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Stott: Students, faculty not part of scandals

As Northern Illinois University undertakes a search for a new president, there has been some speculation that the school will struggle to find any suitable candidates to fill the vacancy.

President John Peters is leaving NIU in June, and some worry potential candidates for his job will be turned off by the challenges facing the school.

As I hear this speculation paired with criticism of NIU based on issues at the police department and the so-called “coffee fund” scandal, I can’t help but feel defensive.

The news stories, editorials and online comments that amount to what sound like denouncements of the entire organization are infuriating to someone who recognizes the separation among various university elements.

“NIU is a bad school full of crooked administrators and state employees trying to soak taxpayers,” could be a summary of the negative comments I see and hear. NIU is like a chain-reaction, with one scandal revealed after another. And no one can look away from it, especially its bewildered alumni. 

As an alumna and a student, my mixed feelings of curiosity, embarrassment and defensiveness give way to frustration at the bad reputation NIU is in the midst of earning.

I’m hoping to graduate with two consecutive degrees from NIU. My resume will forever bear evidence of my time as a Huskie. I anticipate utilizing a network of NIU graduates throughout my career. My educational identity couldn’t be more cardinal and black.

And I will be darned if I am going to let administrative indiscretions tarnish the education I have worked toward for so many years.

It truly is a shame that NIU students, alumni, employees and the community must bear the burden of such reputational damage.

This column isn’t meant to excuse any of the alleged evidence tampering, theft or misconduct, although some readers will probably write me off as a blind defender of the institution.

But I would like to point out that from the perspective of a student who has been mostly satisfied with her educational career, that just because NIU is getting a lot of negative attention because of some high-profile cases doesn’t mean the quality of the education or service to students suffers.

Isn’t education the most important element of a public university?

NIU is such a big institution, with so many things going on, that most students, faculty and employees have no connection to the scandals.

It is unfortunate how easily a reputation can be harmed. What is worse, is the now familiar observation that only negative stories get major attention.

This is especially true when news outlets choose to spotlight only scandal; that becomes all the larger population uses to develop an opinion.

I must say, selfishly, that my biggest problem with NIU’s controversies isn’t the allegations of misconduct or misuse of funds. 

It is the chance that my professional reputation might be damaged by something over which I have absolutely no control. 

It may be the most shameful effect of all: Students who might consider their education less valuable because of their name-only association with the scandal.

So to any NIU presidential hopefuls considering what challenges may meet them in this job, please consider the students’ well-being over all other end results. They are among those with the most to lose.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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