Northern Michigan University's fall convocation featured several speakers who addressed new wellbeing initiatives for students and employees, the budget outlook, updates on facilities projects, the strategic planning process and the presidential search.
“One of my priority goals is for our campus to truly be a healthy, well, strong and connected community,” said NMU President Kerri Schuiling. “This summer, I challenged several of us to identify ways to improve school-life and work-life balance. Everyone has different stressors in their lives, but to the extent that we, as a university, can find ways to help employees and students find balance seems more important than it has ever been. Perhaps the pandemic made us more aware of the importance of balance and its relationship to wellbeing.”
Schuiling outlined some of the initiatives being implemented to benefit students: hiring a physician assistant at the Health Center whose specialty is mental health; partnering with community groups to bring more therapy animals on campus more often;; launching a new substance use academic minor; inviting wellness-related student groups to help the university develop new programs, services and marketing efforts; and expand social media messaging about university resources and learning opportunities.
To promote work-life balance for faculty and staff, Schuiling said NMU is exploring ways to increase flexibility into work schedules for employees whose positions do not allow for remote work. The university will also expand its employee appreciation celebration from a dedicated week to recognitions throughout the academic year and give all faculty and staff a voucher on their birthdays for free lunch at any NMU eatery. Other recommendations include limiting weekend emails to urgent matters only and avoiding committee meetings on Fridays to allow employees to finish necessary work before the weekend.
After a recent audit of NMU's mental health services, Schuiling said she realized it was necessary to appoint a seasoned and skilled leader to implement recommendations for improvement identified in the report. Abigail Wyche, head of the Social Work Department, accepted a one-year appointment to serve full time as special adviser for campus mental health and wellbeing (read a related story on her activities and planned strategies here).
Gavin Leach, vice president for Finance and Administration, delivered positive and negative news about the budget. He said NMU is financially solid, received a state appropriation increase, and is expected to realize more than $2-$3 million per year in savings because the state has paid down a portion of the Michigan Public Schools Employees' Retirement System (MPSERS) liability impacting NMU and six other Michigan universities.
“But the combined revenue increase is wiped out by a projected enrollment decline that could create about a $3 million deficit, as well as strategic investments and inflationary costs,” Leach said. “Budget adjustments will be needed moving forward in order to remain financially sound.”
Leach also showed a video update on projects underway in the first year of a three-year, $93 million campus facilities initiative. The projects are being paid for with state capital outlay funding, a strategic move to take out bonds earlier this year in a highly favorable market, and donor gifts to the university. They are not covered by tuition and fees or other general fund sources.
Work on the interim strategic plan will continue this fall. Jason Nicholas of the Institutional Effectiveness Office reported that metrics are being identified to help gauge and report progress. His office will also draft a proposal for NMU's new president, outlining next-generation strategic planning in an ongoing and clear way.
Presidential Search Advisory Committee Chair Chris Greer said initial Zoom interviews with 11 candidates will take place Sept. 7 and 9, and on-campus interviews with three to four finalists will be held the weeks of Sept. 12 and 19. The NMU Board of Trustees will also meet with each finalist on campus before a scheduled announcement of the new president by the end of September or early October.
Watch a recording of the full convocation here.