Past Presidents

John Williston Cook

John Williston Cook’s 20 years of service at Northern brought about several changes and improvements on campus. An eminent educator and administrator, Cook organized the structure of the school, hired the faculty, established a two year curriculum, and secured the training method for teachers based on the educational philosophy of Charles A. McMurry.

J. Stanley Brown

During his administration, President Brown promoted the use of public relations to boost school spirit and expand programs. He formed the President's Council consisting of five senior professors and the Committee on Athletics to actively involve faculty members in the school's operations.

Joseph Clifton Brown

As president, J.C. Brown raised academic standards to bring Northern in line with modern accreditation requirements, tightened entrance requirements and introduced the use of standardized testing for class entrances. He was known as a talented speaker who spoke throughout the northern counties of Illinois in an effort to build up declining enrollment and had a keen understanding of the use of public relations techniques in the recruitment of students.

Karl Langdon Adams

President Adams played an important role in the educational transformation of the state teacher's college. In 1941, he established a Faculty Administrative Council to discuss college matters, make recommendations and suggest changes on campus. Through his efforts, Adams promoted higher standards for teacher education. President Adams died in office on September 5, 1948.

Leslie A. Holmes

During Leslie Holmes' term as president, Northern experienced phenomenal physical growth and developed several new administrative and academic programs. Student enrollment soared as land acquisitions and building construction increased. The introduction of advanced degrees at the masters and doctoral levels promoted Northern to university status in 1957. NIU also acquired the Lorado Taft Campus in 1951, a 60 acre tract of land in Oregon, Illinois, to increase the size and scope of the Outdoor Education Department.

Rhoten A. Smith

President Smith's prior experience in both public and private universities enabled him to understand the basic rights, privileges and responsibilities of the students and faculty members. Faced with student disruptions and a state-wide budget freeze on building construction, Smith made several major contributions during his brief tenure as president. He established a rapport with students, initiated campus programs to promote racial justice on campus, and improved university relations with the DeKalb community and surrounding areas.

Richard J. Nelson

Richard Nelson's major task was to eliminate problems created by enrollment decline and budgetary restrictions. He met these problems through reorganizing administrative units and instructional positions, encouraging off-campus programs to link Northern more vitally to its constituents, and initiating attempts to win support for NIU in the state legislature.

William R. Monat

During President Monat's tenure, doctoral programs in education, geology, biological sciences and mathematical sciences were added at NIU, and the College of Law opened in 1979. Monat left NIU in 1984 to become the first chancellor of the Regency Universities System of Illinois, a post he held until his resignation in August 1986.

Clyde Wingfield

Clyde J. Wingfield served as NIU’s president for a turbulent 10 months from July of 1985 to May of 1986. NIU’s ninth president held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from East Texas State University and a Ph.D. in political science from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. He also served in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer during the Korean War.

President Emeritus John E. La Tourette

John. E. La Tourette came to NIU in 1979 as provost and served as president from 1986 to 2000. Under his leadership, the university doubled its landholdings and embarked on more than $200 million in capital improvements. NIU established three major off-campus education centers and secured funding for the restoration of historic Altgeld Hall and the construction of the Convocation Center. New buildings erected during his tenure included the Campus Life Building, the Engineering Building, the Campus Child Care Center and Faraday West, which now bears his name.

La Tourette also established the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and nurtured the growth of the College of Law. He added more than a dozen major academic offerings, including Ph.D. programs in physics, mathematical sciences, biological sciences and geology and environmental geosciences.

President Emeritus John G. Peters

In his 13 years as “the students’ president,” John G. Peters brought new recognition and expanded resources to NIU. Under his guidance, NIU was admitted to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) - an honor reserved for the top five percent of universities nationwide. The university ascended to the highest possible Carnegie ranking for research universities and gained admittance to the elite Universities Research Association.

In his first months at the helm, Peters secured a $20 million private gift to build a new College of Business. Campus improvements fueled by True North also included the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, the Yordon Center and the Chessick Indoor Practice Facility. He later utilized low-interest Build America Bonds to remodel and modernize residence halls Grant Towers C and D and Gilbert Hall as well as the Holmes Student Center and the outdoor intramural sports complex on the West Campus.

In January of 2012, Peters presided over the reopening of Cole Hall, which had been closed since 2008. It was his leadership that guided the university through both its darkest hours and its great triumphs, which included football’s berth in the 2013 Orange Bowl.

Douglas D. Baker

Douglas Baker led NIU through a period of economic distress and strove to protect the quality of academic programs despite declining state support and an unprecedented two-year span without a state budget. During his presidency, the retention rate of first-year students improved substantially. He increased NIU outreach to educators through his support of NIU’s Center for P20 Engagement. Baker was instrumental in hiring the university’s first chief diversity officer and also oversaw the implementation of the program prioritization process, which helped the university better align the budget with its mission.

Information courtesy of University Archives and "Education in Transition: The History of Northern Illinois University," by Earl W. Hayter.

Contact Dr. Freeman

Office of the President
Altgeld Hall 300
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