New Board of Trustees chair prioritizes engagement

By Ali Combs

In the early ’90s, John Butler served as the student regent on NIU’s Board of Regents, similar to today’s Board of Trustees. Twenty years later, in 2013, Butler is chairman of the Board of Trustees.

With new university leadership, Butler looks to take advantage of the fresh atmosphere on the administrative level at NIU and move forward with Vision 2020 and NIU President Doug Baker’s goals for the coming years.

Northern Star: What is your top priority looking forward at this term on the Board?

John Butler: Because I’m the chair, I really have three main priorities. I view my role as operating a responsive and engaged board prepared to support the aspirations of a university pursuing revitalized agenda. The second role for me as the new chair is to critically examine and to encourage the board to critically examine committee structure and determine what configuration of topic areas align the boards priorities with that revitalized agenda. Then to focus on areas where the board leadership can add value to university priorities, making maximum use of board members’ experience and subject matter expertise; there’s sort of the academic side, the financial side and the legislative and external relations side. Then there’s the overall global things I’m concerned with.

NS: What are some examples of how you’d like to focus on these areas?

JB: On the academic side, this means encouraging responsible enrollment growth, developing a properly scaled and unique approach to online education where appropriate, increasing the share of community college transfer students as part of our profile of students and developing interdisciplinary degree offerings that closely align with the visions that students have for their careers … and to add to that, increasing the university’s academic research capabilities. The list truly goes on and on. There’s more to it, but this is a large agenda. The board is essentially pursuing the Vision 2020 goals in the multiple areas represented by that extraordinary strategic planning agenda.

NS: As chair, what are your duties?

JB: Well, this is a board of eight, so each board member is an individual with their own experience and background and talents to bring to the board to bring to their job, so I think it’s important to keep in focus that the board chair has a limited role, The board chair is the custodian of the agenda and the facilitator of board discussion and debate. My main role is to make certain that there are opportunities for board members to address the issues that are important to them and for the university to introduce an agenda that they believe is best for the long term future of the university.

President Baker has laid out in his media releases that he’s got six major areas that he’s focusing on, and my job as board chair and the board’s job is to make sure we are conducive to moving forward on that agenda and engaging that agenda.

NS: What can students look for at the next regular Board meeting?

JB: I’ll be making committee appointments, so well have new leaders managing committees. What I think we can expect is a clearer path with regard to the six focus areas that President Baker has articulated, and we will begin to see the board’s committee agendas populated by information and action items related to those six focus areas.

NS: How will administrative changes affect choices made by the board?

JB: The change in leadership across the spectrum of leadership areas is an opportunity for the university to put in place a revitalized agenda and realize the goals of Vision 2020 and any amendments to those goals that we determine as a community are in order. We have the opportunity to forge a new future for the university under the leadership of a new president. All the trustees are very excited to serve on the board at this time. We’re a unified and cohesive group of individuals who are ready to work very hard.

I’m very supportive of the new president and his central focus on student career success. It’s a great time to calibrate our activities to that focus. It’s going to make us a better institution. I think I’ve personally experienced a great deal of what President Baker is looking to make possible for all NIU graduates, and that is to utilize an NIU degree to achieve one’s personal goals and aspirations.

NS: NIU has faced some controversy over the last year or so. How will that affect choices made by the board?

JB: I think we need to reassure the campus and community stakeholders that we have in place adequate compliance and risk management policies in all areas where potential challenges can be reasonably predicted. I believe this is what President Baker has in mind when he refers to an ethically inspired leadership culture.

NS: What is the most important thing students should know about the Board of Trustees?

JB: Students should know there is an elected student representative on the board who has as much power as any other member of the board. The student member votes and works closely with all of the trustees. The board values greatly the input of this student member as well as the input of the student government on all of the issues that we are considering.