by Mark McGowan
New NCAA President Mark A. Emmert’s distinguished career in higher education began in the NIU Department of Political Science.
It also involves fly-fishing in Alaska with NIU President John Peters, an old friend.
“I’ve known Mark a long time, since we were provosts together in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and we have kept up our professional relationship since then,” Peters said. “After he was selected, I joked with him about whether he would consider making fly-fishing a varsity sport.”
Named to the NCAA’s top job last Tuesday, Emmert begins his five-year contract Nov. 1. He succeeds the late Myles Brand, the first former university president to hold that job.
Emmert’s road to national acclaim truly began at NIU, where he worked as assistant professor of political science from 1983 to 1985.
The position in DeKalb was his first after earning his doctorate in public administration from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. After seven years of teaching at the University of Colorado, he joined the administration ranks at Montana State University, where he was provost, and later at the University of Connecticut, where he became chancellor.
It was during those Connecticut years that Emmert and Peters met and became friends, sharing not only the same career trajectory but the same academic discipline. When Peters came to DeKalb in 2000, Emmert called to add another layer of connection with a reminder of where he had started.
Emmert had left Connecticut by then; he was named chancellor of Louisiana State University in 1999. He became Washington’s 30th president in June 2004.
“He was lured away by his alma mater,” Peters said of Emmert, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Washington in 1975, “during a time of very difficult circumstances in terms of budget. The State of Washington’s budget problems hit earlier than most, and Mark has raised billions of dollars.”
According to the Associated Press, the University of Washington completed its most successful fundraising campaign ever during Emmert’s tenure, raising more than $2.68 billion.
He also is a passionate fan of athletics, telling the AP last month that “Washington’s performance in the NCAA basketball tournament was one of the highlights of his year.” He also takes pride that most of the university’s athletes outperform the rest of the student body academically.
“Mark is well-known and respected in the academic and athletic communities. He is very student-oriented, and he will continue the NCAA in the spirit of Myles Brand by focusing on academic reform and student-athlete welfare” Peters said.
“As a member of the NCAA Executive Committee that interviewed Mark, I was most impressed with his single-minded focus on the welfare of student athletes, that being their academic success, their student wellness issues and trying to ensure that their experience is a collegiate experience and not a commercial or professional experience,” Peters added. “He is an individual of great experience and vision, and he’s a transformational leader. He’s going to be a great president of the NCAA.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.