Baker change could lead to future abuses

NIU President Doug Baker made some bold and slightly worrisome administrative announcements Friday.

The Editorial Board applauds Baker’s efforts to clean up inefficiencies and save money; however, the consolidation of duties under Bill Nicklas, vice president for Operations and Community Relations, poses some problems.

The issue does not lie with Nicklas, whose work performance has not concerned the Editorial Board and who has ties to the community and a strong work ethic. Instead, the problem is NIU’s history with vice presidents whose authority reaches too far.

Last year, NIU faced an onslaught of scandals: Physical Plant workers were accused of selling scrap metal and misusing the profits, an administrator resigned and another retired while under investigation for misconduct and the NIU police chief was fired and the department searched by the FBI, among other things.

These scandals happened in departments that ultimately answered to Eddie Williams, former executive vice president and chief of operations for Finance and Facilities.

The Editorial Board was upset the police department — a department Williams oversaw — investigated some of the scandals in Williams’ other departments, which is another problem in extending vice presidents’ reach: conflicts of interest.

Williams was placed on paid leave before retiring in the spring.

Williams was stretched thin and was unable to effectively oversee his departments and stop the scandals that piled up last year.

Nicklas pointed out his position, even with its recently added responsibilities, doesn’t oversee finances, unlike Williams’. That does help lighten the load, and Nicklas said if he felt overwhelmed he would speak with Baker about his duties.

“I have an obligation to inform the president if I think what’s under my wing is beyond my ability,” Nicklas said.

But the same isn’t guaranteed of Nicklas’ potential successors, and NIU should avoid assigning so many responsibilities to one role.

Administrators’ responsibilities should be divided so as to avoid conflicts of interest and a consolidation of too much power in one role, and the tasks assigned to the vice president for Operations and Community Relations role should be reassessed to prevent the problems Williams faced.

NIU needs to make sure it’s learned from its mistakes and isn’t putting too much responsibility under one position.