Wilma D. Stricklin
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Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
August 16, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. — As a communication professor, Lois Self conducted her fair share of interviews, but few were as difficult as the one with Wilma Stricklin in 1995.
The Northern Illinois University Presidential Commission on the Status of Women had just renamed its Award for Enhancing the Climate on Campus for Women in honor of Stricklin, a retired administrator and professor of management. Her accomplishments were so great and contributions so many that the vote was unanimous.
The only person who seemed to question the wisdom of creating the Wilma D. Stricklin Award was Stricklin, which is what made Self’s job so awkward.
“It was very difficult,” said Self. “Wilma couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.”
Such modesty was typical, friends and colleagues said this week as they recalled Stricklin, who died Tuesday, Aug. 7, at her home in Whiteville, N.C. She was 81.
Those who knew her, however, were happy to tell stories on her behalf.
They reminisced about how she was instrumental in getting the university into compliance with Title IX; they recalled how she was the first woman to serve as an associate provost and provost at the university; and they spoke admiringly about how she helped establish what today is the Women’s Resource Center. They also told stories of how Stricklin repeatedly reached out to mentor and encourage other talented women in academe.
Much of that work was done quietly, behind the scenes.
“Wilma was certainly a trailblazer, but I don’t think you could call her a crusader,” said NIU Vice President for Administration and University Outreach Anne Kaplan, who counts herself as one of those lucky enough to have been a protégé of Stricklin, working as her assistant in the provost’s office for three years. “To be a crusader you have to be comfortable in the spotlight, and Wilma most definitely was not.”
While that may have been the case, Stricklin’s career choices made her stand out from the crowd throughout her professional life.
She earned her degree in accountancy from San Jose State College in 1955 and attained her CPA in 1958, during a time when few women considered such a career path. Even more unheard of was a woman pursuing a career as a professor of management, but that didn’t dissuade her from earning her master’s in business education from San Jose State in 1960 and her Ph.D in management from the University of Southern California in 1966.
Ten years later, when she arrived at NIU, joining the College of Business as a member of the faculty and chair of the Department of Management, business schools were still largely the domain of men.
“There were only a handful of women professors in the field of management nationwide,” said her friend and colleague Albert King, who recalled that not all of his peers in the department welcomed the idea of having a woman on the faculty, let alone leading the department. She quietly, but courageously, quelled early attempts at insurrection, and then earned the respect of all in the college with her strong leadership.
“Her decisiveness helped to dispense confidence and strong measures of support, among the dozens of faculty, hundreds of graduate assistants and thousands of students who came through Wirtz Hall,” said King.
That toughness and ability to lead were among the reasons that NIU President Bill Monat tapped Stricklin in 1978 to chair one of two committees tasked with steering the university toward compliance with Title IX requirements (which mandated equality for men’s and women’s athletics programs). The committee was formed in May and was to come forward with recommendations by the end of July. Others whispered that the sheer number of issues and personalities that had to be negotiated made such a schedule a pipedream. Stricklin, however, calmly sized up the situation, made assignments, set goals and prodded the group forward. The committee’s recommendations (which were ultimately implemented) were delivered July 12.
“Wilma was a totally analytical administrator,” said Kaplan. “She laid out the premise, laid out the desired results, cajoled the committee into figuring out how to get from the premise to the goal, and then looked around to see if anyone dared disagree.”
Later that year Stricklin was appointed associate provost for academic affairs, becoming the first woman in university history, and one of the first in the nation, to hold such a lofty post.
“At that time I would go to meetings of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and from 300 schools there might be one or two women representatives,” recalled former NIU President John LaTourette, who joined NIU as provost in 1979.
Far more impressive to LaTourette than the uniqueness of Stricklin’s gender, however, was the skill she exhibited in her job.
“She was the most sophisticated analyst I ever met, in terms of analyzing academic programs and understanding all of the financial aspects,” said LaTourette.
Those skills were immediately pressed into use as her appointment coincided with a push by the state’s Board of Regents to implement more stringent program review, a process that she spearheaded at NIU.
Stricklin briefly rose to the position of acting provost during the summer of 1979, when she helped guide the incorporation of the recently acquired law school into the university. Shortly thereafter she returned to the faculty of the College of Business, where she taught until 1986 when she became associate dean of the college, a position she held until her retirement in 1989. During the 1988-89 academic year, she also served as the acting chair of the department of management.
Throughout her time on campus, Stricklin built a reputation as a friend to women’s causes.
For instance, in the late 1970s, she was one of the first to recognize that women, many of them non-traditional students, were returning to campus in large numbers to earn degrees or enhance their academic credentials. She chaired a task force that investigated the needs unique to that population and ultimately brought about the creation of the Office of University Resources for Women (which today is NIU’s Women’s Resource Center).
Less formally, she always made time for those who sought her out for professional advice. Management Professor Lynn Neeley was one of those who benefited both from Stricklin’s encouragement and friendship.
“I came here as a brand new professor, and she helped me overcome some real challenges,” said Neeley, who recalled Stricklin as a generous soul who always stood ready to help those in need, even occasionally putting a grad student up for the night.
Like all she did, Stricklin considered such generosity simply the right thing to do, ducking credit and sharing praise. However, those she touched will never forget her.
“I believe she helped more people than she knew and deserved more thanks than she got,” said Kaplan. “She will be fondly remembered by far more people than she would ever have imagined.”
Stricklin is survived by many nieces, nephews and friends. No formal memorial fund was designated by Stricklin’s family; however, past winners of the Stricklin Award have suggested that gifts to the Mothers Memorial Scholarship Fund would be a fitting tribute. Donations can be made online.
There is also a scholarship fund in Stricklin’s name (established by alumni) at Northern Arizona University, where she taught from 1967 until 1976 and received the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1975. She also taught at the University of Southern California (1966-67) and San Jose State University (1958-1965).
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