NIU needs a clean slate

Now, more than ever before, NIU and DeKalb are in a position to change.

NIU President John Peters, Athletics Director Jeff Compher, NIU Police Chief Don Grady, Mayor Kris Povlsen and City Manager Mark Biernacki are on their way out—or, in the case of Grady, gone.

That’s five of the area’s most powerful leaders. That’s five opportunities to bring in fresh, ethical thinkers who will increase cooperation between the city and university and help lead NIU Athletics on a path to potential greatness.

Follow the Northern Star’s three-part editorial series over the next few days as the Editorial Board examines the university, city and athletics department. The Editorial Board wants better from all of them for the good of NIU students.

It’s time to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

Part One: The University

NIU has experienced more than its fair share of scandals this year.

This can’t keep happening. The Editorial Board wants NIU to get rid of the corrupt; they’re holding the university back. A number of employees have already been fired or placed on leave because of their connections to scandals. If NIU wants to truly create a clean slate and shed its tarnished image from this year, more will need to be done.

The President

NIU’s new president needs to take a hands-on approach to watching the university’s administrators.

President John Peters was a strong leader in the past, as in the wake of the February 2008 shootings, but he has appeared disappointingly absent and quiet this year.

NIU needs a president who will watch the university’s administrators and fire the people who need to be fired. He or she needs to address scandals as they happen, then be vocal in putting forth solutions so similar ethical breaches do not reoccur.

Peters was heroic in his fundraising efforts and in the way he connected with students. He helped rebuild and revitalize the campus and gave it clear goals with Vision 2020.

Unfortunately, it seems the university’s response to scandals has been a news release and relative silence. That does little to show strong leadership and make the communiversity feel something is being done. We need a man or woman of action and transparency.

The Presidential Search

Students were able to attend an open forum in March 2000 during Peters’ bid for the NIU presidency. There will not be an open forum for his successor, according to Paul Palian, director of media and public relations.

On top of that, the final four candidates’ identities are confidential. This is to avoid conflict with their current employers. This is understandable to a degree, but unacceptable at such a late stage in the search process. NIU is a public university that each student is paying to attend. The confidentiality of the final candidates’ identities should not override the student body’s voice on this matter.

This is a crucial moment for NIU students to start caring about who will be the university’s next president. It would be one thing if NIU was running itself smoothly, but its integrity is starting to decline from the continued negative national media attention.

We need more transparency with NIU’s inner workings and president to prevent future scandals, and that means NIU’s students need to know who the presidential candidates are and need to be able to ask them questions.

Eddie Williams

The Editorial Board maintains that Eddie Williams, chief of operations and executive vice president of business and finance, is not doing his job. Employees from the Police Department, Materials Management, the Convocation Center and other departments—areas that Williams is supposed to oversee—have been at the core of scandals from the fall and this spring. Williams is currently on paid leave and is a subject in an FBI investigation.

Williams’ role encompassed overseeing many areas, and perhaps that contributed to the many problems within them this year. The Northern Star Editorial Board proposes that whether Williams returns or not, some of his position’s responsibilities be delegated so the chief of operations and executive vice president can pay closer attention to the departments he or she oversees.

The Police Department

The NIU Police Department needs to be more independent and needs a strong, ethical leader.

As the Northern Star Editorial Board pointed out in an Aug. 27 editorial, conflicts of interest present themselves when NIU police have to investigate certain university employees. For example, the NIU Police Department conducted an investigation of the Coffee Fund; however, the Police Department and the employees connected to the Coffee Fund answer to Williams.

If the department was a separate entity that answered to another power—perhaps the university president or a vice president who doesn’t oversee as much as Williams does—police personnel would not have to worry about what their boss thought about a report or investigation.

Chief Don Grady’s termination also provides an opportunity for the university to improve the relations between its and the city’s police departments.

NIU can also scale back how much it pays its police chief—Grady made more than $204,000 in FY2012, in comparison to the Police Superintendent of Chicago, who makes about $260,000, or the police chief of Chicago State University, who made about $133,000 in FY2012.

Read Future Installments

This is the first of three parts of the Editorial Board’s Clean Slate series. See Part Two: Athletics here.