I-TEAM: NIU golden parachute angers lawmakers


DeKalb, Ill (WAND) – While lawmakers are dealing with crumbling finances some are raising eyebrows over questionable spending at Northern Illinois University.  New legislation may even be passed to control the universities board of trustees after the exit of President Douglas Baker.

“Six hundred grand is just insane,” said State Representative Bill Mitchell, (R) Forsyth, speaking with WAND I-TEAM reporter Doug Wolfe about a $600,000 golden parachute for Baker.  “That’s a bonus for doing a bad job.  You can wonder why the citizens of this state are saying what the hell is the matter with the people that are running the state.”

Baker was cited in an Office of the Executive Inspector General report for the improper hiring of five consultants and the payment of $1 million over two years to those individuals.  The report ripped Baker saying he “mismanaged” NIU.  A claim Baker has denied.

Baker decided to submit his resignation in June and the board provided him with a controversial golden parachute as he leaves his job.  Baker is receiving $450,000 which is equal to one-year of his salary.  $137,500 to give up a tenured position in the college of business and another $30,000 to cover legal expenses.  The total to you as taxpayers is $617,500.

“We thought a few years ago we should pass some legislation trying to crack down on this so-called golden parachute nonsense.  But apparently not,” stated State Senator Chapin Rose, (R) Mahomet.  “So now we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we can put in to try to stop this once and for all.”

The Edgar County Watchdogs have been following spending at NIU for several years.

“How can you mismanage something and then the board gives you a massive payout like that?” asked Watchdog co-founder John Kraft.  His partner, Kirk Allen, has similar concerns.

“We need better laws that allow public bodies to terminate these employees for malfeasance,” Allen said.  “I think there is more than enough evidence to support termination with cause.  He shouldn’t be getting a single penny.”

Baker’s last day on the job was Friday, June 30th.  A lawsuit has been filed by a DeKalb woman seeking to vacate the deal claiming the board of trustees violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act in making the deal with Baker.

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July 6, 2017 at 10:14PM

I-TEAM: NIU golden parachute angers lawmakers

NIU is sued over president’s lucrative severance


A DeKalb woman has sued Northern Illinois University‘s board of trustees, seeking to block the lucrative severance agreement it reached with Doug Baker, the university president who recently announced his resignation following a scathing state report that alleged improper spending during his tenure.

The suit contends that the trustees violated the state Open Meetings Act by not notifying the public that it intended to reach an agreement with Baker, and then at the meeting by not giving the public an opportunity to comment on the terms of the deal.

The suit seeks to have Baker’s severance package — which is worth up to $617,500 — voided and the appointment of a new president put on hold.

The board was scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to appoint Lisa C. Freeman, the university’s executive vice president and provost, as acting president, starting July 1, among other actions.

The suit was filed in Dekalb County by Misty Haji-Sheikh, a county board member who is also taking graduate classes at Northern Illinois.

Haji-Sheikh argues that NIU trustees violated the Open Meetings Act by not revealing details of Baker’s severance until the end of their meeting, which did not give the public sufficient time to review the terms before board members ratified his exit contract.

Usually, the suit says, the board holds an open session at the meetings and follows that with a closed session. But on June 15, it said, the board departed from that practice and reserved one item on the agenda for a second open session, after the closed session, which lasted more than seven hours.

The only item to discuss in that second open session was Baker’s departure — vaguely described on the agenda as “presidential employment.” No public comment was sought, the suit said.

“The way the meeting unfolded, it was essentially orchestrated so as to prevent the public from having an opportunity to hear about the issues concerning the president or to comment,” said Charles L. Philbrick, Haji-Sheikh’s attorney.

A spokesman for NIU declined to comment.

Baker, who still had a year remaining on his five-year contract, left the meeting on June 15 with a total package including a one-time payment of $450,000, equal to a year of his salary; a lump-sum payment of $137,500, which is in exchange for resigning his tenured position in the College of Business; and up to $30,000 for his “reasonable, unpaid expenses for legal counsel” relating to his time at the university.

Baker has denied the report’s assertions — that administrators under his leadership routinely skirted ethics requirements to hire highly paid consultants, covered the consultants’ housing and travel expenses, and then kept them on staff for too long at lofty pay levels.

He said he had reached the conclusion he could not continue as university president because the investigation, which was conducted by the Governor’s Office of Executive Inspector General, proved a “significant distraction.”

The inspector general launched the inquiry into Northern Illinois’ hiring practices in 2014 following several anonymous tips. Illinois law requires state agencies to publicly bid out contracts for professional services from an independent contractor worth more than $20,000.

But the report found that the university hired nine employees between June 2013 and May 2015, paying them all more than $20,000, but never solicited bids for those jobs.

In all, investigators wrote, Northern Illinois spent more than $1 million on the five highest-paid of those employees.



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June 27, 2017 at 07:03PM

NIU is sued over president’s lucrative severance

Heartland OKs tentative budget; expects state funding


NORMAL — The Heartland Community College board approved a tentative fiscal 2018 budget Tuesday with total operating revenues of $34.7 million that assumes the district will receive $2.35 million from the state — about 90 percent of what it received in fiscal 2015, the last time Illinois had a full-year budget. 

The tentative operating budget calls for $34 million in expenditures.

Final approval of the budget will take place at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, which will be preceded by a public hearing at 6 p.m. in Room 2012 of the Community Commons Building on the campus at 1500 W. Raab Road, Normal.

By then, college officials will know what fall enrollment figures are and — they hope — how much money they will receive from the state, so they can adjust the final budget.

Widmer said that in that event, the college would “continue to tighten our budget” and figure out “how do we continue to offer a quality education for our students.”

During the meeting, Doug Minter, vice president of business services, said the lack of a state budget “casts ongoing shadows of uncertainty.” The district received only $700,000 in state appropriations in fiscal 2016 and about $1 million in the current fiscal year.

Heartland also still hopes to receive $300,000 in state funding for Monetary Award Program grants to students in the recently completed school year. The college credited the accounts of students who had been notified by the state that they qualified for the MAP financial aid grants.

The board also approved a capital request to the state to replace pavement along certain campus roads and parking lots which are showing premature deterioration.

The college has made the same request for at least five years, but funding has not come through.

“If hell freezes over and this actually occurs, the state would give us $403,000” — 75 percent of the cost of the $537,500 project, said Minter. Heartland would pay the other 25 percent.

The request next goes to the Illinois Community College Board, then the Illinois Board of Higher Education for consideration in the state’s fiscal 2019 capital budget.

In another matter, the board learned that the number of overall credit hours taken by students is down about 5 percent this summer compared to last summer, a decline of 573 credit hours from last year’s 10,892. However, Widmer said there are “so many variables in the summer” that the enrollment drop is not an indication of what could happen in fall semester.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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June 21, 2017 at 10:29AM

Heartland OKs tentative budget; expects state funding

Morthland College ends athletic program


Morthland College ends athletic program


Wednesday, May 17, 2017 11:13 PM EDT

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 11:13 PM EDT

FRANKLIN CO. — Morthland College trustees voted Wednesday to end the school’s athletic program. Former coaches and others say this could signal some very tough times for the college.

Former Morthland College athletic director Reid Cure once had great hope for the school.

“I thought we were growing and heading in a great direction. We were providing a lot of great kids, really good experiences and opportunities to play collegiate sports,” he said.

But he said recent developments at the private college brought him, and at least two others to resign.

“I saw a college going into a different direction that I preferred to see it go,” said Cure.

Wednesday night, Morthland explained its new direction. In a statement, spokesperson Leigh Caldwell said, “the Board of Trustees has made the decision to transition our athletic programs to club programs only”

The vote, made behind closed doors, apparently brings an end to the school’s intercollegiate sports program.

Others contacted by News 3 said they sensed the school had run into financial problems.

The Morthland board’s vote will affect more than 50 athletes, and Cure hopes for the best for them.

“We’re just kind of praying for the best and just keeping the students first and we would love to see the college succeed despite my resignation,” he said.

The school blamed its troubles on “Delays in receipt of government funding having brought a season of hardship on the college.”

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May 17, 2017 at 03:20PM

Morthland College ends athletic program

Yesterday we spent the day in Springfield handing out signed postcards encouraging legislators to support #MAP! Higher education should be accessible to all #MAPMatters


Yesterday we spent the day in Springfield handing out signed postcards encouraging legislators to support #MAP! Higher education should be accessible to all #MAPMatters

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May 10, 2017 at 01:38AM

Yesterday we spent the day in Springfield handing out signed postcards encouraging legislators to support #MAP! Higher education should be accessible to all #MAPMatters

Illinois university to cut jobs, upkeep under budget woes


DEKALB, Ill. — Northern Illinois University officials say cuts and deferred maintenance will be necessary to save money as the school faces a $35 million funding gap from the lack of a state budget.

The Daily Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2ph3L5I ) reports university President Doug Baker said in an email last month that the school must prepare for a worst-case scenario until the next fiscal year.

He said attrition won’t be enough to support the burden of personnel costs. Some staff members have been notified about how their employment will be affected, and other will hear about their job status this month.

University spokesman Joe King says scheduled repairs that aren’t creating safety problems or affecting operations will be deferred.

Baker says eased support from donors and other revenue generators will be key to closing the gap.


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May 5, 2017 at 04:22AM

Illinois university to cut jobs, upkeep under budget woes

NEIU’s first fundraising campaign goes public


NEIU’s first fundraising campaign goes public

Courtesy of Joe Davis_Northeastern Illinois University

The Vice President for Institutional Advancement Liesl Downey spoke at the Transforming Lives launch fundraising campaign on Apr. 7.

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

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For the first time in its 150-year anniversary, NEIU launched a fundraising campaign that intends to gather $10 million to support the school and its students.

At almost its second year without a state budget, NEIU publicly announced the campaign on April 7. The goal of the “Transforming Lives” campaign is to keep the university running and ensure a future for students.

The “Transforming Lives” campaign started its silent phase in Jan. 2014

“The Board had been talking about when we were going to have a campaign, and we weren’t quite ready until 2014,” said Liesl Downey, Vice President for Institutional Advancement. The campaign began years prior with the intention to be completed sometime in 2017-18, in honor of the 150th year of the university.

“We’ve been working in the silent phase. What you do during that period is that you approach those nearest and dearest, to which you say ‘We are in the quiet phase of this campaign, would you consider making an investment of x amount of dollars for this priority?” Downey said.

The Transforming Lives campaign has two main initiatives: the Extraordinary Scholarship Support and Exceptional Learning Environments. The Scholarship Support will help students pay for college by funding scholarships, fellowships, research-related travel and internships. Exceptional Learning Environments will assist with endowed funds for NEIU’s departments and programs, provide naming opportunities for buildings and spaces, endowed professorship and research grants.

Downey, who revealed the fundraising campaign on April 7, explained the first ever endowed professorship program which supports faculty, “It is a fairly broad application and we did that intentionally because with this campaign, what we really want to do is to make sure that people are aware of Northeastern and that they’re inspired to make their first contribution. It’s so broad that you can really say you know what? I did graduate from biology, I really want to do something for those professors that meant something for me.”

The initiative “Exceptional Learning Environments” is to ultimately support faculty research and give back to those departments.

The “Scholarship Supports” goal is $6 million, while “Exceptional Learning Environments” intends to raise $4 million, equaling to $10 million. Currently, the campaign has raised over $5 million, well on its way to completion before  the deadline of New Year’s Eve, 2018.

This paved the way to the campaign goal of $10 million with the help of the NEIU Foundation, donors like former Chairman of the Board of Trustees Daniel Goodwin who pledged $2.5 million, administrative staff, faculty, and alumni. Another major contributor is the Class Gift Fund, where graduating seniors from NEIU can make a donation of $20.17 to assist the Class Gift Scholarship.

Downey said they might’ve been “a little conservative” about when they wanted to go public, but their hope was when they reached a certain amount, it would inspire and show others how well on the way the campaign was to its goal. It is general practice to go public once a campaign has reached 40-60% of completion.

“The whole principle is that you see success is already on its way,” Downey stated. “This is how Northeastern transforms lives.”

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April 29, 2017 at 05:11PM

NEIU’s first fundraising campaign goes public