Dekalb Co (ECWd) –
If the current budget impasse in Springfield weren’t enough to concern citizens about the future of education in the State, the reports of malfeasance at Northern Illinois only add one more level of complexity to an already difficult situation. An issue that surfaced at a Board of Trustees meeting in December of 2015, brought about largely due to the investigative work of the Edgar County Watchdogs, has finally resonated in editorials in The Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle and the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General indicated that President Doug Baker at Northern Illinois University used policies designed to hire part-time instructors to pay consultants and, in doing so, obviated the State procedures for procuring contracts.
According to the report, not only did the President and his staff go around formal legal procedures, but in doing so, they deprived the rest of the university vital resources to teach students in Illinois. Part-time faculty, also called adjuncts or temporary faculty, are hired to fill-in shortages and ensure that students graduate within four years. These positions are great assets because all these faculty do is teach 3 to 4 courses per semester, often with enrollments that could range from 30 and 100 students. A million dollars in payments to consultants, legal or not, could have gone to pay the salaries of 20 full-time adjuncts and provide instruction to thousands of students. It’s nothing short of a disservice to the university’s educational mission and obligations to the state to use funds in this manner.
While it may seem disheartening that it’s taken so long for this to come to become a topic of discussion, insiders understand that universities move with glacier-like speed. The recent statement by the Board of Trustees is typical. They are aware that all the parties at this point have lawyered up. The recent editorial by the Chicago Sun-Times mentioned the recent high-payout fiascos: the presidents of Chicago State and the chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign each was granted a generous buyout package. The President of the College of DuPage was initially granted a similar package, but the offer was later rescinded. At the same time, one should add the 2013 fiasco at Illinois State University, in which a Human Resource firm, yet another outside consultant, was hired to bring a new college president. Timothy Flanagan, who after being accused of “disorderly conduct” (a charge he was later found guilty of) left his position after seven months with a severance package of almost a half a million dollars (See the Pantagraph, 6-30-2014).
How did we get to the point in which a university administrator, a career in which is supposed to be based on a dedication to teaching, research and service, is being treated like a corporate CEO? Perhaps it harks back in the late 1990s when legislators and Board of Trustees began to refer to administrators as CEOs. It made sense, given that many board members came from the private sector. Unfortunately, it did a disservice to what higher education is about and for whom it is supposed to serve.
While the Board of Trustees vacillates over how to sweep the problem under the rug, perhaps what should happen is that faculty at Northern Illinois University should interject themselves into how the institution is managing its resources through its Faculty Senate. As the Tribune reported this morning, some of the consultants were hired to help create a strategic vision for the university. Unfortunately, this is the job of faculty. If they don’t play an active role in stewarding the institution, it could result in a greater loss of faith in higher education in Illinois.
James J. Pancrazio, Phd
“Ex-ISU president Flanagan found guilty of disorderly conduct,” Pantagraph, 6-30-2014.
“NIU president’s alleged ethical lapses too serious to overlook, Sun Times, 6-2-2017.
“Northern Illinois U. Used Adjunct-Hiring Policies to Give Consultants Sweetheart Deals,” 6-1-2017.
“Our view: NIU needs new, open leaders,” Daily Chronicle, 6-3-2017.
“State report blasts improper spending at Northern Illinois University,” Chicago Tribune, 5-31-2017.