Baker Report: Correcting Course – new policies enhance transparency

I’m writing to you today to announce the conclusion of reviews into several complaints regarding procurement practices, employment decisions, and contractual arrangements that occurred in 2013-2014 when I first assumed the presidency and initiated plans to improve the physical campus. The allegations in these complaints have now been investigated, and I want to share the issues identified and what the Board of Trustees and I see as the way forward.

A major factor for both recruitment and retention is the attractiveness and functionality of our campus. Whether the campus fulfills the expectations of prospective students and those who influence their decisions was a question we intentionally posed in 2013. Feedback – particularly from students – indicated a desire for a much more vibrant social and academic campus core, similar to contemporary spaces at competing schools. Responding to this feedback, one of our goals became revitalizing our campus core. Importantly, we believed we should and could pursue this goal urgently.

Gilbert Hall renovations were nearly complete when I arrived, and the next steps in our residential renaissance included an assessment of improvements we could make to centrally-located Neptune Hall. Other projects that promised to alter the character and vibrancy of the center of campus included the renovation of Holmes Student Center, and limited institutional resources existed to substantially address this goal. Connecting the center of campus to the residence, recreation, and athletic complexes located on the west side of campus also emerged as an objective we could achieve at a remarkable pace by extending Lucinda Avenue – our campus’ main thoroughfare. Finally, modest but impactful improvements to the landscape were pursued within a short timeframe.

While I am confident these strategic initiatives were right for NIU and calibrated closely to our essential priorities, our progress has not been without difficulty. Investigations have substantiated that in 2013 and 2014 there were weaknesses in internal controls, some limited compliance violations, and lack of clarity of policies across multiple units. Investigation did not yield evidence of substandard work, but it did identify issues with administering certain employment, consulting, and capital works agreements.

As leader of the university, I am ultimately accountable for these issues, and I take full responsibility for them. I also make a personal pledge to the university community that they will not re-occur. To this end, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, I have supported the development of new and revised policies intended to further public trust and confidence in university employment and contracting practices and actions. These include elimination of the “affiliate employee” classification as of January 1, 2016 and corrective actions related to some of those hired into such positions in 2013 and 2014. I have also instructed my cabinet to study and implement process improvements regarding consulting, design, and other contracting arrangements.

I am also personally committed to ensuring that our employees feel confident and secure in raising future questions or concerns, and seeking clarity on procedures and policies without fear of criticism or negative consequences. Specifically, we will offer additional staff training on this matter and have adopted an upgraded Whistleblower Policy which encourages reporting and more fully protects those who choose to make good-faith reports of any suspected legal and policy violations. To be clear, even when there is urgent need for change, it is critical that policies, procedures, and protocols must be observed.

As the university engages in ongoing process improvement, I earnestly expect that our actions will demonstrate this university’s commitment to proper conduct and prudent oversight. I welcome suggestions or ideas from the campus community and will report further as our process improvements are implemented.

Sincerely,

Doug

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