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Remembering 9/11: Dr. Kendall Baker

What can I say about that day? Two impressions stand out immediately:  The emotions — surprise, shock, disbelief — and an instant concern about the safety and welfare of our students and campus community.

To this day, I can remember sitting in my office that morning working on a project at my desk when Sharon came in and said I needed to come to the conference room and see on television what was happening. When I first watched and listened, I couldn't, like most Americans, believe what was being reported.  Once past this immediate reaction, my mind turned immediately to the safety and security of our campus. There was absolutely no way to know how pervasive or far reaching the events portrayed on television were being perpetrated. We needed, therefore, to worry about our own population of approximately 4,000 people!  Hence, we called an immediate Cabinet meeting, which I believe was held in the Wishing Well. 

I remember contacting Toby and asking her to attend this meeting since I knew she would be one of the visible individuals that could respond to campus questions and concerns. (Toby, ordinarily, never attended Cabinet meeting.  Indeed, this may have been the only one she attended in 12 years.) Our focus in the Cabinet meeting was on ensuring that our campus and our folks were as secure as we could possibly make them.

We worried about campus and public reactions and prepared messages we would give to all of our constituencies (students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, Board members, media, etc. etc.) about what the University was doing. After the meeting, we ate lunch in the cafeteria and responded to student, faculty and staff concerns and questions for hours. Our discussions had emphasized that visibility and communication were key and thus the vice presidents and I spent the entire afternoon talking all over campus. 

We had concluded that we also needed to involve our student leadership in helping to maintain calm on campus. Hence, we invited all campus leaders (Student Senate, residence hall assistants, fraternity and sorority presidents, athletic team captains, student organization presidents, etc. etc,) to a meeting in that evening. Altogether more than 200 students assembled in the Ballroom and we talked about what had happened and what we needed for them to do to reassure their residents, teammates, friends, peers, parents, brothers and sisters so we could avoid panic and over reaction. We also emphasized to these students that international students might be particularly susceptible to reaction and we urged our leaders to be sensitive to this. We had established some off campus sites that international students could use if they felt they needed to. Thankfully, none of them were needed. 

Overall, I think it's fair to say that though deeply, deeply disturbed by what had happened and what it potentially portended, ONU succeeded in focusing attention on the safety and security of the campus and the maintenance of calm.  Above all else, this was a tremendous credit to the extraordinary leadership of our students, faculty and staff.

For a period of time after 9/11, classes in all disciplines of the University focused on the implications of this unimaginable catastrophe. The faculty leadership that facilitated these discussions was simply incredible. The same was true for the conversations that took place in the residence halls, the chapel and elsewhere. The sense of unity and pulling together that was evident on campus in the aftermath of the event, including the extraordinary candlelight service that brought together hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members clasping hands in a circle of honor, respect and memory on the Tundra, was truly special. 

It was a privilege to be part of it.

—Dr. Kendall Baker
ONU President 1999 - 2011