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Baker Report: Endings and New Beginnings

June 15, 2017

Over the past four years, I have enjoyed sharing the progress we’ve made in building a more sustainable organization, creating a more just and inclusive environment and the almost daily achievements in teaching, research, artistry and engagement that have promoted our goal of student career success.

I also have reported with pride about the awards earned by members of the NIU community, have shared the excellence exhibited by our students and faculty, both inside and outside the classroom, and expressed gratitude for the immense work undertaken by hundreds of staff and faculty to deliver on a multi-year commitment to Program Prioritization.

Then there have been the times when I’ve provided you information on the challenges we face in maintaining financial stability, given our tenuous state political and fiscal climate, and the lengths we have had to go to reduce our operating budget to deal with this persistent uncertainty. And, there have been times when I’ve had the task of clarifying other issues that have challenged our ability to move the University forward.

This brings us to May 31, when I provided important background on the release of the report from the State of Illinois’ Office of Executive Inspector General (OEIG) that reviewed procurement and hiring practices that happened back in the early months of my administration, in mid- to late-2013. While I take full responsibility for the mistakes made on my watch, I also take great exception to the unfair characterization of my actions in that report. Our Board of Trustees also clarified their understanding of what occurred and outlined corrective actions we undertook to address the errors and prevent their recurrence. As I said then, the staff members brought on board in 2013 and 2014 were hired to make urgent changes that I believed were necessary to move the University forward at a key time when it was under great scrutiny from federal agencies. I sincerely believed that all decisions were in compliance with the applicable requirements.

Nonetheless, it is clear to me that the reaction and concerns relating to the OEIG report — despite the work that the Board and I did several years ago to address the issues as soon as we became aware of them — have distracted the institution from the important work we need to do to address the challenges we face. I care too deeply about NIU to allow that to happen.

I shared my concerns with Board Chair John Butler last week. After careful consideration, we concluded the best step for the institution was to move forward with a presidential transition arrangement. As a result, I will be leaving the university on June 30.

I leave the University in the very capable hands of Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa C. Freeman, who has been of great support to me during my tenure here, and has led many of our major initiatives, most notably Program Prioritization. I am confident Lisa will build on the work we’ve done to enhance our financial sustainability, improve and expand on our retention and recruitment initiatives and better align our resources with the University’s mission. I ask that you support Lisa as she assumes her role as Acting President on July 1.

My thanks to our wonderful leadership team, our strong cadre of Deans, the faculty and staff, our inspiring and talented students, donors, alumni and my office staff for their support.

I also want to give my sincere thanks to the Board of Trustees for giving me the opportunity to lead NIU. It has been an exciting, professionally rewarding and ennobling experience for both Dana and myself. I wish you the best of luck in moving this great institution forward in these very challenging and turbulent times.

Go Huskies!