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NIU's Baker steps down, will receive $600K in severance agreement

Freeman to assume role as acting president

DeKALB – Following a nearly seven-hour-long closed session, Northern Illinois University's Board of Trustees agreed Thursday night to a severance arrangement with President Doug Baker that will pay him nearly $600,000, plus benefits, after he steps down June 30.

Baker will receive a full year's salary of $450,000, plus applicable benefits, and $137,000 to not serve as faculty of the College of Business. His contract had entitled him to work in the College of Business for $225,000 a year after his tenure as president.

He may also receive up to $30,000 for "reasonable expenses," according to the transitional agreement. His retirement benefits are controlled by the state and therefore not subject to the agreement.

The severance package was not listed on the meeting agenda. After executive session, the board emerged to discuss and vote on what was listed as Presidential Employment (review and approval).

Lisa Freeman, the university's executive vice president, will become NIU's first female president, albeit in the interim, on July 1. She said she doesn't plan to pursue the permanent position and will stay in her role until a replacement can be found through a national search.

"This is certainly not a transition that I had envisioned and this is a bittersweet occasion for me, but I'm honored to have this opportunity to serve NIU," Freeman said. "I fell in love with this university and community in 2010 when I interviewed. I take great pride in the transformative experiences this university offers students that allow them to succeed in their careers and in life."

Baker announced at the start of the board meeting, which began at 9 a.m., that he would resign because of the "distraction" of a report from a state investigation that concluded he'd "mismanaged" the university with a hiring practice he spearheaded.

The Board of Trustees was given the report in August, and Baker said that after its public release at the end of May, he met with board Chairman John Butler about his future.

"While my end-of-term evaluation process was proceeding in a positive manner, we agreed that the reaction to the OEIG report was a significant distraction," Baker said. "He made it clear to me that the board intended to continue the orderly and thorough review to assess my performance as part of the process."

The report found that NIU officials hired at least five people as though they were part-time instructors and paid them more than $1 million combined over a roughly two-year period.

Starting when Baker took office in June 2013, university officials, under orders from Baker, improperly classified multiple high-paying consulting positions as affiliate employees to skirt state rules requiring competitive bidding, according to the investigation.

"This board has been devoted to one overarching objective: to do what is in the best interest of the university," Butler said. "Baker made it clear he cares too much about the NIU and the people who work and study here not to take action to mitgate the uncertainty."

Baker said that the best way to move forward was to enter into a presidential transition agreement.

According to the transition agreement, Baker must leave university residence by the end of July.

"I regret that we have reached this point, as this is a job I love in a place I have come to call home, but I truly do believe that at this point, this course of action is best for the university," Baker said. "My thanks to our wonderful leadership team, our strong cadre of deans, the faculty and staff, our inspiring and talented students, donors, alumni and my office staff for their support in these challenging times."

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