On Thursday and again today, a 28-member committee will meet at a Chicago hotel to interview candidates for the next president at Northern Illinois University.
The timing is a bit awkward. On Wednesday, the NIU police station was the site of an all-day search by the FBI, state police, and investigators from the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education.
In reality, the timing of the surprise search by federal agents was probably fortuitous.
For one, if the FBI has come to town, it probably won’t take them long to get to the bottom of whatever they’re looking for.
For another, it will drive home the point to potential presidents that NIU will not be a place they can take over and let it run itself.
These past eight months have provided enough examples of what happens with things left to run themselves. Since July at NIU:
• Two administrators resigned while under investigation for professional misconduct reportedly involving use of university property and employees for personal purposes;
• Eight current – and still working – employees and one former administrator are facing felony charges in connection with the “coffee fund” investigation;
• NIU Police Chief Don Grady was fired after the police department mishandled a rape investigation of a former officer. Grady claims he is being mistreated because he is black.
All of that can be explained away, perhaps, by a determined mind. But how about this latest visit from the feds?
What were they looking for they among the files and computers of NIU law-enforcers? Would HUD or the Department of Education be concerned with the Rifkin matter?
We don’t know.
No one’s been arrested.
These incidents are probably not the way that NIU President John Peters would like to see his tenure end, but the timing is ideal for the university to have a new leader.
The institution needs someone who can bring new ideas, new energy and new leadership to NIU.
It bears noting that all of the scandals of the past months have involved the operational side of the university – the part overseen by Eddie Williams, who continues to serve as executive vice president and chief of operations for finance and facilities.
Academically, NIU has a lot to offer in terms of a quality education. Operationally … there’s been a lot of high-profile departures and law enforcement activity.
Whoever is selected as NIU’s next president must be willing and able to confront these problems head-on.