NIU President Doug Baker To Resign; Freeman Named As Successor
Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker will step down on June 30, the end of the current academic year.
He made the announcement at the beginning of the NIU Board of Trustees meeting, which had scheduled a closed session on its agenda to review “Presidential Employment.” After a marathon closed session, Trustees emerged to announce their transition plan. Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman will serve as interim president, but will not pursue the position permanently. On July 1st, Freeman becomes NIU's first female president.
Baker’s resignation follows a controversial ruling by the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General that Baker had “mismanaged” the university by hiring executives and consultants as “affiliate employees” in an apparent attempt to circumvent hiring procedures.
“Both myself and the board made clear our objections to the assumptions made,” Baker said in a campuswide message emailed as he was addressing the board, “most notably the implication that I in any way had intended to circumvent any NIU guidelines or state regulations.”
The report had been provided to the NIU Board of Trustees in August 2016 and was released publicly last month. Baker noted that the objections to the ruling were overshadowed by news reports that focused on the language of the rulings. Various newspapers – including the DeKalb Daily Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times – published editorials calling for Baker to be replaced.
“The result has been that the university community has continued to be distracted by the allegations in the report,” Baker said. “Given the challenges we face and the hard work ahead, I simply couldn’t stand by and let this situation continue to fester.”
An end-of-term evaluation has been underway for several weeks, but Baker said he approached NIU Board Chair John Butler to discuss the best way to proceed.
“We concurred that it was best to move forward with a presidential transition agreement, under which I intend to leave the university on June 30, 2017,” Baker said.
The board met in closed session for seven hours. When they emerged, they had agreed on a "presidential transition agreement" and approved it in open session. Under the deal, Baker leaves the university June 30, which is one year before his contract was to expire. He will be paid one year's salary, $450,000, plus benefits, an amount up to $30,000 to cover his legal expenses related to the university, and $137,500 in a lump sum payment to surrender his rights as a tenured faculty member in the College of Business. Baker must also move out of the University President's official residence in DeKalb before July 31.
Trustee Dennis Barsema, a major donor to NIU, spoke of Baker's leadership during the Board of Trustees meeting soon after the announcement.
"Have mistakes been made? Sure. But from an integrity standpoint, don’t ever question his integrity. Don’t ever question his loyalty to NIU. Don't ever question the amount of time this man has worked and the amount of effort he has put into this university," Barsema said.
During a public comment period soon after the announcement, several faculty members spoke about a fear of how the state investigation affects the reputation of the university.
Others spoke of low morale without pay raises while the hiring investigation revealed consultants were paid high salaries for short-term work.
Virginia Naples, a biology professor at NIU, says perception will remain a major issue following the state report.
"A new broom sweeps clean. We need a new broom," Naples said. "One of the things that needs to happen is that we need to change direction and to greatly increase the transparency with which things are done at NIU."
Baker became NIU's twelfth president on July 1, 2013. He succeeded Dr. John Peters, who had served for 13 years.
Here is the full text of President Baker's message announcing his resignation:
I often use the word “amazing” to talk about Northern Illinois University, and I truly believe that this word can’t be overused when it comes to the accomplishments of our faculty and staff and the great experience they provide for our students. There are literally thousands of students from diverse communities who over the years gained access to a high quality higher education because of NIU. I am proud to be part of this tradition, and prouder still of the things we have done together to provide increased access to the great resources embodied by this university.
My focus has been on recruitment, retention, sharpening our emphasis on student career success, implementing strategies related to aligning mission and budget through Program Prioritization, building a strong leadership team and improved management systems, advocating for a state budget, and navigating this university forward in the absence of state appropriations. There have been significant accomplishments and successes and they must be built upon.
Parallel to this work, we have known since mid-2014 about a confidential Office of the Executive Inspector General (OEIG) investigation regarding the use of the affiliate employee category in 2013 and 2014. The confidential report was made known to us last August, and both myself and the board made clear our objections to the assumptions made — most notably the implication that I in any way had intended to circumvent any NIU guidelines or state regulations.
The Executive Ethics Commission finally made the report public several weeks ago and unfortunately, both the board’s and my perspective were drowned out in media reports that focused on the language of the report. The result has been that the university community has continued to be distracted by the allegations in the report. Given the challenges we face and the hard work ahead, I simply couldn’t stand by and let this situation continue to fester.
Because of this and my profound respect for NIU – our faculty, staff and students, I decided to approach Board Chair John Butler to discuss the future with the best interest of NIU in mind.
While my end-of-term evaluation process was proceeding in a positive manner, we agreed that the reaction to the OEIG report was a significant distraction. He made it clear to me that the board intended to continue the orderly and thorough review to assess my performance as part of the process.
That said, after discussions between myself and Chair Butler, we concurred that it was best to move forward with a presidential transition agreement, under which I intend to leave the university on June 30, 2017. The Board will now take up the matter.
I have many feelings today, but the one I want you to know is my abiding respect for this university – its commitment to research, scholarship, artistry and engagement, how much it values diversity and inclusion, and how welcoming it is to students of all backgrounds. NIU is an exceptional university.
Ultimately, my wife Dana and I are grateful for our time and experiences here. I regret that we have reached this point, as this is a job I love in a place I have come to call home. But I truly do believe that at this point, this course of action is best for the University.
My thanks to our wonderful leadership team, our strong cadre of Deans, the faculty and staff, our inspiring and talented students, donors, alumni and my office staff for their support in these challenging times.
I wish for nothing but the best for NIU going forward. I do hope that this agreement helps put these issues behind the university so you can look to the future with hope and confidence — because I truly believe that both are justified.
I know we have a full agenda of university business, so with those comments I will turn the microphone back to Chairman Butler so we can move through the agenda.