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President Baker: Clearing the air on travel

February 10, 2016

Altgeld Hall in winterAlmost immediately upon my arrival at NIU, I set forth Ethically Inspired Leadership as one of the pillars that would support all of my administration’s efforts on behalf of the university. Key to delivering on this commitment is to be clear and transparent in our response to issues raised about our stewardship of university resources. For that reason, I would like to address two recent concerns raised in social media about the use of funds in the president’s office.

First, a question has arisen regarding my wife’s (Dr. Dana Stover) travel on behalf of NIU for a total of $4,600 over the last two-and-a half years. In fact, Dana does travel to work for the university (without compensation). From time to time she accompanies me, and works alongside me, as we meet with current and potential donors on behalf of NIU to raise money to support our students, faculty and staff. Such travel is common practice for presidents’ spouses/partners in higher education, and reimbursement of her travel expenses for such work is covered in my contract, signed by the NIU Board of Trustees, and has been common practice with previous presidents.

Questions were also raised about seat upgrades. To clarify that issue, twice during the time in question, Dana’s typical coach seat had to be upgraded to ensure that she could be booked on the proper flight. The total cost was $94.

Dana plays a crucial role that many other university president’s spouses/partners play, namely working in the community and across the university to build relationships, serve on boards, engage with students and donors, volunteering her time for all of these activities. Her prior career as a faculty member and administrator has prepared her well for this role, and she has done it enthusiastically and with great success.

Additionally, a question also was raised regarding travel reimbursements of about $2,800 to Magaly Rodriguez, a former affiliate employee. In this instance, the university’s payment for her travel was not appropriate. When that error was recognized last July, steps were taken to recoup the funds from Ms. Rodriguez.

An instance like the one described above was among the reasons that I implemented an examination and overhaul of the longstanding financial procedures in the president’s office. For the past year we have been engaged in the same process re-engineering that is taking place in departments across campus. As a result, we have streamlined operations and made our dealings more transparent. We have benefited greatly from budgets more accurate than those that were in place when I arrived. This also has allowed us to monitor our activities more closely and reduce spending dramatically.

These changes in bookkeeping and budgeting are two examples among many aimed at making Northern Illinois University a model institution when it comes to issues of both financial sustainability and ethical leadership. My focus going forward is to navigate us through the budget impasse, coming out of it as a stronger, more financially viable institution for the long haul while focusing on our keystone goal of student career success.

Together forward,