President Baker in review

President Doug Baker’s performance in the infancy of his tenure at NIU set the university back to a point in which it is struggling to return.

As the end of the spring 2017 semester approaches, the Board of Trustees is preparing for its annual review of Baker. It is important to remember what has come to light of Baker’s early performance as president.

Referenced in a Dec. 22 Baker Report, “complaints regarding procurement practices, employment decisions, and contractual arrangements that occurred in 2013-2014” have put a cloud of suspicion upon Baker and his administration.

Although Baker said the allegations had been investigated and “strategic initiatives” were implemented to address these issues, the extent of these practices and actions are still being discovered today. This continued lack of clarity to faculty and students who deserve to know what is going on at their university is unacceptable.

NIU has paid $189,145.46 to the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC as representation for Baker in an Office of Executive Inspector General investigation, according to payment documents received on April 27 through a FOIA request submitted to NIU by the Northern Star.

“Whenever there is an investigation by an agency — in this case, it’s not a legal suit, but it’s an agency looking at internal policy kinds of issues — it’s common practice or best practice that outside counsel be used for [the] president,” Baker said, according to a May 1 Northern Star article. “I’m sorry we’re having to do it, but that’s part of the indemnification clause that a president of a university has.”

However, the OEIG investigation is not the only instance for which Baker has required legal counsel. There is an ongoing lawsuit against Baker, the university and one of Baker’s controversial hires, Nancy Suttenfield, former interim chief financial officer, filed by former NIU Controller Keith Jackson.

The suit alleges Suttenfield hired a forensic audit firm to “dredge for evidence of wrongdoing” by Jackson and other employees that she and Baker wanted to terminate.

Baker is paid an annual base salary of $450,000, according to his contract received on April 5 through a FOIA request submitted to NIU by the Northern Star. In comparison, Illinois State University, which had an enrollment of only about 2,000 more students than NIU in 2016, pays its president, Larry Dietz, an annual base salary of $350,004, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education website.

While the Northern Star Editorial Board understands complaints are filed, rumors spread and investigations unfold at such a large state university, the amount of money spent on Baker — from legal fees, to travel expenses, to his large salary — is too much when keeping in mind the lack of a state budget for the past three years.

To account for part of a $35 million budgetary gap for Fiscal Year 2018 that may result from the Illinois budget impasse, a portion of university employees will be losing their jobs, according to an April 28 Baker Report. As these employees are laid off, it stands Baker will continue collecting a healthy paycheck.

Baker opened up the annual presidential review conducted by the Board of Trustees to faculty, staff and students in an April 17 Baker Report. The Editorial Board urges the participants of this review to pay close attention to what Baker has cost the university in money and peace of mind.