Letter from the Chair and Vice Chair of the NIU Board of Trustees

Dear NIU Community,

Last August and September, the Chair and Vice Chair of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees met with multiple stakeholder groups on campus to gather feedback intended to inform the search for a new president of NIU. We met with the Faculty Senate, Operating Staff Council, Supportive Professional Staff Council, the Council of Deans, student leaders, the NIU Alumni Association Board, and the NIU Foundation Board. The input we received was invaluable and ultimately informed the board’s decision to postpone the launch of a national search and create the Presidential Search Planning Committee (PSPC).

With the unexpected change in leadership last summer, the immediate goal of the board was to steady the university. Dr. Lisa Freeman readily accepted that challenge. In her role as Acting President for the past year, she has not only stabilized operations but also has led efforts that have notably advanced NIU in areas such as transparency and fiscal sustainability. She has driven growth in our partnerships, responded thoughtfully to student advocacy on a range of critical issues, and actively engaged donors and alumni. We have had the benefit of observing and working with her in this role. She has consistently demonstrated a keen ability to meet the university’s challenges and position NIU for future success. We are grateful for the professionalism and leadership that she has provided and for the passion she has shown for NIU.

After several months of work by the PSPC, we recently received their findings and recommendations. The reports were both thoughtful and thorough. They championed the important role of shared governance in the presidential selection process and provided insight into trends and best practices related to that work. Most importantly, they developed a Presidential Search Profile that captured the qualifications, experiences and requirements NIU wants and deserves in our next president.

As the board studied the profile developed by the PSPC, it was concurrently conducting Dr. Freeman’s annual performance review. While that assessment has not yet been completed, it is clear from the preliminary work that she has received high marks for her performance this past year.  As the two processes proceeded, it became very evident that the needs described in the profile, and the expertise, talents and values of Acting President Freeman tightly align.

Given the challenges we face, as well as the myriad, positive opportunities to be developed, we need a proven leader who will continue to build momentum. We also must consider the high costs of hiring a search firm as well as the risks associated with a national search, including the possibility of a failed search.

When Dr. Freeman accepted the role of acting president, she communicated that she would not be a candidate for the position so that there would not be a question about her motivations when the time came to make tough decisions and represent NIU at the city, state and national levels. As a board, we approached her with our support and asked her to reconsider a candidacy. She shared with us that she would be honored to be considered because after a year in her role, her commitment to our university, mission and community has only grown.

As we considered how to proceed, we again turned to the work done by the PSPC, as well as the Northern Illinois University Law, the Board of Trustees Regulations and Bylaws, the University Constitution and Bylaws and other relevant guides to chart a path forward. While the board has the ultimate authority to determine who serves as president, we believe deeply in shared governance. The PSPC work showed us that a typical presidential search is conducted by a committee comprised of fewer than 25 members who represent the university. We believe there is room at the table for more feedback on such a critical decision.

After consultation with the University Advisory Committee, Senior Roundtable and the Council of Deans, we would like to propose an adjusted search process and put forth Dr. Freeman as the candidate for the university and board to consider. We want to again participate in informational gathering sessions with our diverse constituency groups (Faculty Senate, Operating Staff Council, SPS Council, the Council of Deans, the Presidential Commissions, alumni, donors and city officials). We also will hear from the executive and legislative leaders of the Student Association and the leadership of several recognized student organizations. These sessions are intended to take place in August and September. Feedback gathered at each session will be brought back for consideration by the full board at one of its future meetings. This approach will not only allow the board to move forward in a timely manner, it also will ensure that constituencies on campus will have ample opportunity to have their voices heard.

We will propose this adjusted process to the Board of Trustees at a special meeting on Monday, July 16. If approved, we will then move forward with scheduling information gathering sessions with each group. One or two trustees will attend these sessions to receive feedback. The role of the trustees attending the information gathering sessions will be limited to listening and collecting information. They will not engage in any sort of deliberations at these sessions and will not provide initial recommendations to the Trustees. Discussion among trustees regarding the hiring of the new President will take place at a pre-scheduled trustees meeting and after the completion of the information gathering sessions. We also will make plans for a university-wide forum where Dr. Freeman will outline her vision for the future of the university and engage in a question and answer session with faculty, staff and students.

Constructive and honest feedback is a gift and something we take very seriously. We look forward to an opportunity to hear from you and move our university forward.

Sincerely,

Wheeler Coleman
Chair, Board of Trustees

Dennis Barsema
Vice Chair, Board of Trustees EMPHASIZED

 

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