasowicz said he was very much in favor of doing a national search but through working with Freeman it became clear she was the right candidate for NIU.

Pritchard said he brings perspective to the Board having served as a state representative. He said the choice seemed very obvious because when looking at candidates for any search process questions arise as to how committed the candidates are, or if taking this position is a step on the career ladder.

Pritchard also said Freeman is the perfect candidate because she exemplifies attitudes and concerns which have been a part of the public discussion for years.

“We have a president that is committed to diversity, committed to collaboration, decisive in her leadership style, one that understands not only the NIU situation, but is engaged in this community

Pritchard said he is very confident in the Board’s selecting Freeman as president. He said she involves herself with community organizations and exemplifies community collaboration.

He also said she will move NIU forward while considering the needs of current and future students and maintaining the goals and mission established for NIU.

“So it’s my pleasure to say we have arrived, we have a good candidate and I look forward to working with her as we implement the goals and direction for Northern,” Pritchard said.

Barsema said Board of Trustees chairman Wheeler Coleman did a great job leading the presidential search effort and echoed his feelings of the appointment of Freeman as president being a historic moment for the university.

“When you look at the support for Freeman coming out of the presidential search process, it was overwhelming,” Barsema said. “So it was obvious to the Board the support  she has across the community campus and within the DeKalb and Sycamore communities.”

Student Trustee Nathan Hayes said he supports Freeman and is confident in her abilities to take on the role as president. He said based on discussions with Freeman he knows she will focus on potential and active students, rather than getting caught up in what the future holds.

“I just wanted to express that she won’t forget about the students that are here right now and she most definitely won’t forget about the students that are here in the future,” Hayes said.

Following the Board’s decision to appoint Freeman as NIU’s permanent president, Freeman had several comments to make.

“I’ve been a Huskie for almost nine years, and from the time that I joined NIU I have been impressed by the excellence of our faculty and staff and inspired by the tenacity and creativity of our students,” Freeman said.