Baker’s had a good start but there’s more to do

By Danny Cozzi

NIU President Doug Baker has been in our fantastic town of corn and barbed wire for only a few weeks. A March 18 Northern Star editorial noted NIU had a chance to change for the better, as many top administrators were on their way out. With a new president, I think we are finally beginning to wipe the slate clean.

Let’s take a brief look at what the past year has shown us: Since August 2012, we have encountered controversies like the Coffee Fund, former Police Chief Donald Grady and the NIU Police Department allegedly mishandling evidence in a sexual assault case, Eddie Williams’ silence during said scandals and the overlying secrecy of the NIU presidential search.

The fact that all of these incidents have occurred within a single year has convinced me a new president may be the best way to improve the university.

One thing I value in leaders is an open flow of communication. Based on the embarrassingly long list above, I believe many NIU administrators in the past have abandoned that principle.

Baker has openly engaged with students via Facebook and Twitter. He has also been featured in a number of YouTube videos where he discusses his gratitude and enthusiasm for becoming a part of the NIU community.

A section of Baker’s Facebook page detailed his usage policy of the official account.

“My schedule may not always permit a same-day response to your comments, but please know I will read all of them,” the page read. The section further provided his direct email address.

I know it doesn’t take much effort for a leader to maintain an online presence, but I think just knowing our president actually exists serves as a positive step toward the transparency this university desperately needs.

Although some may see these measures as a mere formality, I think the fact Baker is accessible for students to address directly is a solid move forward.

Kyle Urbashich, junior business administration major, thinks an online presence is a good start, but it’s not personal enough to effect real change.

Urbashich said Baker’s administration needs to actively engage with the NIU community on a personal level in order to maintain accountability.

“It lets us know what the administration is doing or thinking, not just letting us know when something‘s already happened,” Urbashich said.

In an email, Paul Palian, director of Media and Public Relations, said the Internet will not be the only way Baker keeps the university in the conversation.

While a strong online presence is effective in addressing large audiences, NIU needs direct contact from the president.

“In addition to social media, Dr. Baker communicates weekly in his NIU Today column distributed regularly to students, faculty, staff, alumni and annuitants, and he also engages with students at events and functions,” Palian said.

Those efforts have convinced me Baker is off to a good start. I can’t even begin to imagine the hectic schedule and monumental responsibilities that come with a new presidential position, so I appreciate just seeing his efforts posted online and on NIU Today.

A July 18 news release from NIU Today described the Baker family hosting 10 orientation leaders at their new home.

“Those students exemplify the Huskie Spirit and everything we want the world to know about us, and we wanted to meet them,” Baker said.

It’s obvious constant communication isn’t the only way to ensure the success of a presidential administration.

The March 18 editorial said the new NIU president “needs to address scandals as they happen, then be vocal in putting forth solutions so similar ethical breaches do not reoccur.”

I think accountability should also be one of Baker’s top priorities. Considering all that has happened over the last year, this university needs a president that will lead with integrity.

“President Baker has made it clear that one of his priorities is a commitment to ethically inspired leadership,” Palian said. “Transparency would fall within that area.”

It’s no secret Baker has his work cut out for him. He has received many issues upon beginning his presidency at the university.

According to an April 3 Northern Star editorial, Baker said he has “experience in bridging gaps between students and administrators,” and now has the ability to make changes.

Though a lack of communication between the students and administrators is not the only problem NIU has dealt with recently, it’s important to finally begin an open dialogue between students and faculty to address the issues over the past year and prevent them from happening again this year.

It’s certainly too early to know whether or not Baker’s presidency is the fresh start we need, but as of right now, he is taking all the steps necessary to giving this university another chance.