Karen Baker never thought she was was too good for a job.
Typing tests, filing mail, taking students to soccer practice, coordinating events, assisting the chancellor – someone asks, she does.
“I’ve never considered any task something that I shouldn’t have to do or wouldn’t do at all,” she said.
That philosophy led to a storied career at TCU – one that has reached its final chapter. Baker, the university’s vice chancellor of human resources, will retire on Feb. 29.
In more than 23 years, she did everything short of literally climbing a ladder.
Her first position
Fort Worth was the final stop.
Baker was a stay-at-home mom for 16 years. Her husband, Larry, worked for a railroad company. He was transferred a lot: 12 times in 18 years.
“When we came here, we had a child in high school and two children in middle school,” she said. “We had just reached the point of saying, ‘We’re done.’”
She had just finished her bachelor’s degree in English literature as a nontraditional student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. After moving to Fort Worth in 1992, a friend convinced Baker to apply for a job at TCU.
“The tuition benefit was very attractive,” she said.
She interviewed for a position in human resources and ended up getting a job as a typist in the Neeley School of Business.
It was an hourly position. Baker worked on the third floor of Dan Rogers Hall in the now defunct Support Services Center. She typed exams for professors, proofread professional journal articles filed mail, whatever faculty needed.
“I don’t think I crossed University once,” Baker said. “You kind of stayed on your side of campus.”
After four years, Baker moved on to a new department and a promotion.
As an administrative assistant position in residential services, now known as housing and residence life, she made flyers, helped with housing assignments and handled communications for the department.
“Just assisting anyone with any work that they had,” she said.
Soon she became the associate director of residential services. She was responsible for various duties in the department including housing assignments.
Baker remembers the major housing crunch of the late 90s when TCU’s popularity soared as the university’s national reputation grew.
“We had enough housing and then all of a sudden TCU became hotter and hotter,” she said. “That’s when we started doubling up, tripling up rooms and using lounges.”
Space got so tight that students were temporarily housed in a hotel near Hulen Mall.
“I would literally drive students back and forth,” she said. “I remember taking young students to soccer practice or getting them there for band practice.”
While she was the associate director, Chancellor William Tucker decided to step down.
After the announcement, he paid Baker a visit.
“He was standing right out front of my office and I just remember thinking, ‘I’m happy to help you, what can I do for you?” Baker said.
Tucker asked Baker to be on the search committee to find his replacement.
“I never knew why he had zeroed in on me to ask me to serve on this particular committee.”
That committee hired Michael Ferrari as chancellor. A few years later, Baker was elected chair of the Staff Assembly. She only served for a year, but it was long enough.
When Ferrari announced his retirement in 2003, Baker was named to the search committee for his replacement.
Members of the search committee were asked to be guides for the finalists – “their chauffer, so to speak,” Baker said.
Victor Boschini, then the president of Illinois State University, was among the finalists. Baker was his guide.
“We got to know each other very well during that time, and I was delighted when he was selected,” Baker said.
Boschini chose Baker to be an “assistant to the chancellor.”
“When I interviewed with the chancellor, I told him I don’t have to be front and center,” Baker said. “I am more than happy to be someone in the background saying, ‘Let me help you get your job done.’”
The assistant to the chancellor position evolved into the chief of staff.
She did everything from write letters on Boschini’s behalf to manage the chancellor’s cabinet. The job also included secretary duties for the Board of Trustees.
“I was just so overwhelmed with the sense of responsibility,” she said.
In September 2013, Boschini decided to make the human resources department a standalone division of the university. He tagged Baker to become the department’s first vice chancellor.
“When I came to this position, I did not have a human resources background,” Baker said. “The chancellor asked me to come because of my institutional history, as well as my relational history with others at the university.”
A million years
Baker said she had no problem with how much her job description changed.
“It happened so gradually… changing was never a problem for me,” she said. “I could adapt.”
Now, she’ll have to adapt to a lighter load.
Baker plans to spend her free time with her mother, husband, three children (including two TCU graduates), and eight grandchildren. A ninth is on the way.
“We just felt that it was time,” she said.
Numerous co-workers have expressed their sadness in seeing Baker go.
“Karen Baker is a prime example of the unbeatable spirit of TCU employees,” Boschini said. “Always willing to help others…. especially students.”
When she first applied to work at TCU, Baker wasn’t thinking about a career.
“When I came to work here as a typist 20 plus years ago, I would have probably said to you, ‘I’m only going to work here four or five years,’” she said.
“Never in a million years did I expect to be in this position.”