Walters helpful, but a waste of NIU money

NIU is fighting tooth and nail for every cent it can squeeze out of the state. It also, until Dec. 31, was paying consultant Ron Walters $15,000 every two weeks.

Walters, who was ultimately paid about $463,125 for 18 months of work, was brought to NIU by President Doug Baker in spring 2013 to reinvent the university. NIU has struggled with falling enrollment, sub-par retention and declining state funding for years. Walters has a long professional history in strategic planning and had worked with Baker during their time at the University of Idaho, and he seemed like a good fit to turn things around. But, Walters came with too hefty a price tag and should not have been employed by NIU as long as he was, especially as the Northern Star found he was paid even when he did not have work scheduled for weeks at a time.

The money spent on Walters may not seem like a lot to some, but his $463,125 can pay for a semester’s tuition for 100 students. The university is facing having a third of its $93 million in state funding cut, its revenues are hurting as enrollment falls and every academic and administrative program is set to be reviewed as a cost-saving measure.

This is not a time for wasteful spending.

Work assessment

Walters did do good work during his time at NIU: He and Baker rolled out the Master Plan Thesis, a collection of ideas to make life more active on campus, during the spring 2014 semester. They implemented the Bold Futures Workshops, bringing together nearly 800 community members to explore ways to revitalize NIU and improve its relationship with DeKalb.

But, many of those plans seem too lofty and, as the Editorial Board has previously written, don’t focus on the issues students care about, like creating resources for NIU’s large commuter and nontraditional student population.

The Bold Futures Workshops held throughout the 2013-14 academic year were a positive force at NIU as they connected students with the community, but the Editorial Board sees no reason for Walters’ continued employment after the workshops had been arranged and their results analyzed.

An analysis was released July 4, but Walters’ employment didn’t end until Dec. 31. That’s nearly six months — or $180,000 — of work. Walters had little to no work scheduled during at least eight weeks of that time, which amounted to $60,000 in salary.

Baker could have used his current staff during that time. Or, if he wanted outside help, he could have put NIU’s money to good use and hired someone who wasn’t going to pick up paychecks while leaving his or her calendar empty.

In the end, Walters has provided NIU with valuable information and insight — but at too great a cost.