NIU Board of Trustees unanimously approves $600,000 severance for former president

NIU Board of Trustees unanimously approves $600,000 severance for former president

The Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees approved an expensive severance package for former university President Doug Baker, despite the scandal ending his tenure.

The Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve a $600,000 severance package Dec. 7 for former University President Doug Baker, who resigned amid a patronage scandal.

Baker resigned from his post in June following the public release of an investigation showing improper hiring practices. The report revealed NIU paid a combined $1 million to at least five people the university hired as though they were part-time instructors to avoid competitive bidding requirements. Investigators said that under Baker’s watch, the university “committed a pattern of circumventing procurement requirements and violating employment policies and rules.” This was in “an effort to meet President Baker’s directives to select high-paid consultants (one of whom was a friend), and pay for travel and lodging, without restrictions.”

The NIU Board of Trustees first received the report in August 2016, roughly 10 months before the report became public and Baker resigned. The revote to approve the contract came after a DeKalb County judge ruled the package null and void Nov. 22 because the board had originally violated the Open Meetings Act, failing to disclose a meeting agenda for the closed meeting at which the board granted Baker his severance.

According to the Board of Trustees’ agenda for its meeting Dec. 7, Baker’s deal – which totals just over $600,000 – includes paying him his base salary of $450,000, a one-time lump sum of $137,500 and $30,000 for Baker’s “reasonable, unpaid expenses for legal counsel in relation to his service to the University.”

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who sits on the Illinois Senate’s higher education committee, slammed the board’s decision.

“Failed administrators and executives shouldn’t receive golden parachutes for wasting taxpayers’ time and money,” Cullerton said in a press release. “Our state universities and community colleges need to stop abusing state funds. These dollars should go toward educating our children, not lining the pockets of ineffective administrators.”

But unfortunately for taxpayers, expensive “golden parachutes” at Illinois public universities are nothing new.

In 2015, the College of DuPage Board of Trustees approved a $763,000 severance package for President Robert Breuder. During Breuder’s tenure at the College of DuPage, the college hid more than $95 million in spending – including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to businesses connected to college leadership, his membership in a private shooting club and nearly a quarter of a million dollars in alcohol listed on ledger lines as “instructional supplies.”

The Chicago Tribune called the $763,000 payout “one of the largest severance packages for a public employee in state history.”

In 2016, too, Chicago State University paid university President Thomas Calhoun Jr. $600,000 in severance despite Calhoun’s serving just nine months of a five-year contract.

The recklessness in giving out golden parachutes is a symptom of the waste in Illinois higher education. The administrative bloat – and high costs it carries ­– diverts money needed for students toward administrators, all on the backs of taxpayers. In 2015, more than half of the state’s $4.1 billion spent on public universities went to retirement costs alone, and more than half of Illinois’ 2,465 university administrators working that year received a base salary of $100,000 or more.

Given all the waste already prevalent in higher education – and the misguided prioritization of administrators over students – the NIU Board of Trustees should have denied the $600,000 severance package to a president marred by scandal. Instead, the board turned its back on taxpayers and students.

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