Former NIU president had term marked by controversy

By Lauren Dielman

Former NIU president Clyde Wingfield, who died Sept. 15, had a tumultuous 10-month presidency marked by controversy.

Wingfield was president from 1985 to 1986. Jerry Thompson, then-adviser of the Northern Star, attributes Wingfield’s short tenure to “aggressive reporting” by the Star.

“The Northern Star began receiving tips about controversial things having to do with Clyde Wingfield, starting at his previous place of employment before coming to NIU,” Thompson said. “If it hadn’t been for the newspaper taking these tips and turning them into stories, he would’ve remained as president.”

The Northern Star received information related to Wingfield’s plan to take $100,000 of university money and use it on the renovation of his state-owned house.

According to an April 1987 Northern Star editorial, Wingfield ordered his staff to pay no attention to Illinois laws, which demand state approval to schedule projects that exceed $20,000. Wingfield denied the allegation, saying he had not officially taken office when the renovations on his house took place. Although he wasn’t officially the president until July 1, 1985, he was acting president starting March 22 and was responsible for his actions during that time, the editorial board argued. When questioned, he said the charges were “an absolute lie.”

“I wasn’t in a position to order anyone around,” said Wingfield in an April 1987 Star article. “I wasn’t president.”

Ultimately, Wingfield targeted the Northern Star, Thompson said.

“It finally accumulated to the point where he decided to take his disdain out on the newspaper,” Thompson said.

Near the end of his term, Wingfield removed Thompson as Northern Star adviser. Thompson sued for interfering with the newspaper’s freedom of press because “what he was doing would have a chilling affect on the newspaper’s coverage on campus.” Thompson eventually was restored to his job.

“Wingfield’s charges are a poorly clouded attempt to gain control of the newspaper,” said Jerry Huston, then editor in chief of the Star, in a 1986 article. “Because of the amount of negative press he has drawn upon himself, he has chosen to punish the messenger because he doesn’t like the message.”

Wingfield was asked to resign shortly thereafter, Thompson said.

“He was responsible for his own undoing,” Thompson said.

Wingfield died at age 80 at his home in Dallas, Texas. He earned a Ph.D from Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Southern Methodist University held a service at Annette Caldwell Simmons Hall at Southern Methodist University, according to the Dallas Morning News. At the time of his death, he was a professor at SMU.

NIU officials could not be reached for comment as of press time. Wingfield’s widow declined to comment.

Campus Editor Matt Liparota contributed to this article.