To the editor:
On Dec. 7, the NIU Board of Trustees unanimously reaffirmed its decision to gift the disgraced ex-NIU President Doug Baker a golden parachute of more than $600,000. Sen. Tom Cullerton was one of the state legislators who publicly expressed dismay with NIU, stating that he was disgusted with the Board’s actions. I share Senator Cullerton’s opinion.
I also question the reasons Chairman Wheeler Coleman used to justify this decision.
The board had granted Baker this payoff despite the clauses in Baker’s contract that 1) held him to the highest ethical standards and 2) allowed him to be fired for cause if he harmed the university. What better proof of lack of ethics or harm to the university than the OEIG report as released by the Executive Ethics Commission? The OEIG report was more than sufficient as cause for termination as it stated that Baker had mismanaged the University and inappropriately spent $1M of University monies.
But Coleman defended the Board’s actions by citing potential financial costs to the university if Baker did have the audacity to sue after termination. However, cost for a legal defense would not be the university’s cost. The Board would be defended by the Attorney General’s Office. It would be a taxpayer cost, but not a university cost – unless the trustees authorized special payments for additional individual lawyers, similar to the $200,000 they authorized for Baker to defend himself against the OEIG’s investigation into Baker’s now-proven mismanagement. And even if the Attorney General’s Office failed miserably at defending the university, insurance would pick up the tab. So where is any financial cost to the university?
On the other hand, the payment to Baker did cost the university. Not immediately out of pocket, but in reputation, which might affect future income. How do you attract students when it is known that their tuition helps support administration mismanagement? But more importantly, many at the state level have noticed this inappropriate expenditure, including Cullerton, who sits on the Committee for Higher Education. How will this wasteful expenditure by the Board affect future appropriations?
Coleman stated that the board’s major objective is to do what is in the best interest of the university. But the board’s decision to make a payoff to Baker to leave may have done more harm to the university than directly terminating him.
So that raises the question: What is the real reason for the Board’s decision?