Presidential search: From Canada to Bemidji, Laker seeks to head BSU-NTC
As a first generation student, Jason Laker knows the value of a higher education.
He enrolled at Central Michigan University and attended only when he could afford to. At CMU he became a resident assistant, joined a fraternity, was a peer health advisor, joined student government and at the age of 19, ran for City Council.
"I was hooked," Laker said. "I wanted to know more."
Laker talked of his experiences in higher education in his 20-minute presentation, titled "Higher Education at a Crossroads," Thursday afternoon on the first day of his two-day visit to BSU and NTC.
He is the third of five BSU-NTC presidential candidates to present at a public forum on the BSU campus.
Laker's experiences as a student at both a university and a community college and his work in various administrative roles is why he believes he should be the next president of BSU and NTC.
"It's the connection between my personal and professional values and the aspirations of these institutions," Laker said. "And as far as I can see, it's also a nice place to raise a family."
Laker, originally from Michigan, has been associate vice principal and dean of student affairs at Queen's University in Kingston, in Ontario, Canada, since July 2006. He teaches gender studies, cultural studies and is a fellow in the Center for the Study of Democracy in the School of Policy Studies. Laker was dean of campus life at St. John's University, Minn., from 2002-2006 where he taught gender and women's studies. He served as adjunct instructor at St. Cloud State University and worked at the University of Arizona from 1998-2002.
"When you look at the successes or failures of presidents in higher education, it has to do with their style, transparency and consultation," Laker said. "It has to do with the extent to which they let people know their voices matter."
Laker added humor throughout his presentation, noting that being married for 17 years and currently raising five kids makes him an atypical candidate. But while he may not have the typical resume of an average university president, Laker believes he brings a lot to the table.
"I have too many curiosities to be in one department," he said. "This is not a good time (for colleges and universities) to be trying the usual."
Laker earned his bachelor's degree in interpersonal and public communication at Central Michigan University and a master's degree in community counseling at Adams State College in Colorado. He holds a doctorate in higher education administration and organization from the University of Arizona.
In his presentation, Laker stated what was most important was being true to oneself and honesty. He followed through.
Laker said he had strong opinions on the use of strategic planning in higher education.
"I believe strongly in articulating what's important, which is what the main purpose of what strategic planning is supposed to be," Laker said. "I'm troubled by the way it ends up getting sidetracked into problem identification and pitting people against each other."
He spoke on the image of public colleges and universities.
"Institutions can't love. They can't love because they're not people," Laker said. "We have to resist pressures that could make these institutions transient or fickle."
His interest is to find common ground with people and developing caring relationships. Through relationship building he was able to increase revenue by 3 million dollars a year at his university, he said.
According to Laker, living and working in Canada with his family has been instrumental in expanding his international experience. He currently serves as the only North American on the Editorial Board of the Expertise Publications Programme of the European Training Foundation (a committee of the European Union agency).
His hopes are to make BSU and NTC engineers and champions at the regional, state, national and international level.
"We're going from one of the most difficult times," he said. "If we have any hope that we can do something incredible under the most difficult circumstances, we have to look in the mirror and make a decision that at the end of the day, you still believe."
Next public forum
Presidential semifinalist Philip C. Williams, president of the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala., will make a presentation and answer questions from 2:15-3 p.m. Monday April 19, in Room 100 of Bridgeman Hall on the BSU campus.
After all five semifinalists have completed their on-site interviews and public forums, the Search Advisory Commit-tee will make a recommendation to Minnesota State Col-leges and Universities' Chan-cellor James McCormick by April 26.
For information on the BSU-NTC presidential search, visit www.bemidjistate.edu/president_search.