- Synopsis: IntroductionKeywords: Introduction; Northern Illinois University's 125th Anniversay Oral History Project; DeKalb, Illinois; JoAnn LoSavio; Dayton LeClercq; DeKalb Public Library, Illinois.Transcript: LECLERCQ: My name is Dayton LeClercq. I am here with my fellow interviewer JoAnn LaSavio and our narrator Anne Kaplan. Today is Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019. We are here today in the DeKalb Public Library located in DeKalb, Illinois to conduct an oral history interview with Anne Kaplan for Northern Illinois University's 125th Anniversary Oral History Project. Thank you, Mrs. [Dr.] Kaplan for participating in this project. I'd like to start with the question about your background if you don't mind. Would you tell me a little bit about your background, such as where you grew up and where your life was before you came to NIU?
- Synopsis: Background and Coming to NIUKeywords: Jo Davis County; Northern Illinois University; Provost; President William Monat; President Richard Nelson; President John La Tourette; Northern Illinois University President; College of Continuing Education; Title IX Committee; Presidential Committee on the Status of Women; Wilma Strickland.Transcript: KAPLAN: Sure. I grew up in county in Jo Davis County in Warren, Illinois which is a little country town of about 1,400 people and when I got ready to go off to college I could hardly wait to get out of state. If someone had told me that I should go to Northern Illinois University, I would have been appalled. Well, in the first place most people in my graduating class of fifty were not going off to college at all and the few who were thought they might want to teach, and they would think about NIU. We had a few farmers who went off to the U of I [University of Illinois] to get Agriculture degrees or Home Economics degrees. The few other people who went to a couple of other state institutions I won't name because they didn't know what to do and wanted to party, that was not me needless to say.
I was very focused on something that seemed to me at the time to be better, so I went 300 miles up-stream to Minnesota. I went to Carlton College where I got a bachelor’s degree in History, and then I went 300 miles downstream to Washington University, where I got a doctorate in history eventually. I was there at a time when the general perception in education was that the demographics were such that there was going to be a huge need for college faculty. They were right about the demographics, they were wrong about the fields in which there would be a huge need, so when I finished my exams I went off to England to do dissertation research and I had been there about a year when everyone we knew wrote saying, "Don't come home, there are no jobs."
My husband and I hung out for four years in England, fiddled around, drove all over the over the country and followed the Good Food Guide from four star restaurant to four star restaurant. We were there at a time when the exchange rate was decidedly in our favor and I had a very nice fellowship from Washington U, which I actually saved money, if you can imagine. We finally came home but by that time we didn't know what to do, frankly, because he was aimed as a philosophy degree which was even worse than a history degree in terms of getting a job and I hadn't finished my dissertation work because everybody said, "It's not going to do any good anyway."
Having no plans, we came back to my family home in Jo Davis County and there I was. We started looking around for jobs and the reality was there weren't any. We tried this, that and the other thing. My husband decided he would give up academics all together and go into restaurant work and I decided that I would stop pretending, or trying to pretend, to be in History and work on Adult Education because when I was in England, I taught in the Open University in the first few years that it was going. I sort of turned my resume upside down as if I had been aimed all my life at Adult Education, I threw in camp counseling, resident's hall counseling, and teaching in the Open University which in fact if you were focused on Adult Education was a big deal. I sent that here and there and I got several job offers. By that time my husband had a job in Freeport and the handy one was at Northern Illinois University, which I had tried so hard not to go to as a student.
I got here in the College of Continuing Education, which had just gotten off the ground and had a new Dean. I was actually hired by the Secondary Ed department. I came down here for an interview and I was surrounded in the student center by the entire faculty from Secondary Ed. They kept asking me about my background, what I had done and every once in a while they would say “Can you write?”. Then I would say “Well yes, I can write”. Then they'd ask more questions and then they would say, “Are you sure you can write?” And finally, I said, “What is it you want written?”.
They said, "Well, we are trying to get a proposal through the University Board [of Regents] and the Board of Higher Education for a master’s program in Adult Education and there is a big format you have to write the proposal and this is really important. It would be the first such master’s degree in the state. I said, "Well, I don't pretend to know anything about the curriculum in Adult Education but if there's a format and you tell me what you're trying to do I think I could probably fill it out." So, they hired me, but I said—it was a half-time job, I said, "I need a full-time job." They said well, we have a new Dean in Continuing Education and he probably needs an assistant and anyway he's in our department, he doesn't have tenure, so we'll tell him he needs an assistant. I said, "What a good idea." I had an interview with that Dean, and he hired me as his assistant, and I came down to DeKalb in January 1974 for these two part-time jobs.
I got the format for this degree proposal and all the information and I went back two-three weeks later and said, "How's this?" and they were stunned. They thought this would take a semester. It really didn't need a semester and so they sort of ran out of work for me to do and meanwhile the dean and the College of Continuing Education was struggling because he was trying to put a whole new College together. I started doing more and more work in the College of Continuing Education and less in Secondary Education. By the time I got to the end of the year, I got a full time job in the College of Continuing Education as an Assistant to the Dean, which was my first administrative job. Far from leaving Northern Illinois University, I stayed. I was very fortunate. It was a very interesting time to be here, it was a good time to be in the administration. It would have been an absolutely terrible time to be in History if I had—I did finally finish my doctorate, but if I had finished it on time in terms of the amount of time people usually took, which was a long time after they got through with their course work and their exams—and had then gotten a job, I think I would have come up for tenure at the worst time in the history of History Departments. It would have been a near-miracle if I had been retained. Not being in History was probably a great blessing at the time, although I must say the History Department here then was very well regarded nationally and it wouldn't have been the worst place in the world to end up as a history professor, but they just weren't hiring. They certainly were not hiring early-modern French religious history scholars, I can tell you.
There I was in this administrative job and then a bunch of other things happened, which probably worked in my favor. This was a time when universities I think all over the country were tuning in to the fact that they didn't have enough women in anything. Fairly early on, I got quite accidentally involved in a grant that had gone very wrong in the college and somebody had to deal with it and the Dean said, “See what you could do about this” and I did. It ended up in the then-President's Office with people from the agency, the university lawyer, the Provost, the President, all kinds of people trying to figure this out and I was the only person in the room who had any facts. So, I sort of came to the attention of other people in the administration and not too long after that President's Office. The Assistant to the President actually called me at home one night and said, ''Would you be willing to accept a really awful job on a really awful committee?'' [laughs] and I said, ''Well, yes I suppose so, tell me about it.'' It was the university's Title IX Committee and it was a committee about merging of men's and women's athletics, and I said, ''Well, yes.'' I said, ''I don't pretend to know anything about intercollegiate athletics.'' He said, ''Never mind. You don't have to know anything. You'll learn everything you need to know.'' So, I ended up on this committee, which was chaired by the then Management Department Chair, Wilma Strickland. It was all about how to structure the organization of intercollegiate athletics as a single as opposed to a gender-specific entity.
I must say, Wilma was—from a mentoring perspective—really wonderful, and just what she knew about organizations and how organizations worked and how you structure them and how you do committee work and so on was quite an education, I must say. A couple of years after that, I had another interesting break in that that was when President [Richard J.] Nelson had his accident with the bicyclist, which caused him to be on leave for an entire year while they figured out what to do about that, which meant that Provost McKnight became the acting President, which meant that the then Associate Provost became the acting Provost and because President Minard had taken his Administrative Assistant with him, the Provost didn't have an Administrative Assistant and so—
The number of people on campus with kind of staff-level university-wide experience at the time was minuscule, stuff that just doesn't happen. People tend to be in departments or colleges. I was in the College of Continuing Ed, which was a university-wide non-disciplinary college. He asked me if I would come and be the Acting Assistant to the Provost, so I went over and became the acting Administrative Assistant to the Provost. A year later, President Nelson resigned, Acting President Minard became the permanent president. They did a search for the new Provost and I was still there when John La Tourette turned up as the soon-to-be appointed permanent Provost and I said,'' Well, I've been doing this this and this and I have a job in Continuing Ed and I can go back to that job if you want me to or I can stay, I mean this will take care of itself and this will take care of itself and this is kind of a mess so you should maybe let me finish that.'' [laughs] He said,'' Why don't you stay? I don't have anybody.'' Meaning he wasn't bringing anybody with him, so I stayed. Then I worked with La Tourette for twenty-one years or something like that. And, when La Tourette got here, he hired Wilma Strickland as the Acting Associate Provost, so I worked two years with her and me having done the Title IX Committee thing with her I then worked two years with her in the Provost's Office.
She said to me at the time, ''This Provost is going to be very focused on program evaluation and program review and this is kind of the national thing now in higher education, so if you want a permanent job in administration you need to learn how to do this and if you want to do that, follow me.'' [laughs], so I did, you know what I mean? She was very generous about helping me do this and the other thing and getting me into all of the right stuff. I've stayed forever and I worked in the Provost's Office for the whole time. La Tourette was the Provost and when La Tourette became the President, I followed him into the presidency as the Assistant to the President. [laughs] Then I was there when President Peters arrived and by that time I'd taken on a whole bunch of other things and eventually, I became the—took on the development of the whole Outreach operation, so that's my career at Northern in a nutshell. I think that, in retrospect, very much dependent on a couple of lucky breaks and some very helpful people really. I stayed I mean it just kept rolling along—so there you are.
- Synopsis: Early Roles and Projects in the AdministrationKeywords: Title IX Committee; Presidential Committee on the Status of Women; Intercollegiate Althetics; College of Continuing Education; Wilma Strickland.Transcript: LECLERCQ: I did want to ask you about your work with the Title IX Committee you said? I heard from another person that you had formed a committee for looking into equal pay for women here?
KAPLAN: We did that. Oh goodness the university's done that about three times I think in the time I've been here. I remember we did it when La Tourette was President, we did a survey of salaries for relative salaries for professors and for faculty. In the end, found a rather limited number of clear discrepancies that needed to be fixed. Usually, people who are affected by these things imagine that surely there are more than that. The trouble is, once you start taking account of the years in which people were hired and whether or not it was followed by a year in which there were raises, and in academics, you have to take account of discipline—in which the range of salaries is enormous. The difference between what a faculty member makes Accountancy and what a faculty member makes in Art History regardless of gender is huge.
Well, by the time you add in all of these statistical niceties you don't find a whole lot of absolutely obvious cases of discrimination that you can prove. Which is always a great disappointment to some of the folks who think that surely this will show that this is terrible. One of the things that happens is that it's in the nature of things, or it has been, I think this is changing—disciplines that are heavily populated by women have tended to be lower paid. I wouldn't say that about History. History has not tended to be overly populated with women, but it hasn't been all that highly paid in most places. If you look at the really high paid disciplines, which tend to be Law and Business, now Engineering, these have been, and they still are to some degree mostly male. Then if you do averages and you throw in all of the people who are in disciplines that are generally less well paid than the average, it looks like it's discriminatory, but once you start feeding everything into it it's a much harder case to make. I've seen it done. I wasn't involved in actually doing it, I don't pretend to be a statistician but I was certainly on the receiving end of a lot of the material that went into the stats analysis in the La Tourette administration and as I recall, I think we changed two salaries.
LECLERCQ: Only two?
KAPLAN: I think so. I could be wrong about that. One of them I could name but [laughs] I won't. That's how it came out. Honestly, La Tourette who was way more of a statistician than certainly I was, an economist background, very good with numbers and very gender-conscious, I have absolutely no doubt would have made as many changes as he felt he could justify if he had been able to justify them. As I look back on it—I mean, at the time I thought, ''Well I should hope so.'' At the time I wasn't as impressed as I probably should have been. He was very good about working with women. He hired women. He consulted with them and he brought women in as his consultants. He was very comfortable with women. It was certainly very good for me I must say but at any rate, I don't think we can fault those analyses even though we didn't much like the result and I think there are still concerns about gender equity and salaries. I don't know how easy that's going to be to fix given the disciplinary inequities in salaries. It's a tough nut to crack.
- Synopsis: The Misfortunes of Past PresidentsKeywords: President Richard Nelson; Bicyclist Accident; President John La Tourette; Northern Star; University Grand Jury; President William Monat; Jerry Thompson; President Clyde Wingfield; Watergate; President Richard Nixon; Holmes Student Center.Transcript: LECLERCQ: If you don't mind, would you mind refreshing my memory a little? I’m a bit new to NIU and just life here in general? When about was President Nelson and La Tourette?
KAPLAN: Heavens, let's see. President Nelson was here in the late '70s. President La Tourette came in—
LECLERCQ: After the bicycle accident?
KAPLAN: Yes. In 1978.
LECLERCQ: I think I heard something about that but what exactly happened with that? The whole accident?
KAPLAN: President Nelson who, I hasten to add, was a very decent guy, not really an academic—he was hired. He had been an executive at Inland Steel and, I believe, had a legal background but, at the time, people thought that the university would benefit from a non-academic President which, now, is far more common than it was then. At any rate, he tended to go off to the country club after work and he'd have a drink or two and then go home. He had done that some night and was on his way—you know where the country club is? He was on his way from the country club back to the President's House. The one they're now about to sell. He hit a girl, a woman, on a bicycle with the car and knocked the woman off the bicycle and knocked the bicycle over and so on. As I've always heard it, he immediately stopped and got out. He ran over. "Are you all right? Are you all right?" About then, some passing car stopped, rolled down the window and said “I'll call the police” which, of course, is what you're supposed to if you have an accident. This somehow spooked the president. This is all after the fact. The girl had said she was all right, rattled but all right, and he got back in his car and drove off. The police arrived and the passing motorist who had thought he'd got the license plate or something and gave it to the police.
The police and the young woman went to the President's House, knocked on the door. The president came to the door and the police officer said to the young woman, "Is this the man who hit you?" And she said no. In other words—he may have changed his clothes, the light was different, who knows, but at any rate, she did not identify President Nelson as the person who hit the bicycle. Now this is, of course, an interesting ethical dilemma. If you were doing an ethics class, what's a person to do? Here's the President who's done something clearly wrong. You're not supposed to leave the scene, but no one is hurt, and he's not been identified. If he admits to having done this and having left the scene, this not going to go over well. This is going to be embarrassing to the university and everybody's going to have a fit about it and so on. So, he didn't say anything.
Time passes. I don't know when this happened, in the fall or something and we get to summer. The President and Mrs. Nelson were in Scandinavia on vacation. Because they were on vacation, this is the time when the university typically tunes up the President's car. The President's car was sent over to the motor pool for whatever going over you do with the President's car at the time. Meanwhile, some student on the Northern Star, who has nothing better to do is looking around for a story. He has apparently gone through all the police recordings for the past—Lord knows how long—and he comes across this, with its kind of implication that maybe somehow there was some thought that this was the president. This is a young journalist and he's on the case and he thinks this is interesting and he follows it up and then he finds out that the president's car is now being repainted and refurbished and what not and that seems suspicious. So, he begins to raise questions.
Nobody knew anything about it. Nobody I know knew anything about it and certainly nobody public knew anything about it, but he raises a bunch of questions and the Star at the time was far different from the Star today. This is post-Watergate and the Star is full of folks who are hell-bent on making a name for themselves and so the student keeps pushing at this issue to the point where President and Mrs. Nelson came back from wherever they were on vacation to try to deal with the situation. Then the National Press, meaning the Chicago papers, got into this and they got all excited about it and then began pursuing it. The then—I think it was a reporter on the Sun-Times—had a phone call with the President's government relations person which did not go well, let me say. The government relations person was quite rude with the reporter from the Sun-Times and that didn't help. They kept pushing on it to the point where, I guess, the university then the Trustees or the Board of Regents or whatever it was—it was the Board of Regents at the time, decided they would have to have an investigation. So, the president was put on leave and there was a grand jury convened, which involved local people and a couple of people from the university and so on and the whole thing was investigated.
In the end, after three months or something of grand jurying, the President pleaded “no contest” and resigned. It turned out, I believe, much later, that the real issue was that the President had let his driver's license expire. His primary panic at the moment was, "Oh my God. Here I am, the President of the university. I'm now driving around having just left the country club, my driver's license has expired, and I've hit a girl in a bicycle." He went home which, again, as I've said, is obviously not the thing to do. It's never the crime, it's the cover-up, right? But again, I do think, in some ways, the even more interesting aspect of the whole thing is what should he have done when the girl she didn't recognize him? Should he have said, "No, Miss. You're mistaken. I'm so sorry," and then brought down all of the difficulties that that might have resulted in or should he have decided—or is it surprising that he decided that he would move on? Let sleeping dogs lie? Nothing is lost here. Nobody is hurt, right? I think it's not surprising that he did what he did once he had made the first mistake, it's not surprising he made the second mistake. That was the end of the Nelson presidency. It was, however, an inspiration to several years’ worth of students on the Northern Star, I must say. The Star had, at the time, a very aggressive adviser, a fellow by the name of Thompson. I don't remember his first name but, anyway, who tended to be just basically anti-administration, anti-elites, and anti-intellectuals and generally not very friendly to anything other than student—Jerry Thompson is his name, and as I say, it was in the post-Watergate era of journalism and the students were very aggressive.
If you move on past the Nelson and Monat administrations and you get to the Wingfield administration, where the Star really went nuts over the Wingfield appointment and dogged President [Clyde] Wingfield almost from the moment he was appointed, and that resulted in—President Wingfield had had a not entirely satisfactory run as the President of Old Westbury, which is a small institution in the Sunni system where he had gone through a divorce. It had been a very public nasty divorce, which had resulted in all kinds of negative press and so on and so on. That was not apparent to most of the people on campus when he was running for the presidency and appointed President, but it all came out the minute the Star started checking on the background of the person who had been appointed President then there were all these—If you look at the Northern Star from that period, it's full of photos of Old Westbury newspapers and so on, which was Fox News-like in their hysteria.
President Wingfield arrived with—it was a less than auspicious beginning. He then spent an enormous amount of money remodeling the President's House, which again, the Monat's had lived in the President's House for—I don't know, let me think—ten years or something like that as President raising kids. The house was not in the best possible shape. It's not unreasonable for the university to have decided it needed to be spiffed up. President Wingfield went a little overboard on the spiffing. So, there was that issue. There was also the fact that one of the things President Wingfield did, one of the moves he made very early in his administration, was to talk about outsourcing the food services in the Holmes Student Center, which was at the Blackhawk room was all staffed by local people, local cooks, local waiters and waitresses, local dish washers, the whole thing. Of course, some of those people were in civil service positions and had been in them for quite some time and had salaries that they could never have gotten in town doing food service work. President Wingfield was looking for cost efficiencies and began investigating other franchises which could come in to take on food services. Now we do this all the time now. The student body wants a Starbucks, we get the Starbucks. We don't hire a bunch of people from town to make coffee, [laughs] we go with whatever the student body wants but at the time, this had never been done. Everything on campus was locally managed and staffed and so on.
There was a lot of concern within the operating staff side at the university about first the food services and then what? Then, they're going to outsource building services, and then they'll outsource grounds, and pretty soon nobody will have a job. There were a lot of people with a vested interest in President Wingfield's demise, I must say, and they began talking a great deal and spreading a lot of information both to the Star and the local paper about the cost of the remodeling of the President's House and so on. That got quite a lot of press. Then, I would have to say that I think the other institutions in the state, the other Presidents in the state, were watching all this thinking, "There, but for the grace of God." They were not implicated in this and they were watching it the way you watch a basketball game or something. On-campus, President Wingfield had made quite a number of other moves that were not popular with some parts of the institution, many folks on the faculty and so even on campus, people were watching this with, I should say, perhaps more interest than they otherwise would.
Well, eventually, again, the Chicago papers got into the mix. Then you had professional reporters and the first thing they started doing was instead of just outrageous headlines about the cost of moving a light switch, they decided to find out what other institutions in the state typically spent on the President's residence. Well, then the other Presidents in the state stopped smiling and became fairly alarmed. Pretty soon, those Presidents were talking to their boards and their boards were getting upset about what kind of reputational damage this was going to do to them. Eventually, those people were beginning to be concerned. In the meantime—this was I think, the last straw. President Wingfield, against the advice of everyone I knew in the building, decided to fire the advisor to the Northern Star. Well, then, in the first place, it's very hard to fire somebody in the civil service. In the second place, the effort to do that immediately, that's what got the attention of the professional press because then you have a “Freedom of the Press” issue, which is important. This is not just about how much is the university spending on the President's House, this is, "Wait a minute, we're muzzling the Press, even if it's the student press, we don't do that. This is not a good thing." That's when they got all involved in it. Then it just snowballed from there until the trustees of other institutions were telling the trustees of Northern to get this guy off the stage. President Wingfield was asked to resign and following a nine-month presidency so La Tourette, who had been the Acting President and the other person in that presidential search and had gone back to the Provost Office, went back to the President's office and became the permanent President in '85 or '86, I think and stayed there till 2000, having said he would not change anything in the President's house. I don't think he did. [laughs]
LECLERCQ: Not even a light switch?
KAPLAN: Not even a light switch. [laughs] That is what he said. The university's relationship with the Northern Star, the administration's relationship with the Northern Star through that period was fairly fraught, I must say. Jerry Thompson, the advisor who had from the administration's perspective been so problematic, did eventually retire. Then we had to search and hired a new person to be the advisor. Jim, somebody—it was a different sort. He had been more into journalist education and so on and things began to calm down and they are much milder today. We used to read the Northern Star with fear and trepidation every morning. It was an, "Oh my God, what now? What are they saying?" [laughs] This was a period in which—well, during some of that period, I think and into the change after Jerry Thompson retired, one of the Star reporters was Markos Moulitsas. Is that a name you know?
LECLERCQ: I think I've heard of him before.
KAPLAN: Do you read the Daily Kos?
LECLERCQ: No. Unfortunately, not.
KAPLAN: Well you should. The Daily Kos is a very successful, very left-wing—I don't know what to call the newspaper—but he's now one of our more famous alums now. Certainly, got his start in a kind of hotbed of somewhat radical reporting on the left as opposed to on the right but you should look up the Daily Kos sometime, that's an NIU alum start-up, so to speak. Let me think. Where are we here?
- Synopsis: Illinois Board of Higher Education Program AssessmentsKeywords: President LaTourette; Athur 'Art" Quern; Palwakee Plane Crash 1996, Wisconsin; Illinois Board of Higher Education; Outreach and Development Division.Transcript: LECLERCQ: We covered your background. What brought you here. We've covered what certain roles you've played. Would you say there's been a favorite part about your role or a favorite memory you have from this position? Your current one.
KAPLAN: Golly. That's hard. I think it would be fair to say I have liked almost my entire career at Northern, with the exception of the Wingfield administration which was fairly stressful for all of us. Particularly those of us who had been part of the La Tourette administration and were disappointed in that appointment but were then dumbfounded as we did not know how to behave. Years later, I was watching a TV program on the last days of the Nixon administration and I'm sitting there watching it and I thought, Jeez, I should have taken notes," because on a, obviously, much bigger scale but in many ways, the chaos in the Nixon administration, the last days of the Nixon administration was, to me, very representative of the last days of the Wingfield administration. In that what you have is a bunch of career administrators who, whether they are wild about the leadership or not, believe that their job is to do their job and you're trying to do the best you can under the circumstances, and you have a long history in which you have relationships outside the building and outside the university and with agency heads and people in the community and so on and so on, and you're trying to support the leadership and at the same time, you'd like to be able to explain what you're doing in case somebody asks or somebody you know, or somebody you've been working with for years, you need to feel comfortable but you can make a sensible statement and not have everybody wonder if you lost track of the ball. And that got to be harder and harder to do, so an enormous amount of time under those circumstances gets spent in either handwringing or general efforts to cover your tail in that things that we used to get done with a phone call, we now sent a memo. Things that we used to get done by sending a memo to the party who needed to do something, we now send a memo with four copies to my supervisor, your supervisor, everybody else's supervisor. Things that we used to get done by sending a memo that said, "With regard to the following, I am going to do this or that." you now said, "With regard to the following, I will be doing this or that unless I hear something to the contrary," or, "Please advise by Friday the fourteenth." Or something like that.
That kind of interaction just snowballed. Meetings where you would get together with a bunch of people on the committee or something to do something, the first fifteen minutes would be absorbed by handwringing. As in what are you going to do? Are you going to stay? "I have to stay. My spouse has a job in somewhere or the other. We can't leave now." Or, "My kid has got two more years in high school or we just bought a house." There was just all of this general angst going on around the table. It was a period in which the atmosphere was so totally different from anything before or after that I didn't recognize it—I certainly recognized that it was different from anything before and in retrospect, it was different from anything after but it was only when I was watching this TV thing on the Nixon administration that it occurred to me that all institutional dysfunction is the same. You only know yours, but the reality is that people react, I think, probably, in very similar ways when there's a breakdown in understanding of and ability to follow the leader. People don't know quite what to do. Particularly if it's not in their genes to be anything other than, if not helpful, at least to follow orders. Not that there are that many orders at the university life. There really aren't. There are a lot more requests than directives but I did have some colleagues who gave some thought, who were so horrified by what was generally going on and how dysfunctional it was that they really thought we should somehow or other do what we could to undermine that presidency, to make it end. The way most people deal with that sort of situation is they leave. If you can't support the people you're working with, the first thing you should do is get out, which, of course, we're watching, if you hadn't noticed, on the national level right now.
There was a very small scale version of the sort of chaos that ensues when there's a breakdown in leadership or when a bunch of things happen that make it really difficult for whomever is supposed to be the leader to lead. It can be their fault or not their fault. The issue is they can't lead. And then what? If in addition to that, they can't be helped, or they won't let you help, or you don't know how to help then there's this spiraling of everything out of control and I don't know what you're supposed to do about that. Mercifully, in my case, it ended quickly. We all just [sighs] got back on the case but, again, there are some parallels here, even though they're of an order of magnitude, several orders of magnitude less important but like the federal government, the university operates on three cycles. There's the budget cycle you're in. There's the reaction to the budget cycle you just finished and sent stuff down about. There's the planning for the budget cycle you're going to submit and so you've got all of this information being collected and moved around here and there and people are operating on it or on one of those parts of the larger cycle. If it all falls apart, it's not like just some single project falling apart, it's got ripple effects all over the place and so it takes a while to then get over it because you've got to pick up the pieces and reevaluate everything and reassure the outside players you're playing with who are very puzzled by all of this and don't quite get what has happened. Don't know how to react. Universities are, particularly the public universities are embedded in these big cycles that take forever to get started and stopped and moved on. There's not a quick fix for that kind of thing. If you're going to have that sort of crisis, you should hope it will be fast, and you'll get over it fast. We did in that case. It was one of the more interesting moments of my career at Northern. Other than that, I would have to say there was one other thing. Mostly I have really liked doing what I've done, and what I’ve done has been exceedingly varied.
Very few people get to do as many different things. If you’re an Admissions Officer, you are an Admissions Officer, and you do it in this institution and that institution and another institution, but I have moved all around a single institution and I've done a huge range of administrative things, which is not the norm. I would have to say this was sort of unusual and very fortunate. For the most part, I've really enjoyed it. It's meant that I spent some time managing, if you could call it that, all kinds of things. I knew absolutely nothing about it when I started. I had a stint of overseeing intercollegiate athletics. I had a period where the IT department reported to me. I've been in charge of, if that's the right word, of the legal counsel, or the internal auditors.
You just get to play with a lot of different people doing a lot of different things, and that, as careers go, I think that's pretty hard to beat. Aside from the Wingfield administration, the only other period that I would say was memorably awful would have been what we call the PQP operation—Programs, Quality and Priorities, or Priorities, Quality and Programs or something—which was an effort on the part of the BHE [Illinois Board of Higher Education] in the '80s, '90s to review all programs in Public Higher Education. This was an efficiency move designed to respond to public concern about the spiraling costs of higher education and the fact that surely there was too much duplication and so on and so on. The BHE took it upon itself to assess public university programs across the state, and to make recommendations about eliminating duplication and reducing costs and so on. We had to do a lot of report writing, and then we got these conclusions back from the BHE which questioned our need for the Law school, several of the PhD programs—those were the worst.
We had to counter that recommendation, which was rather stressful because from my perspective—where was I, I was in both the first in the Provost Office and then in the President's Office, so this happened over a period of time that covered the period in which I was in the Provost Office and then ended up in the President's Office with a lot of that. We would get these faxes from the BHE. Faxes are one of the things I will be happy to wipe out of my entire career because prior to faxes, people had to write letters.
It would take a while for your response to go back to them, but once they started faxing, they wanted everything instantly, so they would fax us the questions and ask for our responses by the end of the day or the end of the week or something. The faxes were green, and we would all just—The faxes from the BHE all came in the same font. No other organization anywhere in the state used that font. You would see this coming over the fax and you would know, "Oh my God, what are they on now?" You would get a bunch of questions on the value of the PhD in English or the PhD in History or the PhD in Economics or the Law school.
Do we have enough, and how many graduates were there and how many faculty were there and what was the faculty-student ratio and how much were you spending per student in Science. I would say that among the jobs that I have done that were truly dreadful, and there haven't been very many, having to call up some Chair and tell him that the state, the Board of Higher Education, believes that we do not need a PhD in History, and here are the questions and we need an answer by Tuesday, was right up there in the, "I don't want to be making this call." Of course, it's very hard to make that call and the person on the other end it's the “don't shoot the messenger” sort of thing.
“I'm so sorry to be telling you this but, no there is no extension, yes, we have to have an answer”. It was truly awful. People were very stressed out on campus, all over the state, on this whole issue, and it just went on and on and on. We just thought it would never end, but enough of central staff time God knows how much time the departments and the colleges, but the amount of staff in the Provost Office and the President's Office that went into writing arguments about why it's important that we keep whatever it was we were trying to defend, it was just a lot. You just thought I'm not in this in order to play defense. This is no fun at all, and it was no fun at all.
It was also, I would have to say, one of the most awkward moments in my life and the administration, because the executive director of the Board of Higher Education at the time was a man named Art [Arthur F.] Quern. He was viewed as the driving force behind this PQP initiative. People in higher education, at least at the campus level, really hated this person. Nobody knew him, but everybody hated him. This was just the devil out there. Some corporate-type was going to tell us how to run higher education in the state.
Somewhere along the line in—I don't know, I can't remember exactly when this was, but I was in the President—I was always in the President's Office, but I was in my office in the President's Office one day, and the President’s Secretary, Anne Groves, came in and shut the door, so you know “Good Lord now what?”. There had been a plane crash, which we all heard about on the news in the morning, that a plane had crashed in this airport up around Palwaukee [Wisconsin]. There had been a plane crash. Ambrose comes in and shuts the door and she says to me she'd been talking to her daughter who worked at the corporation that Art Quern was the CEO of, and she said, “the plane crash this morning, that was Art Quern”.
Just knowing, I just didn’t know what to say. She said that she'd been talking to her daughter who worked in Art Quern’s corporation, Aon. She said they're just devastated. Apparently, I didn't know this at the time, but I found out afterwards, he was a much-loved chief executive in his corporation. You couldn't have sold that notion on campus, but then here we are.
The President's not in. I said, "Where's the President?" Well, he's traveling. I said, "Can we get him?" We finally got a hold of the President. The President was so stunned; he had to drive off the road to take this information. I then went down the hall to talk to the Provost, to tell the Provost that this had happened, because this was just sort of monumental for heaven's sake.
I get down there, Provost is in his office, he's talking to the Assistant Provost. I said to his secretary, "I think I need to interrupt". [laughs] I go in there, the two of them are working on something or the other, I said, "Art Quern has been killed in a plane crash". The two of them were just speechless. This is not the normal reaction when somebody dies in the plane crash, these were not people who would not have the appropriate human response to that. But we had all been staggering around for two or three years trying to deal with this initiative that we all associated with his leadership of the BHE that we couldn't think of an appropriate reaction to this news. It just was sort of embarrassing after the fact, but it tells you how tensed up the people on campus who were dealing with the BHE on this issue were. We were all just beside ourselves, trying to save our various programs and keep everybody calm and deal with very angry faculty and chairs and so on.
Our antipathy to this practice, had become so focused on this person, who most of us had never met. The President had, because he seen him in BHE meetings and so on, but most of us wouldn't have known him, if he'd walked through the door. It was just kind of stunning news. It did sort of put an end to the things petered out after that. I have to say that those of us who were working on it had a very hard time, we so wanted it to end, we could just hardly stand it. We never imagined that would end like that. [laughs] At any rate, I guess those are the two most startling moments in my administrative history.
Other than that, I have very much liked what I've been doing, the stuff I've been doing for the past almost eighteen or nineteen years, the building of the Outreach Division has been a huge amount of fun.
- Synopsis: Personal Projects and Achievements of Dr. KaplanKeywords: Wilma Strickland; Presidential Commission on the Status of Women; Northern Illinois University Campus Childcare; Center for Southeast Asia Studies; Center for Burma Studies; George Shore; Outreach and Development Divison.Transcript: LECLERCQ: Can you describe what it is or what projects have you created or been involved with, that you feel have had a significant impact on campus life?
KAPLAN: Well, other than [laughs] the PQP stuff in which well, I've been in roles that by definition, "Do the work” that either succeeds or doesn't, in getting us certain kinds of programs and departments and colleges and so on". You can't really take credit for saving the PhD programs. If you didn't have a decent program in the first place, that wouldn't be worth saving, and that's not up to you. On the other hand, I could take a lot of pleasure in having worked on saving the PhD programs, because we did save the PhD programs. We also saved the College of Engine—No, the College of Law was the one that they were really going after, and we put a lot of effort into saving that.
Almost nothing is something you do all by yourself, there are always a lot of people who work on these things, but I had a lot to do with developing the College of Engineering proposal and the rationale for that and getting that proposal through. I'm pleased about that. As I said, "There are not very many things that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been here". Northern has built the same kinds of programs that lots of institutions have built, whether there is anyone that wouldn't have gone [laughs] if I had gone to work somewhere else. I doubt it, with maybe one exception; I had a lot to do with developing campus childcare, which sooner or later the university would have developed some kind of campus childcare.
Although when we did develop it, there were a fair number of people who were letters in the local papers saying that people who have children to stay home and raise them, meaning women who've had children who should stay home and raise them. I had a lot to do with the creation of the university resources for women; actually, that was me and Wilma Strickland. [laughs] That's one of the things we managed to get done when the two of us were together in the Provost Office. I'm happy about that. I had a fair amount to do with getting the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women off the ground.
Again, I was working for a President who cared about that sort of thing; it's not as if it was a huge push. [laughs] He wanted to do things that would make a difference in the life of women on campus in whatever capacity they were in. I had a role to play in the defense of those doctoral programs and in a couple of them; I probably did more than others. I was better able to defend the History doctorate than the Provost was, he's an Economist, he worked on the Economics doctorate [laughs] and then I worked on the history doctorate we managed to get them both saved.
I suppose if I were to pick one thing that really probably wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been here, it would be the Center for Burma Studies [ed. Note: has been renamed Center for Southeast Asia Studies (SEAS)], which I got involved in largely because the art historian who was the Burma specialist was a friend of mine. Well, in fact his wife too. I was a friend of the family, his wife was my daughter's piano teacher, she had kids my daughter's age and so on and so on. I had grown up and grown up here with these people. Richard had been involved in Burma studies, that was his specialty, he's been doing it his whole career.
Because of the connections he had within the Burma studies community, he knew that there were a number of Burma scholars around the country who had reached an age where they wanted to donate their materials and things to someplace where they would have a home. He thought it would just be wonderful if they came to Northern. But Richard, he was an art historian, and he was not an administrator and he didn't really have much of an idea about how you would go about establishing a Center on a university campus and how you would come up with a budget, how you would convince the administration that this would be a good thing to do and so on and so on.
I took up that particular flag. [laughs] We managed to pull this off and convince both all of these scholars from, or as he would have said, burmawallas [an indigenous term in Myanmar], that it would be just a great idea for them to donate all of their goodies to Northern, and that we would take great good care of them. There were all kinds of reasons why this would be a great place to be. In the end, there's this kind of a contest between the Northern University of Wisconsin, Madison, Cornell and Denison, which is pretty heavy competition. We did manage to get it, I mean; I think we managed to get it, at least in part because the then legal counsel, George Shore and I kind of collaborated on the necessary documents that convinced the Burma scholars that indeed we would do it the way that they wanted it, that we would not suck it into some existing university program, and that they could have it, they could have the center they wanted, and eventually we got it.
It's a little jewel in the crown, a small accomplishment, but it's what I'm amused by and proud of, and every time they have another event or anniversary or something, I have a great, good time going and cheering them on.
Then there's the whole division that I'm in charge of now, which in a way I've sort of come full circle. I started in Continuing Ed and Title IX and now I’m in Outreach, which is kind of the twenty-first century version of Continuing Ed. I really owe that to President Peters in that he happily let me pull together a bunch of units around campus that were sort of marginalized to him dangling, and not in organizational buckets where they fit super well, and bring them all together and turn them into a more coherent division, and that's what I've been doing for the last fifteen, sixteen—eighteen years. I think I will consider that to be my last hurrah.
Fortunately, this has all happened at a time and at the national level there's a lot more focused on the kinds of things that organizations like that do, and the need for particularly public universities to participate in the life of the footprint they're in, whether it's a regional state to do more than teach and do research, but to have an impact on the taxpayers who pay for public higher education. That's been fun.
- Synopsis: Definition of Current Position in Outreach and Development DivisionKeywords: Outreach and Development Division, Illinois, State Appropriations, Student Tuition.Transcript: LECLERCQ: In that case, obviously it's affected by student enrollment, which goes through cycles as well, ups and downs. How exactly does that affect everything, especially with Outreach? KAPLAN: It affects Outreach less than almost anything else, in that, we as a Division depend less on the state appropriation and student tuition than almost anybody. We have a budget of about, in a good year, twenty-five million, about something under five million of which is state appropriation, and very little of which has anything to do with enrollment. We live on generated revenue through contracts and grants and sales and service and that kind of thing. In some ways, we are more in charge of our own future than, say, a department where, if you have a huge cut in the state budget, it has an impact because most of the faculty and staff in the department are on state money. If enrollment goes down, then you've got people who don't have as much to do as you would want them to have to do, and that's a problem. It doesn't affect a division like Outreach in anything like the same way.
- Synopsis: Span of Outreach DivisionKeywords: Outreach and Development Division; Regional Centers; Center for Governmental Studies; STEM; Noncredit Professional Development; NIU Public Radio.Transcript: LECLERCQ: What does Outreach exactly cover in that case?
KAPLAN: It covers the three Regional Centers plus the TAF campus. Then it covers the Center for Governmental Studies, which is a public policy applied research operation. It covers the P20 Network, which is an effort to collaborate with schools and community colleges and agencies along the P20 spectrum all across the state and with a lot of state agencies that work with schools and education as well. That they have all of the STEM stuff. They do things like STEM Fest, STEM Read, STEM cafes, all of that kind of thing. It's the conferencing and event management that goes on in the Centers. It's the Noncredit Professional Development that goes on particularly across the region. It's the university's public radio station.
Pause in recording
- Synopsis: Where to go from hereKeywords: Northern Illinois University 125th Anniversary; 125 Magic Moments Committee; Earl W Hayter; President William Monat; Ernest Boyer; University Regional Impact; DeKalb, Illinois.Transcript: LECLERCQ: Excellent. We're rolling.
KAPLAN: Where were we?
LECLERCQ: Well, I think we've pretty much covered everything. I would like to ask you though, what do you think deserves more intention during the 125th anniversary year?
KAPLAN: More attention?
LECLERCQ: Or just attention in general?
KAPLAN: Well, I've been out on the 125 Magic Moments Committee, so we've had a lot of discussion about how to pick 125 events or items or happenings or something that are fairly indicative of what's gone on over 125 years and aren't lopsided. It's easy to pick all of the presidents or all of the administrative changes and those are all well documented. It's fairly easy to pick all of the athletic stuff, but the academic stuff is much harder because some kinds academic of things are fairly visible, and others are so within the discipline that other people don't know anything about them and won't understand them anyway.
It's been an interesting discussion, but I think the end result is fairly reflective of the development of the institution over time. There have been different stages in the development of the institution. If you just go from president to president to president, there are presidencies in which a lot happened that really made a difference, and there are presidencies where not much happened, or where there's not much difference between what happened in that presidency and what happened in the one before it. That's been a struggle for the committee to try to pick things that are really significant and really memorable and really say something about the kind of institution the university has been and is becoming and so on.
In some ways, we have two histories. They're not exactly histories, but two books written on the history of the university. There's the Hayter book [Education in Transition: The History of Northern Illinois University by Earl W. Hayter], which is university in transition, or an institution in transition, I think it is. The Monat book on the achieving institution [The Achieving Institution: A Presidential Perspective on Northern Illinois University by William Monat]. The Hayter book is from the very beginning up to, I don't know, ‘70 or ‘65 or something like that, where not only was the institution was growing, but it was still heavily focused on the teacher training mission it had in the first place. Then you get into the Monat book, which is about the institutions from the Hayter book up to, oh my goodness, up through or up into the La Tourette administration. Which was much more of a building changing focus kind of era. It seems more impactful in some way.
I don't know what the third book is going to be. In many ways, the Monat book, I think president Monat would have wanted the Monat book to describe a period of growth and development that put the institution on the track that he and the cohort of faculty who arrived about the same time he did wanted it to be.
The faculty who were higher than the university in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s had far more influence on the development and identity of the university than most people know. Many of those faculty, they came here because it was their first job, and usually, faculty taking a first job, they tend to go down a level in status and rank of institution. A great many of those people came from land grant institutions or private institutions, East [Eastern Illinois University] and so on.
They came here, and they honestly believed that this was going to be their first job and they would get organized, get tenure, and then they would move to another institution more like the institution they came from. A lot went wrong in the academic market in the ‘70s, and it just went away, and they never moved, because the opportunities that they had anticipated being there were not there. This is particularly true in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.
You had a whole cohort of people whose sense of what a university should be, was driven more by the institutions they graduated from than by the environment they were in. In many ways, they set out to create the university they want it to be, and many of those people were very much involved in the continued pursuit of doctoral programs in the development of international programs and the increasing requirements for tenure.
When I first got here, I ran into people who told me, who've been here years before I got here, who said that when they got tenure, they got a letter from the Chair saying they got tenure, they hadn't applied. It was their turn, it was changing radically, and has been changing ever since. At the same time, there's some tension in between the aspirations of that cohort of faculty and the kinds of faculty, of course, were very influential in the hiring of the next generation of faculty because the faculty who are in a department and particularly those who are already tenured or already full professors have a lot to say about who gets hired as an assistant professor. There's a kind of replication of the kind of faculty those people were and are.
In some ways, the development of the kind of institution they wanted to be was a little bit at odds with both the kind of institution the university was established to be and the kind of institution the state's willing to pay for. You know, I do sometimes point out to my colleagues that the state has one or two, if you count both campuses, well, not just national but international public university for heaven's sake, they can hardly afford that, let alone anymore. On top of that, state has two very well regarded private universities of an international scope. It's a hard sell to convince legislators or at the general public or the press, that the university needs a research, another nationally ranked research institution. On the other hand, to go for anything else is a hard sell with the faculty more than anything—not all the faculty just many faculty.
Over the period of time, particularly, that it's covered in the Monat book, there has been some tension within the university between the faculty whose aspirations have been more in line with the kind of thing, but not what the book is describing, the development of research-based and development of more PhD programs, the add on of Engineering and Law and so on, and the faculty who were associated with the College of Education, which was a large, strong, well-regarded College of Education both in the state and probably farther afield, and then the professional programs that were added on over time, and have a different approach to academic life.
At some point in the ‘80s, there was a book by Ernest Boyer [Scholarship Reconsidered, 1990] on reconsidering scholarship, in which he had a kind of foursquare grid, which he, I can't remember how the axis went, but you had the research institutions in one box by researching them, discovery and curiosity research, what do we call the pedagogical research or the research related to teaching and learning in another box. Applied research, which I believe would now be called engagement in the moment of the day, and then a fourth box, which was some sort of collaborative interdisciplinary kind of thing.
We had Ernest Boyer on campus in the early ‘80s, to talk to faculty about this, and much effort in the Provost Office went into getting here advertising his speech and so on. Almost no one came, the room was full of people from the Provost Office and their five best friends or something, faculty were absolutely not interested in hearing about this.
I also remember being part of a strategic planning episode. I've been in a lot of strategic planning episodes, but the one that we were in the ‘80s in the La Tourette as Provost administration, and we ended, we went through, all the things you do strategic planning, and we ended up with a university Statement that was something like, “Regional Impact, National Reputation”. The effort was to, what do I want to say? Shine a positive light on applied research and the kinds of things that you do within your footprint to make a difference in whatever territory you're in, and yet say you can do that in a way that gets you a national reputation.
Well, that did not go over well at all with some folks, particularly from a Liberal Arts side who—well, the reality is disciplines are not regional, and it's a very hard sell in some disciplines to get people to see the work of the disciplines done regionally, and still have it be over quality sufficient to be nationally significant. Yet, if you look at the options for an institution like Northern, it just in terms of the overall, “what kind of a university is this? What can we claim to do that is better than most places?” It's pretty hard not to come down on some kind of interaction with the region we’re in. It's not a unique region, but it's close. It's not that there are no regions like this, but there are lots of regional institutions that would kill to be in Northern Illinois. It's a global region. It's a region—the region’s got everything in it. You've got an agricultural area on the west side, a suburban area on the east side, you've got major metropolitan area, you've got every ethnic group imaginable between here and Chicago. There's not a lot you couldn't study in this region and make a fairly major statement about something or the other.
I do think that at some point, the university's going to have to leverage that, because, as I said, there's a limit to what the state's going to be prepared to pay for, and that it's hard to argue against it. I mean, really, it's hard to make an argument for ever more state money for yet another primary major research institution, you have to have some way to talk about what you're doing that both satisfies the kind of faculty you want to hire and keep, [chuckles] and also makes enough sense to the legislature and the public that they're not going to put you through another PQP operation or something, that's just exactly where we don't want to be again.
I do think we're making progress in that regard. I think the current President is very mindful of the national scene and the kinds of challenges institutions like this are up against. I think she is, more so than anybody I've seen for a while, she is entirely comfortable recruiting the students who want us as opposed to the students we want. [laughs]
She is very into the belief that the students we have in the region who want to come here are the students we should be educating, period, that's been a hard sell with the town. The university’s—if you could do a whole history on the university's relationship with the town, I think we're making progress on getting everybody to understand where we are, what we're doing, why we're doing it and why somebody should be doing it and try not to worry about it.
- Synopsis: ConclusionKeywords: ConclusionTranscript: LECLERCQ: Is there anything else you'd like to add to anything?
KAPLAN: Oh, goodness. I don't know. As you may have noticed, I can go on [laughs] and get down with just about anything. Is there anything else you'd like to ask?
LECLERCQ: No, I think that's it. Well then, thank you for joining us again. And we appreciate your participation.
KAPLAN: No problem, my pleasure.
End of Interview
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