Lawmakers outraged at disgraced NIU president’s golden parachute

By Scot Bertram 
Illinois News Network

A severance package handed out to the exiting president of Northern Illinois University is drawing attention from state lawmakers.

Doug Baker announced his resignation last week at an NIU Board of Trustees meeting. He’s leaving the school following a report by the state’s Inspector General that alleged improper spending and hiring. Under an agreement approved by the trustees, Baker will receive around $600,000 plus benefits when he steps down.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, is outraged at what he calls a “golden parachute” provided to Baker as he leaves DeKalb.

“There’s no reason to, if somebody’s under investigation, to give them a massive payout to walk away,” Cullerton said. “If he was mislabeling titles, bringing on friends or acquaintances to do jobs … that’s a huge problem. That needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed across the board.”

Baker denies the allegations in the report and says he’s stepping down because of the “distraction” the investigation has caused.

Cullerton is calling for tougher regulations to stop state universities from agreeing to similar payouts.

“We [previously] did a deep dive into community colleges and their perks and benefits and what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Cullerton said. “We did three or four different laws that pertained to the way community colleges do their hiring, what they can do with their contracts. And it would seem to me this would be the perfect opportunity, after the budget, to do that same type of investigation into our state universities and see how we can stop these practices there as well.”

Northern Illinois University is located within the district of State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. He’s calling on college and university leaders to be more aware of the consequences of contracts they’re offering.

“The state and the boards need to be mindful to … not give multi-year contracts with big guarantees and make sure there are clauses in there that if rules are broken that we won’t honor some of those agreements that are in the original contract,” Syverson said. “I think universities need to be looking at those exit contracts to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen where if someone is leaving for cause, then we’re not on the hook for a portion of that cost.”

Cullerton also pointed to recent financial issues at Chicago State and the College of DuPage. He says there remains a need for greater fiscal responsibility across higher education in Illinois.

“I have three boys that are about to go into the university system,” Cullerton said. “I would love them to go to universities here in Illinois. But I definitely want to make sure we’re giving not only our taxpayers but also our students the best bang for their buck and not having people take advantage of the system.”

The payout to Baker comes just a month after NIU announced it would eliminate 150 staff positions on campus.

Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman will serve as interim president at the school starting on July 1, but will not pursue the position permanently.

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