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Advocates for all, new governance leaders share passion for NIU

September 13, 2021

The new leaders of shared governance at NIU want to ensure that all voices get heard in campus decision-making.

Each believes strongly in shared governance and its importance at NIU, especially at a time of transition amid challenges created by the global pandemic.

“We’re trying to make a comfortable and safe transition back to working and attending classes on campus. That is our main goal for this year,” said Peter Chomentowski, Ph.D., the newly elected president of the Faculty Senate and chair of the University Council.

Along with the Faculty Senate and University Council, the Operating Staff Council and Supportive Professional Staff Council also have new leaders.

Holly Nicholson, assistant director of web communications in the Division of Enrollment Management and Communications, was elected to her third term as president of the Operating Staff Council (OSC) and will serve through 2023.

Felicia Bohanon, Ed.D., executive director of the Office of Precollegiate Programs, will serve a two-year term as the new president of the Supportive Professional Staff Council (SPSC), stepping up from a previous role as vice-president of the council.

The governing groups meet regularly to discuss issues affecting their members and the entire campus, including policies that impact the quality of student life. They inform the Board of Trustees of issues that affect the people they represent.

‘Everyone has a say’

Peter Chomentowski

In his seventh year at NIU, Chomentowski became involved in shared governance because he believes everyone—faculty, staff and students—should have the right to voice their opinion on topics.

Chomentowski, Ph.D., an associate professor of exercise physiology in the College of Education and director of Fitness Assessment, Consulting and Technology in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, has served on the Faculty Senate for the past six years.

“It’s all about giving the individuals and groups of the university an opportunity to share their voices and opinions on topics as primary stakeholders,” he said. “When it comes to things like curriculum polices, everyone has a say in that.”

Chomentowski said he faces logistical challenges in his one-year term. Governor Pritzker’s Disaster Declaration related to COVID-19 no longer contains an executive order allowing all meetings required to follow the Open Meetings Act to be held virtually. That executive order expired July 24. Therefore, meetings that are required to follow the Open Meetings Act must again be held in person.

But, for various reasons, not all members are able to attend in-person meetings, which makes it difficult for the 69-seat Faculty Senate. Because of the large size of the governing body, roll-call votes done through virtual or hybrid methods are not really an option and would take away anonymity, Chomentowski said.

“While we are encourage all members to attend the meetings in person, we still have to work with faculty and staff that are not working from campus as of right now,” he said.

‘My passion’

Felicia Bohanon

Bohanon has spent the past 26 years at NIU helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend and graduate from college.

“That’s my passion,” said Bohanon, who also chairs the Presidential Commission on Race and Ethnicity.

Her role as president of SPSC gives her another outlet to be an advocate for others.

“I was interested in becoming more involved and providing representation for supportive professional staff across the university,” she said. “In this new role, I’m able to have a greater voice, particularly when we look at issues related to equity and inclusion, which are major university values.”

Bohanon expects to set many of her goals based on feedback from an upcoming survey on workplace climate going out to NIU’s nearly 600 SPS personnel.

Among the issues she aims to address are ensuring adequate compensation for growing workloads, as well as timely and informative communication to employees transitioning from supportive professional staff to civil service.

“I think that one of the challenges supportive staff face, along with other employees across campus, is balancing the need and interest of working remotely with providing services and support to students, which we recognize is our priority,” she said. “The recent report provided by the Remote Work Policy Task Group offers some valuable insights into to achieving this balance.”

‘Valuable insight’

Holly Nicholson

With two degrees from NIU and as a university employee since 2007, Nicholson’s love of her leadership role, as well as “NIU, its amazing staff and our incredible students” is deep.

She became a member of the OSC in 2014 and was first elected president a year later. She’s also served as vice president of the governing body.

In the upcoming term, her goals include establishing the operating staff personnel advisor position—currently in its sixth year in pilot mode—in the university’s constitution and bylaws. Along with serving as a resource for OSC, the adviser position was created to help employees navigate, understand and take advantage of all the resources available at NIU.

The OSC looks to launch a new Civil Service Emergency Fund this academic year. The OSC is currently in the fundraising stage for the fund, which was established to assist civil service employees facing economic crisis.

Nicholson also intends to continue advocating for fair application of remote working guidelines, fair salaries and a more balanced workforce.

She knows the pandemic has affected the connection many feel to the university and their colleagues.

“As people return to campus or settle into a new normal with remote or hybrid working situations, it will be crucial to find ways to rebuild that sense of community and togetherness,” she said. “There will also be a challenge in finding the positive things we have learned over the past year and half—remote options for people who can’t make it to meetings, scheduling flexibility, working from home, etc.—and  incorporating those into policies and processes going forward, while being fair to employees, supervisors and students alike.”