DeKALB — The University Council passed a proposal April 3 to discontinue the President’s Staff as an administrative committee in favor of a group that may not be required to hold open meetings.
The proposed amendments to Articles 6.5 and 18.1 of the NIU Constitution would remove the President’s Staff because the committee “is not currently a functioning committee of the University,” according to the April 3 University Council meeting agenda.
Article 6.5 of the constitution lists the President’s Staff as an administrative committee, while Article 18.1 lists the duties of the President’s Staff.
The university was challenged by a community member who thinks the new Senior Leadership Roundtable should be subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, according to the agenda. The Open Meetings Act is a state law which allows the public to attend meetings of public bodies such as NIU’s Board of Trustees.
NIU President Lisa Freeman said she introduced the amendment because the language in the constitution is outdated and inaccurate.
“I brought the items forward because those two items from the constitution and bylaws are out of date,” Freeman said. “While we don’t always remove archaic language from our governing documents, a particular item that labeled the President’s Staff as a body that was a liaison to University Council was inaccurate and was causing confusion in the community.”
Freeman said in place of the President’s Staff is the Senior Leadership Roundtable.
The group is made up of administrators and deans that meet informally to “advise the president on matters pertaining to internal university affair,” according to the agenda.
Freeman said the goal of the group is to build better working relationships between leaders at the university.
“My goal with the roundtable is really to build a collaborative spirit and to get leaders of major divisions of the university to be comfortable sitting at a table with one another,” Freeman said.
Biological science professor Virginia Naples said the faculty isn’t pleased with the decision because it affects transparency between governing bodies and the community.
“The change to the NIU Constitution and Bylaws is a unilateral reduction in transparency on the part of the administration,” Naples said. “As are many faculty, I am unalterably opposed to this change.”
Freeman said the university asked the Attorney General’s office and the Public Access Council if the meetings of the Senior Leadership Roundtable are subject to the Open Meetings Act, but has yet to receive a decision.
“We do believe in transparency,” Freeman said. “But we also believe very firmly that these very informal staff meetings don’t meet the definition of an open meeting because it doesn’t make policy.”
Naples said some of her concerns are based on NIU’s history of university leadership. She said NIU needs more supervision than other Illinois universities.
Naples cited the resignation of University Presidents Clyde Windfield in 1986 and Doug Baker in 2017 as to why transparency matters at NIU.
Windfield resigned after the Board of Regents said his management style wasn’t “compatible” with NIU according to a May 23, 1986 Chicago Tribune article.
Baker resigned following the release of a report by the Illinois inspector general determined Baker and the university “repeatedly misclassified high-level, highly paid consultants as affiliate employees,” according to a 2017 report from the Governor’s Office of Executive Inspector General.
“NIU not only has to do everything going forward correctly, and with the highest degree of professional ethics, but it must also do this in the most open and public manner possible,” Naples said.
The decision moves to an anonymous faculty vote, where a two-thirds approval will move it to the final governing body, the Board of Trustees. The deadline for faculty votes is April 19, and faculty can vote online.