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NIU presidential search planning committee to present findings next month

Presidential search planning committee to present findings next month

Dennis Barsema, vice chairman of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees, speaks Tuesday during the presidential search preparation committee meeting in Altgeld Hall at NIU.
Dennis Barsema, vice chairman of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees, speaks Tuesday during the presidential search preparation committee meeting in Altgeld Hall at NIU.

DeKALB – Dennis Barsema, vice chairman of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees, said he was on the last presidential search committee, which led to the appointment of disgraced former President Doug Baker.

The first two months of the new search process were spent setting up a presidential search preparation committee, which had its last meeting as a whole Tuesday.

“By doing all of this now, it's going to give us a great head start when the search kick off in the fall,” Barsema said.

The preparation committee is made up of three ad-hoc working groups: one that focuses on standardizing the best practices for the search, one that identifies job description and points of pride characteristics, and one that outlines presidential contracts. Each group will present its recommendations for the search process to the NIU Board of Trustees during its June 14 meeting.

Barsema, who is also the chairman of the preparation committee, said the subgroup responsible for identifying the best practices for a presidential search reached out to 35 universities that either had metrics comparable to NIU or were universities NIU aspired to emulate. Of those contacted, 17 gave feedback.

Kendall Thu, a professor of anthropology, presented the committee's recommendations, which included a search team composed of about 18 representatives, including undergraduate and graduate students.

He said that it was important to utilize a vetted search firm, which will help to draw the highest-quality candidates.

“It's important that we collaborate and not let them do all the work,” Thu said. “They work for us. It's our time, our university money and our search.”

The committee settled on a number of other recommendations for the board, such as the names of potential candidates remaining confidential until finalists are announced, student voices being considered for the final selection, and the use of anonymous in-person forms and online forms for finalist feedback.

The ad-hoc group on presidential contracts, which will determine potential salaries and other benefits for candidates, also reached out to a number of universities. However, Barsema said the focus was on peer schools within the state of Illinois and the committee will not make a salary recommendation, because that decision is up to the board.

The points of pride committee is dedicated to marketing and promotional materials to use during the search. After finding different digital approaches to marketing presidential openings, Barsema said the committee is trying to encourage a unique digital media approach to the search process.

"I think the marketing collateral is a reflection of the university so we want to make sure that we represent ourselves well," Barsema said.

Baker resigned last year after the release of a report from the Office of the Executive Inspector General concluding he had mismanaged the university by offering a number of lucrative consulting jobs to friends and associates and improperly classifying these positions to skirt state bidding requirements.

He was replaced by acting President Lisa Freeman in June. During her first state of the university address, Freeman had said she decided not to pursue the position on a full-time basis because the effects of the two-year state budget impasse on NIU may reverberate for years to come and she had to make a decision that was in the best interest of the university.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, who has been a strong voice for unity between NIU and the city, said the collaborative effort the university and city have already shown will lead potential applicants to see that NIU is a school that is strongly entrenched in the community.

Smith referenced social and cultural events such as the annual ARTigras festival and public transportation initiatives such as the VeoRide bike-sharing program and the plan to integrate TransVAC’s DeKalb and Sycamore bus lines with NIU’s Huskie Line as evidence that DeKalb is a “communiversity.”

“Anyone who is serious will see that there is a lot of communiversity efforts,” Smith said. “We want to build on that, celebrate the successes of that and see where we can make improvements on some of those issues that we may have fallen down on.”

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