DeKALB – The $600,000 severance package awarded to former Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker, which was invalidated by a judge last month, was re-approved by the NIU Board of Trustees during its Thursday meeting.
The original contract, which trustees approved June 15, was declared null and void by DeKalb County Judge Bradley Waller. He agreed with the lawsuit filed by DeKalb County Board member Misty Haji-Sheikh, who said the board violated the Open Meetings Act by using vague and ambiguous terms on the meeting agenda that did not fully inform the public that Baker would resign, or his severance agreement would be voted upon.
In regard to the judge’s ruling, board Chairman Wheeler Coleman said the board still thinks it complied with all requirements of the act and currently is weighing its options in response to the ruling.
“We have spent a significant amount of money, time and energy defending the actions of the board, as well as other allegations,” Coleman said.
Haji-Sheikh had affirmed that the board could have taken a second vote on the agreement at any time after June 15 to avoid having to go to court so long as all open-meeting criteria were met.
Coleman, however, said that because the board was under a temporary restraining order since July barring it from taking further action on the contract until a ruling was made, there was concern that a second vote would violate the order.
As for the contract, Coleman said it was the intent of the board to effectuate a clean and swift separation between NIU and Baker in a manner that resolved any and all actual or potential problems between the parties.
Coleman said that in addition to the full year’s salary of $450,000 plus applicable benefits and a $137,000 lump sum, the agreement states that Baker willingly gave up his contractual right to be a tenured faculty member in the College of Business at a salary of more than $200,000 a year. It also eliminated the risk of potential litigation brought by Baker that could have used up critical time and funds.
Baker resigned after the release of a report that concluded he had mismanaged the university by offering lucrative consulting jobs to several employees and improperly classified their positions to skirt state collective bidding requirements.
Three members of the public spoke about the contract during the public comment portion of the meeting and several staff members also raised the issue.
Haji-Sheikh’s lawyer, Charles Philbrick, spoke on behalf of his client, who said she wanted the board to follow the law and listen to all of the people who reached out to her saying that Baker should have to return the estimated $570,000 he already had received.
“Today, you have a chance to do what is right, to follow the law and to regain the trust of students, parents, faculty, staff and citizens of DeKalb,” Haji-Shekh’s statement said.
Coleman took offense to the statement and said he expected more from Philbrick as a lawyer than to make such comments.
“No one up here as board members are not attempting to follow the law, and it’s disappointing to have a man that represents the court and law to make a comment like that,” Coleman said.
Barbara Andree, an office manager in the College of Education, said Baker had been given so much while employees have been told for years that there’s no money left for them.
Therefore, the NIU administration should start implementing real change.
“The future actions of the administration and you, the board, clearly demonstrate that responsibility and ethical leadership will need to be bold,” Andree said.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who has fought to reform how severance agreements are negotiated in public universities and community colleges, said in a statement that he was outraged by the board’s decision.
“Failed administrators and executives shouldn’t receive golden parachutes for wasting taxpayers’ time and money,” Cullerton said. “Our state universities and community colleges need to stop abusing state funds. These dollars should go toward educating our children, not lining the pockets of ineffective administrators.”