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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 11, 2007
DeKalb — Faculty and staff in the Northern Illinois University College of Education knew a national search for a new dean was unnecessary: The perfect candidate was already on campus.
They also knew university administrators needed to move quickly. Lemuel Watson had announced he was leaving NIU to accept an endowed professorship at another university and wanted a “mandate” to stay.
The unprecedented chorus of support for Watson reached the right ears and, on Thursday, he rose from chair of the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education to the college’s top job.
Pending approval of the NIU Board of Trustees, Watson will replace Christine Sorensen, who is leaving NIU at the end of July for a similar position at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“This is the serendipity that happens occasionally,” Provost Raymond Alden said.
“It’s amazing. You think your life is going in one direction and, all of a sudden, it goes another,” said Watson, who joined NIU in 2003 and last year served as acting associate dean.
“NIU is a wonderful place with wonderful people. I’ve grown to love it very much and had a very difficult time with even thinking about leaving the place, even though I had an exciting position offered me,” Watson added. “I’m humbled and honored by this process of governance and overwhelmed that I had so much support.”
A grass-roots movement
Alden became aware of the groundswell in Watson’s favor two weeks ago.
The provost met with several constituencies in the college, including other chairs, professors, staff and students, to inquire about two possibilities: a national search or Watson. The latter gained strong enthusiasm, Alden said.
An informal, one-one-one interview between the provost and Watson spanned three hours over two days.
“Dr. Watson is a highly regarded scholar. He wouldn’t have been considered for an endowed professorship otherwise,” Alden said. “During the interview, he was thoughtful and insightful, and it was clear he knows the college. He knows the challenges and opportunities. He has the big picture of higher education in this country, and he has the perspectives I would expect from any candidate who would be offered a dean’s position at NIU.”
Watson’s career in higher education began in the office of the chancellor at Indiana University, where he conducted faculty development, assessment and orientation.
He took his first faculty position at Illinois State University after earning his doctorate, and later expanded his resume as a community college dean and by building graduate programs in educational leadership and higher education at Clemson University.
His research interests include examining institutions of higher education and how their structures, practices and policies affect learning, development and educational outcomes of students, especially historically under-represented students.
Dean Sorensen, whom Watson calls “a good friend and a good colleague,” has confidence in her successor. The two have met daily over the last two weeks, she said.
“I told Lemuel years ago that he was a natural leader. He has wonderful people skills and that attention to detail that I think makes good leaders. I actually encouraged him to be a dean some day,” Sorensen said.
“Lemuel and I certainly have been moving along the same track in terms of our visions. I’m very comfortable that he’ll be able to continue the college in the direction we’ve been going,” she added. “My advice to him is the advice I’ve always followed myself: ‘Life will take you where it will. You will be where you are supposed to be. You only have to be open to the possibilities.’ ”
A full plate
Watson’s plate will fill after July 1, when he and Sorensen will formally begin the transition process.
A strategic planning initiative launched this year at the university level is making its way to the colleges and other departments. Three new chairs are in place for the fall.
And, in 2009, a team from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) will visit campus to conduct the reaccredidation of teacher education programs.
Watson will bring stability, Sorensen said.
“Chris has set the college on a good course, and I plan to continue on course. I certainly am into international initiatives, rural initiatives and urban initiatives. We’re continuing to expand our partnerships with schools, with international units and in bilingual and literacy education,” Watson said.
“We have six different departments with experts everywhere,” he added. “If I could be instrumental in helping faculty see themselves and how similar they all are, crossing boundaries and working together, that would be wonderful.”
The new dean is grateful for the college’s support.
“It means a lot. I’ll do the best I can to serve and to be the best dean I possibly can,” he said. “I never see myself as trying to be a dean or anything other than Lemuel. I believe in treating people like I want to be treated. Everyone has a voice, everyone should be heard and everyone should be given the opportunity to develop into whatever they want to be.”
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