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UPDATE: NMU Board terminates President Erickson’s contract

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson was fired Friday afternoon during a special meeting of the NMU Board of Trustees.

“There are good things that have happened, but we can and must do more,” said Trustee Steve Young while presenting his motion which passed with a unanimous 8-0 vote.

Young thanked Erickson for developing new programs at the university, like medicinal plant chemistry, and its financial strength.

“We have maintained a level of stability that other universities our size have not been able to maintain either before or during the difficult time of COVID,” said Young.

Young said NMU needs more leadership and bold action to reverse declining enrollment.

The contentious contract negotiations between the university and its faculty union were not mentioned during Friday’s meeting.

Young said the next president needs to communicate better with trustees.

“I believe we need improved communication at a microlevel with the board to exactly what leadership is doing to make this university a better place today, tomorrow and into the future,” he said.

After the meeting, a graceful Erickson told TV6 it’s hard to say if the negotiations played a role in the decision.

“The board provided parameters for us to negotiate with,” said Erickson. “Obviously, if we would have had more parameters we would have been able to do more for the faculty.”

Erickson says he doesn’t hold any ill-will toward the trustees, noting none of them hired him seven years ago.

“When I took this job, my one hope was that I would leave the university, whenever that happened, in a little bit better place than we were,” he said. “And I’m really proud that we did that, whether that’s programs or facilities or innovation.”

Erickson says discussions about his exit started six weeks ago.

In 2018, he agreed to a five-year contract with a $385,000 annual salary. Erickson received a 2% wage increase in 2019. Erickson says he will continue to be paid his presidential salary this year as he takes a sabbatical. He will then teach at the university next fall and be paid a faculty wage.

The board plans to discuss appointing an interim president at its meeting Friday, Oct. 1.

The following is a statement from Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees Chair Tami Seavoy:

“The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees voted unanimously today to terminate Dr. Fritz Erickson’s appointment as president of the university. The termination is effective immediately. This has been a very difficult decision, but it was guided by the principle of what is in the best interest of the university.

“While we recognize and thank Dr. Erickson for some outstanding work, particularly as he maintained a level of calm and stability during the pandemic, we expected more thoughtful and critical action from him on many issues. For these reasons, we have lost confidence in his ability to effectively lead the university.

“The responsibility to hire and, in unfortunate circumstances, terminate the president are among the most important duties of a university board, and we did not arrive at this decision lightly. It was Vice Chair Young’s and my intention to come to terms on an agreement that would have allowed Dr. Erickson to voluntarily step down by the end of 2021. Regrettably, we were unable to reach such an agreement after several weeks of negotiation. Therefore, we determined that termination would be in the best interest of the university.

“We have asked NMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kerri Schuiling, Ph.D., and Vice President for Finance and Administration, R. Gavin Leach, to assist with the immediate transition. With their collaboration and leadership, we will move forward toward common goals.

“At its regularly scheduled formal session on Friday, October 1, the board will discuss appointment of an interim president to lead the university until a permanent appointment can be made.

“We will make an announcement regarding that appointment as soon as details are final. We will also identify and appoint a search committee to guide the process of seeking President Erickson’s successor. Additional information on the search process and timeline will be released in the coming weeks.”

The following is a statement from NMU-AAUP President Dwight Brady:

Everyone on campus, including the faculty, were surprised at how quickly this meeting came about, and we are still processing the magnitude of the Board’s decision. Nevertheless, we will continue to move forward with the ratification vote of the proposed contract on September 28th.”

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