Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Shirley Richmond
Shirley Richmond

Mary Pritchard
Mary Pritchard


Departments, faculty realign
in Health and Human Sciences

August 13, 2007

by Mark McGowan

A realignment of professors in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences is expected to cultivate shared strengths, spur collaborative research, enhance teaching and possibly bolster the faculty ranks.

The realignment and its subsequent cost savings are the results of a year-long self-study that has produced new names for some of the college’s schools and new academic “homes” for many professors, Dean Shirley Richmond said.

All programs will remain in the same building locations. Meanwhile, professors keep their physical office spaces as they gain new partners in curriculum and research.

Students should find the realignment “transparent” as they enjoy a cutting-edge education that embraces and promotes the health care industry’s current trend of multidisciplinary team concepts.

“This realignment allows the college to be positioned well for many opportunities,” Richmond said, “and to move forward into the 21st century.”

NIU’s School of Nursing and Health Studies will encompass nursing, public health and health education. Brigid Lusk will chair. The School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders will contain clinical laboratory sciences, physical therapy, audiology, communicative disorders and speech pathology and rehabilitation. Sue Ouellette will chair.

Unaffected are the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, still chaired by Laura Smart, and the Department of Military Science, still chaired by Craig Engel.

Advising services will expand while becoming streamlined and more student-accessible. Freshmen and sophomores, and pre-majors and minors, will find their advisers in the dean’s office. The move frees time for professors to work more closely with upper-level students and to concentrate on their teaching and research.

NIU’s Board of Trustees was supportive, voting in June to approve the reassignment of the tenure and tenure-track faculty to the newly formed schools.

Investigation of possible changes in college configuration began following the retirement of a department chair and with an eye toward the business of health care, Richmond said.

“A little over a year ago, the college conducted what we call a self-study to determine our strengths, areas where we could improve and ways we could foster synergy among our units,” Richmond said.

“I charged the committees of faculty and staff from across the entire college – representatives from every group – to look at possible ways for synergy and also for efficiencies in fiscal opportunities,” she added. “Finances were not the driving force, but I thought that if we could save anything from our resources, we would put that back into faculty positions. Our college has grown tremendously.”

Enrollment in the college has risen 41 percent over the last five years, Richmond said.

Partnerships with hospitals across northern Illinois, along with state grants, have brought dozens of new students to the nursing program. A relatively new emphasis in hospitality, part of the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, is “just bursting at the seams.”

Many programs in the college serve professions in which there is a critical workforce shortage, and employment opportunities in these professions are plentiful.

“This growth is a good problem to have,” Richmond said, “but we just needed to see how we could reallocate resources to help ourselves.”

The process stretches back to the days of former Provost Ivan Legg and later was welcomed by current Provost Ray Alden, who’s heading up the university-wide strategic planning.

It’s proven a good fit with those efforts, Richmond said; Lusk, chair of the School of Nursing, chaired one of the Strategic Planning Task Force work groups. Mary Pritchard, the college’s associate dean, also was involved in one of the other work groups.

NIU’s 45-member Strategic Planning Task Force concentrated its efforts on issues related to strengthening the teaching and learning environment, identifying and fortifying clusters of research excellence, recognizing and enhancing the university’s impact on Chicagoland and building campus community.

Some major themes include engaging learners, thinking broadly and deeply, embracing and expanding diversity, conversing about ideas, collaboration, multidisciplinary scholarship, involvement of students in faculty research, matching regional needs with NIU assets and connection with alumni.

“We wanted to have somewhat of a pulse that our efforts were consistent with what appeared to be the overall strategic plan,” Richmond said.

Once the college’s committees began to meet, Richmond and Pritchard stepped away to let the faculty and staff drive the process.

Information from the delegates was brought forward in reports to faculty at large and senior administrative teams in search of comments. Subsequent reports and materials then were returned to the delegates for review and incorporation as appropriate in the final reports.

The final draft eventually laid out the realignment and an implementation timeline.

“Of course, there was some anxiety at first: ‘What will we look like?’ ‘Will programs be closed?’ ‘Will people lose control?’ A good sign for me was when the department personnel committees began to talk about how to get along and became excited about what we’re doing,” Richmond said.

Meetings were held monthly throughout the fall and spring to keep faculty well-informed of the activities and progress of the various workgroups.

Fortuitously, the realignment comes at a time when some of the college’s clinics are preparing to move off campus and share a roof at the Monsanto Building.

For example, the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic and the Physical Therapy Clinic will reside in the same school and in the same clinic facility. “This will be an excellent model of clinical teaching and faculty interaction,” Richmond said.

Putting those programs in the same unit also provides for interesting collaboration: the Department of Communicative Disorders recently launched a doctoral program in audiology; faculty in physical therapy are moving forward with a doctorate in physical therapy.