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NIU faculty call Baker's departure necessary

Officials urge unity moving forward

DeKALB – Virginia Naples, professor of biological sciences at Northern Illinois University, called Doug Baker's resignation as president of Northern Illinois University a "necessary change."

​"It is the perception of the public that will determine the future course and success for the community," Naples said. "Financial mismanagement needs to be removed and corrected so the public can regain the perception that NIU is headed where it needs to go.

"A new broom sweeps clean and we need a new broom."

Baker announced at the open of Thursday's Board of Trustees meeting that he will step down June 30, after a state investigation concluded he had mismanaged the university.

Although the faculty's response during the public comment portion the meeting was largely critical of the president, trustees defended Baker's integrity as a leader and urged university staff to remain united moving ahead.

"Fiscal year 2018 will be the most challenging year the university has faced, and we do have to be unified," Board of Trustees Chairman John Butler said. "This means we need to be singularly focused on what's in the best interest of the university and its stakeholders."

Following Baker's announcement, Butler said that he hoped any public commenters would proceed with a level of mutual respect toward one another.

"My colleagues share a substantial level of concern for the future following the release of the report, and I know the concern is motivated by an earnest desire to see the university succeed in its mission," he said.

Michael Haji-Sheikh, an associate professor of electrical engineering at NIU who had lobbied the Faculty Senate to give Baker a vote of no confidence, said the president was a wrong fit for the community, and perhaps now the university can focus on issues of recruitment, academic excellence and good faculty.

"Obviously we want a nice, clean reputation, so when we go ask the legislators for money, they don't say, 'But what about what's going on at NIU?'" Haji-Sheikh said. "These are the questions they've been asking for two years. I'm convinced some of our budget woes are because we're not trustworthy in the legislators' eyes.”

Faculty Senate President Greg Long, meanwhile, said there was not an overwhelming response from the Senate following the release of the report from the Office of Executive Inspector General, which said that Baker hired five people as though they were part-time instructors and paid them more than $1 million combined. Long said any mistakes made by Baker were made in good faith.

“Trustees have done things to correct this, and I don't believe the same kinds of mistakes would be made again,” Long said.

Trustee Dennis Barsema said he appreciated those critical of the board and Baker's actions during the investigation, but urged the public that NIU is a great place of learning, and that faculty and community members should not divide themselves.

"I assure you from my standpoint and what I've seen from my peers, you have a board as a team that is going to work very hard on your behalf and will continue to do that," Barsema said.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he did not know Baker as well as his predecessor, Mayor John Rey, but knew that he was dedicated to working closely with the city and community businesses.

“As far as the city of DeKalb is concerned, we will continue to work with NIU administration, staff and the student body to let them know we want to be good partners with the university,” Smith said. “I hope the board is very aware that if there's any way they feel the city might be involved in the transition from Doug to an interim president, we would certainly be willing to be at that table.”

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