Former employee to repay travel expenses

By Leah Nicolini

Former affiliate employee Magaly Rodriguez owes $2,793.63 in travel expenses which NIU President Doug Baker said was reimbursed inappropriately by NIU, according to an NIU news release Wednesday.

Rodriguez was hired in 2013 as a change specialist functioning as a consultant until May 16, 2014. In May, Rodgriguez’ title was changed to affiliate employee which disqualified her for the consultant work-related expense coverage, said NIU Spokesperson Joe King.

Rodriguez spent $1,604.80 on airfare, $1,128.15 on airport transportation and $60.68 on meals, while traveling between Minnetonka, Minn., O’Hare International Airport and DeKalb, according to a Jan. 20 Divison of Finance and Administration letter sent to Rodriguez.

“In this instance [regarding Rodriguez’ improper reimbursement], the university’s payment for her travel was not appropriate,” Baker said in the news release. “When that error was recognized last July, steps were taken to recoup the funds from Ms. Rodriguez.”

Alan Phillips, vice president for Administration and Finance, requested Rodriguez “advise” Phillips of her “intent” to pay back the reimbursement by Feb. 5, according to the letter.

Rodriguez has spoken to NIU staff regarding the payment, but as of Wednesday, NIU has not received any payments, King said.

Rodriguez had a similar letter sent in July 2015 regarding the improper reimbursements and had spoken with Dori Hooker, executive assistant of the President’s Office, according to the letter.

“This is a follow up to a letter I had previously sent you in July of last year… .” Phillips said in the letter. “I know you have been in discussions with Dori Hooker of the Northern Illinois University President’s Office regarding this matter and were expecting this follow up.”

As a change specialist, Rodriguez provided consulting services for NIU in December 2013 which included conducting workshops for deans, the senior cabinet and associate provosts and directors. As an affiliate employee, Rodriguez hosted workshops for academic departments and advised senior leaders, King said. Rodriguez works for Volentum, an enterprise management consulting company that teaches problem-solving methods, where she created methods of building communication and a sense of community, according to Volentum’s website.

“All of her work was focused on helping the university create a climate that is open to change where the university can approach change in a positive and productive way so that we can adapt and excel in a very dynamic time,” King said.

Rodriguez’ improper reimbursement was one of the reasons Baker “implemented an examination and overhaul of the longstanding financial procedures in the president’s office,” according to the news release.

Over the course of 2015, streamlining operations have created more accurate budgets compared to the budgets in place when Baker arrived, according to the news release.

“These changes in bookkeeping and budgeting are two examples among many aimed at making Northern Illinois University a model institution when it comes to issues of both financial sustainability and ethical leadership,” Baker said in the news release.

This situation is reminiscent of a 2015 incident in which NIU improperly reimbursed Consultant Ron Walters $32,032.92 for travel expenses of which he paid back half the amount at $17,515, according to a Mar. 30 Northern Star article.

King said the problem arose when many NIU senior staff quit around the time of Baker becoming president in April 2013.

King said issues with the NIU Department of Finance were due to the retirement of Chief Financial Officer Eddie Williams which led to a change in staff including a new chief financial officer, comptroller and a new position of business manager.