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Our View: New administrative structure positive for NIU

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

As Northern Illinois University endured a series of scandals involving its internal operations in 2012 and early 2013, the hope was that a new president would make changes.

On Friday, three months into his tenure, new NIU President Douglas Baker delivered by announcing several adjustments to the university’s administrative structure.

Some of the changes targeted the university’s Division of Finance and Facilities, which had been the subject of scandals in the year before Baker’s arrival.

Finance and facilities will be split into the Division of Finance, led by a chief financial officer, and the Division of Administration. Responsibility for operating the Convocation Center and Huskie Stadium will be handed over to the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The year before Baker’s arrival was a rocky one in many of the university departments that had reported to Eddie Williams, the university’s executive vice president for finance and facilities and chief of operations, who retired in May.

Robert Albanese, the associate vice president for finance and facilities, and John Gordon, the Convocation Center director, were dismissed facing serious misconduct allegations in July 2012.

Several employees in the division were indicted and three pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in the “coffee fund” investigation.

NIU police Chief Donald Grady was dismissed after the department mishandled evidence in a rape case. The police department was subject of an FBI search; the warrant for the search included the name of Williams, who took a paid leave of absence before retiring May 31. The police department earlier was placed under the supervision of William Nicklas, vice president for public safety and community relations.

Baker has said that the changes were not aimed at decentralizing the responsibilities that once were consolidated under the supervision of Williams.

Yet it has had that effect, which is a positive. That had been a complaint of some that the old organizational chart consolidate power in the hands of a very few top administrators. The drumbeat of negative incidents that began in July 2012 and continued well into winter 2013 showed a need for a new way of doing business.

After a few months of observing how the university operated and talking with students, faculty and alumni, as well as a consulting firm, Baker has brought those changes.

Other intiatives aim to better coordinate the university’s IT and marketing, and increase the number of higher-tuition paying international students.

NIU is a publicly funded organization, and an important part of that public trust is efficiently and ethically managing public assets.

Hopefully, the new structure will allow the university to continue to grow and meet the future demands of students and stakeholders.

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