Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

New NIU center director says
Chicago suburbs are unique in the nation


DeKALB -- When Robert Gleeson talks about loving his new workspace, he doesn’t mean his new office. That office is nice enough, but what the new director of the Center for Governmental Studies is really excited about is working in the western suburbs of Chicago.


“NIU finds itself in the fortunate position of being the premier public institution in one of the great American developing spaces. Places like this are where 21st Century America is being defined,” says Gleeson, who joined the center on July 1.


He comes to NIU after five years at Duquesne University, in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he worked in the Graduate Center for Social and Public Policy and taught graduate level courses in social science research methods, market dynamics, strategic planning for nonprofit organizations and honors sections of core courses in social, political and economic systems. Prior to Duquesne he taught at Carnegie Mellon.


Gleeson, an historian by training, has an undergraduate degree in applied history and a doctoral degree in history and policy from Carnegie Mellon. He earned his master’s in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.


Much of his work to date has been in the realm of economic development. From 1988 until 1993, he founded and directed Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Economic Development. At other times during his career he provided research support to a regional consortium of CEOs and university leaders engaged in economic development policy reform in Pittsburgh and served as the director of economic development for the Pittsburgh High Technology Council.


The state of the economy in his hometown is quite different than what is going on in the Chicagoland region, he says.

“Pittsburgh has been experiencing long-term fundamental economic restructuring that, to date, has resulted in fewer jobs and a declining population.  By contrast, the western suburbs of Chicago are a cauldron of capitalism. It is one of just a few areas in the country – the world, actually – where there is a lot of population growth and a lot of new wealth being created. These areas are so unique that we don’t even have a name for them. They aren’t 19th century cities, they aren’t 20th century suburbs, and they aren’t ‘edge cities’ or rural areas. History tells us that these areas are unique, something different. It’s exciting to have that at your fingertips.”


The newness of this phenomenon and the relative lack of study being done on areas like the western suburbs provide the center with a fantastic opportunity to build upon an already solid national reputation, Gleeson believes.


“These are entirely new spaces that nobody is studying. Right now, it’s nobody’s research area and we can develop new partnerships both on and off campus that will leverage our strengths and add value to the region,” says Gleeson who has spent his first weeks on the job getting to know what he believes is an outstanding staff of researchers.


“This is an extremely talented staff. They have built and achieved great things here. The center has a tremendous reputation – both in academe and throughout this region. That only comes from decades of commitment and consistently great work,” says Gleeson, who hopes to see the center continue to excel in its traditional areas of policy research while looking for ways in which the various projects intersect to provide insights into how the region is developing.


“The way that we can contribute to the region is to be at the cutting edge of the changes that are taking place, helping to define and understand the challenges that arise and proposing ways to deal with them,” Gleeson says. “Our job is to bring high quality intellectual thought directly to bear on governance. Poor governance leads to things like crime, urban sprawl, exclusionary housing and a host of other problems; hopefully we can help this area avoid or curtail such problems.”


That sense of vision and his dedication to assisting communities made Gleeson a terrific fit for the director’s job at CGS, says Anne Kaplan, NIU vice president for Administration and Outreach.


“Given his energy and vision, I anticipate dynamic new projects with local, regional, state and national government agencies, as well as continuity in the programs and services that give the NIU Center for Governmental Studies its prestigious reputation,” Kaplan said.


The man he replaces, CGS Interim Director John Lewis, has equally high hopes for Gleeson.


“Bob comes to us with a really good background in the areas where CGS has traditionally been strong, like economic development, workforce development and community development,” says Lewis. “Most exciting, however, is the broad perspective he brings regarding the role that centers can play, particularly in areas like the western suburbs.”


Gleeson and his wife Denise, have two children and plan to live outside of St. Charles in Kane County.