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Lisa Freeman announces candidacy for NIU president

DeKALB – Lisa Freeman announced her candidacy for president of Northern Illinois University on Wednesday in an interview with the Daily Chronicle.

Freeman, who has been acting president for about a year, is on the verge of becoming the first woman to hold the permanent title of president. She had said she didn’t plan to pursue the permanent position, but the NIU Board of Trustees asked her to reconsider her decision after they heard from the university community about what qualities were desired in a president.

“As I reflected on all that I’ve learned in the time that I’ve been at NIU, the eight and a half years that I’ve been here, about what this university means, the excellence of our faculty and staff, as I’ve thought about the work that I’ve done with the terrific leadership team this past year and, in particular, what I’ve heard from students and alumni over the past year, I was honored to say that I would indeed make myself a candidate for the presidency,” Freeman said.

All trustees at a special meeting Monday voted in favor of a resolution naming Freeman as their choice and to make adjustments to the presidential search process. Freeman said she was not at the meeting because she and the trustees wanted people to speak freely about her being the board’s preferred candidate.

Wheeler Coleman, the board chairman, said the adjusted search process would include information-gathering sessions with several groups, including local municipal officials, the NIU Student Association, the NIU Faculty Senate and other university staff groups. The process also will include a universitywide forum where Freeman will share her vision for the future and answer questions, he said.

Coleman said the upcoming informational sessions would be in August and September, and that the board hopes to make a decision by the end of September.

Freeman became acting president at NIU after former President Doug Baker resigned after a state investigation found that, since Baker became president in 2013, NIU officials improperly classified high-paying consulting positions as affiliate employees on Baker’s orders to avoid state rules that require competitive bidding.

Freeman said the university was in a tough place when she accepted the position a year ago, with Illinois not having a budget for about 700 days and the unexpected transition in leadership.

“I thought it was important that the decisions I was making were for the good of the university and not to promote myself as the next president at NIU,” Freeman said.

Over the past year, qualifying university faculty and staff received a 3 percent wage increase, a central ethics office has been created at the university and travel expenses for the president will be posted online quarterly starting this fiscal year, Freeman said. She said her plans for the future include increased advocacy for NIU in Springfield and making public university education more accessible and affordable for students by also increasing university philanthropy.

“But can I flip a switch tomorrow and find cost of attendance for four years for 1,000 students? Not tomorrow,” Freeman said. “It’s a longer-term goal.”

NIU spokesman Joe King said Freeman is the only applicant and candidate for president at this time. He said the job listing isn’t posted yet and will be posted only if trustees decide to not hire her after considering input from various constituents, including campus groups and city officials.

NIU Student Association president Khiree Cross did not immediately return a request for comment. Faculty Senate president Therese Arado declined to comment, saying she had not been able to receive feedback from faculty senators about the trustees’ proposed presidential search process.

Freeman’s annual salary as acting president is $360,000 with no additional compensation, according to Illinois Board of Higher Education data. Her previous base salary as executive vice president and provost was $203,500, with $76,500 in additional compensation.

Baker’s salary was $450,000 a year, according to IBHE data, before he resigned in June 2017 and Freeman became acting president about a month later.

Freeman said she is looking forward to the search process and hearing from faculty, staff, students and others affected by NIU’s president.

“I would certainly never want to pursue this position if the community didn’t have an opportunity to express their opinions,” Freeman said.

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