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NIU board approves negotiations with Freeman to become next president

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University will begin negotiations with Lisa Freeman to remove the “acting” tag from her title and make her the university’s first female president.

After about four hours of closed session discussion, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted, 8-0, Thursday afternoon to negotiate with Freeman, rather than pursue any other candidates for the position, vacated when ex-President Doug Baker stepped down in June 2017.

“It is an honor and privilege to be here today,” Freeman said after the vote and a lengthy standing ovation from a packed room.

Freeman became acting president at the time of Baker’s resignation, and initially stated she wasn’t interested in filling the position on a permanent basis. She changed her mind in the past six months, however, and the board named her its sole candidate during a July meeting.

During a forum Aug. 30, Freeman focused on campus safety and fostering partnerships with city agencies in order to provide a bright future for NIU.

Her candidacy received endorsements from NIU leadership and NIU-affiliated groups during the “Reports of Board Committees and Board Liaisons” section of the meeting.

Paul Kassel, dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, spoke on behalf of the university’s deans, stating that the deans offered their “complete and unqualified support for Dr. Lisa Freeman.”

Joe Sener, vice president of the NIU Alumni Association, said that the NIUAA “strongly supports” Freeman as president, specifically citing her commitment to alumni and to maintaining transparency.

The NIU Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that closely works with the university, also offered Freeman its support.

In the past 10 years, NIU’s enrollment has fallen about 30 percent, from 24,397 to 17,169, according to 10th-day numbers released Tuesday by the university.

“For this point in time, we think Lisa possessed the right skills to navigate us through troubled waters to help turn this university around,” board Chairman Wheeler Coleman said.

Freeman was vice president and provost during Baker’s presidency. He stepped down and ultimately received about $600,000 in severance after a state investigation found that, since Baker became president in 2013, NIU officials improperly classified high-paid consultants as affiliate employees on Baker’s orders to avoid state rules that require competitive bidding.

Before joining NIU, Freeman spent 16 years on the faculty of Kansas State University, where she served as a principal investigator on research and training grants, taught pharmacology and the responsible conduct of research and acted as a mentor to numerous graduate students, postdoctoral trainees and early-career faculty members.

Freeman earned her bachelor’s degree in 1981, then a master’s degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1986 from Cornell University, according to her biography at She went on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy at Ohio State University in 1989.

“I look forward to working with everyone, those who supported my [candidacy] and those who didn’t support the process to move this university forward,” Freeman said Thursday.

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