Trustees re-approve Baker’s severance package

Michael Urbanec

DeKALB — Several months and a lawsuit later, the Board of Trustees re-voted to approve former President Doug Baker’s severance package.

Misty Haji-Sheikh, graduate student at large, filed for an injunction against Baker’s severance pay June 27 after the presidential transition agreement was passed by the Board during a closed session, even though the agreement was not properly disclosed on the meeting agenda. Judge Bradley Waller ruled this a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings act during a summary judgment Nov. 22, saying the language in the agenda was misleading.

Haji-Sheikh, who was out of the country during Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, sent her lawyer, Charles Philbrick, to speak on her behalf.

“Today you have a chance to do what is right,” Philbrick said. “To follow the law and to show that you want to regain the trust of the parents, faculty, and staff and the citizens of DeKalb.”

Litigation for the lawsuit has not yet been completed, as the court is still in the process of discussing the reimbursement of legal fees for Haji-Sheikh.

“Although it is the Board’s general practice not to specifically comment on pending litigation, and the Board is currently weighing its options following the judge’s most recent ruling, I will comment on the Board’s keystone objective, and that is to do what is in the best interest of the university,” said Wheeler Coleman, Board of Trustees chairperson.

Baker resigned after an Office of the Executive Inspector General, a state watchdog agency, released a report May 31 about its two-year investigation into NIU’s improper procurement and hiring practices in 2013 and 2014.

The report found NIU paid five individuals who were intentionally misclassified as affiliate employees more than roughly $1 million combined during the two years — a choice the OEIG credited to Baker’s “mismanagement” of the university.

After Baker resigned, he was offered a presidential transition agreement worth $617,000 — $587,000 of which he has already received. Of the amount he received, $225,000 was for one year’s salary of his tenured position in the College of Business that he forfeited upon his resignation. The remainder was pay for the rest of his contract as president. An additional $30,000 reserved for legal fees will remain under permanent injunction.

Coleman said the presidential transition agreement was awarded to prevent Baker from filing any “claims” against the university after his resignation.

The Board also voted unanimously to not release the recordings of their closed sessions dating back to June, which may have provided additional insight into their decisions pertaining to Baker’s exit from the university.

Coleman said he doesn’t believe anyone on the Board failed to follow the law when reaching an agreement with Baker.

“I can’t tell you, as a lawyer, for you to come up in front of us and tell us to follow the law,” Coleman said. “I know you’re reading Misty’s comment, but we expect more of you as a lawyer. There is no one up here not attempting to follow the law.”