Northwestern State University president Dr. Jim Henderson’s poised, confident response to challenging issues and circumstances in his first weeks of leadership at NSU sends reassuring signals that there is a strong, steady hand at the helm of the university.
Declining state revenue has resulted in reports that the executive budget for next year could include state funding reductions of 50 to 60 percent for colleges and universities that have already absorbed $700 million in cuts since 2008.
Henderson said he and other university leaders statewide are working with legislators and officials throughout state government to alleviate budget reductions, but he emphasized that Northwestern is acting “to control our own destiny” in the wake of the fiscal crisis.
That declaration has reverberated through the halls of state government as officials expressed support for Henderson’s pledge to make Northwestern “part of the solution.” He said, “We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the state to come up with solutions.”
Northwestern and other schools that received 70 percent of their funding from the state and 30 percent from self-generated revenues a few years ago must now create nearly 70 percent of their own funding to supplement just 30 percent in state support.
Henderson has stated that his first priority for additional funding is the creation of enrollment growth through aggressive, innovative recruitment and retention efforts, enhanced market-oriented academic programs and improved student services and experiences.
In addition to his positive approach in addressing current and projected financial problems at the university, Henderson is using a recent review of the university by outside consultants that included extensive criticism as the impetus for progress and improvement.
The review that was part of the process for the presidential change at Northwestern cited morale as a weakness at Northwestern, but Henderson said in response to the report that frustrations and challenges arise when “you have a prolonged period of scarcity.”
Reviewers recommended that the incoming president set a new tone and direction in leadership at the university with more transparent decision-making and increased communication with other NSU leaders and input from faculty, staff and students.
Since his selection as president in September, Henderson has met continually with individual administrators, faculty and staff members, departments, student organizations, alumni, community and business leaders and others to assure expanded involvement, support and feedback in university initiatives.
While addressing some of the concerns expressed in the report, Henderson is also embracing the strengths of the university that are listed in the review as the foundation for his goal to make NSU the premier regional university in the nation.
Among the school’s major assets noted in the report were an extremely dedicated faculty and staff and “excellent relations with business and community leaders” that enable the university to obtain private funds for scholarships, professorships and other purposes.
Henderson plans to expand corporate services provided by the university, including increased educational opportunities for those in business and industry. He is also working to more closely align academic programs at NSU with workforce needs.
In the wake of both Louisiana’s continuing financial crisis in higher education and an institutional review that focused on serious problems at Northwestern, it is encouraging that the university’s new president has such an impressive record of accomplishments.
He established a national reputation for leadership in higher education as a vice-president for the state technical and community college system and as chancellor of Bossier Parish Community College, where enrollment and graduation numbers soared during his tenure.
Henderson also has management experience in the private sector and became recognized as an authority in economic and workforce development while serving in a leadership position at the Louisiana Department of Labor.
Despite an unrelenting fiscal crunch and other scrapes and scars identified in the institutional review, there is renewed optimism that Northwestern’s best, brightest and most exciting days lie ahead with Dr. Jim Henderson as president.
Read more: Natchitoches Times – President s response to money crisis is reassuring at NSU