Consultant Ron Walters paid $460K in 18 months, even without scheduled work


Ron Walters, who provided consulting services to NIU President Doug Baker, discusses the Master Plan Thesis during a Feb. 9, 2014, Student Association Senate meeting. A Northern Star analysis found Walters was paid about $460,000 during 18 months of work at NIU and he was improperly reimbursed about $32,000 for travel expenses.

By Kelly Bauer

Ron Walters, who provided consulting services to NIU President Doug Baker until Dec. 31, was paid more than $460,000 during 18 and a half months, even when records indicate he didn’t have scheduled work.

Walters’ salary varied throughout his time at NIU, but he was paid every two weeks, even when his work calendar showed he did not have work for NIU scheduled for days or weeks at a time. NIU also reimbursed Walters for travel against state regulations.

During his time at NIU, Walters, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, worked with Baker on creating the Master Plan Thesis and Bold Futures Workshops.


Walters’ pay varied throughout his time at NIU, according to the results of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to NIU by the Northern Star.

Walter was paid $16,250 for his first two weeks at NIU. After that he was paid between $8,125 and $11,250 every two weeks until March 15, 2014, when he was paid $15,000, according to the FOIA results. Walters’ pay stayed at $15,000 every two weeks until his employment at NIU ended on Dec. 31.

Altogether, Walters was paid about $463,125 from July 15, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2014. He did not have a contract or consulting agreement with NIU, according to the results of a FOIA request submitted to NIU by the Northern Star.

In comparison, Baker is paid $450,000 every year.

Travel reimbursements

Walters was reimbursed about $32,032.92 for travel between his home in Washington and NIU, according to the results of a FOIA request submitted to NIU by the Northern Star. Walters received reimbursements June 2013 to July 2014, although his work calendar indicates he continued to fly to and from DeKalb until December 2014.

Employees cannot be reimbursed for travel between home and headquarters, according to regulations.

During his trips to NIU, Walters stayed in the Holmes Student Center Hotel, where he did not have to pay for lodging. Travel reimbursement forms show Walters was in DeKalb about 167 days, which would have cost almost $15,000 in lodging if he stayed in the hotel’s cheapest room, which has a discounted rate of $89 per night for NIU employees.

Not paying for lodging at the hotel can be considered a benefit for which an employee will be taxed, said Al Phillips, vice president of Administration and Finance.


Walters has worked with Baker on addressing NIU issues — falling enrollment, low retention and state funding cuts — since before Baker even officially began as NIU’s president: Walters was on campus by at least late June and Baker officially started work as president on July 1.

The two, who worked together during Baker’s time as provost at the University of Idaho, created and implemented NIU’s Bold Futures Workshops. The workshops, held during the 2013-14 academic year, brought together NIU and DeKalb community members to brainstorm ways to transform the campus.

Walters also helped in the creation of the Master Plan Thesis, a series of ideas about how NIU can be reinvented to increase campus activity. The thesis proposed planting 2,018 trees to honor the class of 2018, closing Normal Road to vehicles and establishing a more defined quad, among other things.

“Well, this was something just done in the spirit of exploring possibilities. This is far from being a plan that we will be implementing; it is simply to recognize that there are a lot of different fronts in which we need to be exploring in ways to provide better student experiences,” Walters said, according to a Feb. 11, 2014, Northern Star article.

Walters also reached out to community members. He met with the Student Association Senate to explain the Master Plan Thesis on Feb. 9, 2014. He scheduled meals with local leaders, including DeKalb and Sycamore mayors John Rey and Ken Mundy, and planned to go sailing with Kenneth and Ellen Chessick, prominent NIU donors, according to FOIA results.

FOIA results showed Walters made about 19 trips to DeKalb during his time as an employee. He continued to work while out of DeKalb, but his calendar indicates he went days or weeks at a time without scheduled work while receiving a paycheck every two weeks.

In one instance, Walters did not have work scheduled Dec. 12 to Dec. 31, 2014, although he was paid $15,000 on Dec. 31. From Nov. 13 to Dec. 7, 2014, Walters scheduled four NIU appointments, each an hour to an hour and a half long, while being paid $15,000.

Baker was not available for comment before press time, but he referred the Northern Star to an Aug. 8 column he wrote for the Daily Chronicle in response to criticism about Walters’ salary.

“The challenges we face required me to look outside the organization for highly specialized talent,” Baker wrote. “Attracting individuals like [interim CFO Nancy Suttenfield] to lead the finance division and Ron [Walters] to facilitate strategy development required that we provide a competitive compensation package to them both.”


NIU has implemented portions of the Master Plan Thesis Walters helped work on, planting 2,018 trees and deconstructing Douglas Hall so Lucinda Avenue can be extended, among other things.

The Bold Futures Workshops, which generated 80 reports from faculty, staff and students, brought together nearly 800 community members who talked about ways to revitalize NIU and its relationship with DeKalb.

The semester after the workshops — fall 2014 — saw the trend of enrollment falling continue as the student population declined from 21,138 in fall 2013 to 20,611. The decline was the smallest NIU has had in five years, and freshman retention rose from 66 percent to 71 percent. But, NIU also saw declines in freshman enrollment after two years of growth in that area.

NIU now faces potential funding cuts from the state as Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed cutting about a third — or $29.3 million — of NIU’s state funding, which would make NIU’s Fiscal Year 2016 allocation $64 million. Baker said NIU will re-examine spending on capital projects and travel expenses, among other things, in the wake of proposed cuts, according to a Feb. 19 Northern Star article.


Baker and Walters worked together at Idaho, where they “built up a level of trust,” Baker said in the letter he sent to the Northern Star.

“I am no different than virtually any other university president or private sector CEO, for that matter, in that I want people on my team who I know and trust and will get the job done,” Baker wrote. “So, I brought in Ron temporarily, and his work has met with a good deal of success across the university.”

Walters is a “senior strategist” who has spent more than four decades “building organizations and counseling global enterprises,” Baker wrote. He founded planning project firm Cormac Systems in 1970 and worked there until 1986, when he became the director of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, which provides consulting and advisory work, among other things.

Walters was the president and CEO of 21st Century Learning Institute, which works to connect parents and communities with children’s education, and he was a principal at Ecotone Partners and NBBJ, an architecture, planning and design firm, among other things.

Walters’ work has focused on strategic planning.

Information gathering

The Northern Star gathered information for this article through several Freedom of Information Act requests, research and interviews.

Portions of Walters’ calendar, which was requested in whole by the Northern Star, were not present in NIU’s response to the Star: Sept. 16 to Oct. 6, 2013; Dec. 23, 2013, to Jan. 5, 2014; Feb. 24 to March 8, 2014; and April 13 to 19, 2014. Walters was reimbursed for travel expenses during some of these times, indicating he was working for NIU.

Walters was in DeKalb May 31 to June 6, 2014, his calendar indicates, but NIU did not provide a reimbursement form to the Northern Star for this trip. NIU provided reimbursement forms for two trips between June 6 and July 18, but NIU indicated it did not process reimbursement forms for the trips Walters took to and from NIU between July 19 and Dec. 31, when his employment ended.