Open letter to NIU’s Board of Trustees regarding Dr. Baker’s severance package


***This letter from DeKalb resident and NIU faculty member Michael Haji-Sheikh references a Washington Post article by Jon Marcus, “Golden parachutes for presidents of public colleges with thin budgets.” ~yinn

Dear Board of Trustees,

As a citizen of Illinois, I have become aware of another embarrassing news article. Unfortunately, the severance of Dr. Baker (and I do mean severance) has continued to bring negative publicity to NIU as shown in the following article – https://www.washingtonpost. com/amphtml/news/grade-point/ wp/2017/08/25/golden-parachutes-for-presidents-of-public-colleges-with-thin-budgets/ . This article is in one of the two largest papers in the country and will affect how we are perceived by the general public.

If your legal adviser thought that the general public would buy the “transition agreement” argument then you were wrong. From the article: “Within two weeks of that report’s public release, Baker resigned in June. In a closed-door meeting of the university’s board of trustees, he was given $587,500 in severance pay, plus up to $30,000 to cover his legal fees. He’s also due a previously unreported $83,287 for unused vacation time, the university acknowledged.” You should have told him he could report to his Faculty job in the Fall – he would never have done it (disgrace has a bitter taste).

I am not sure what the Board was trying to do with Dr. Baker, but it appears that whatever you had thought you were doing has backfired. This misguided approach to University management hires, i.e. assuming that they are the same as CEOs, is hurting the long term operations of Universities and affecting fundraising. This article clearly states what we who are not in your bubble know, “A new survey of 1,546 university presidents and chancellors calls that rationale into question. Fewer than 2 percent of presidents worked in the private sector before assuming their posts, the survey by the American Council on Education and the TIAA Institute found. Fewer than 8 percent said they planned to move into the corporate world afterward.” The candidates for these jobs are not a rare commodity and should not get special deals that no other public servant is eligible for.

You should also heed the words of Senator [Tom] Cullerton –

Cullerton said he wants to strip away this cover in Illinois, by requiring that severance agreements in particular be disclosed at the time when public university and college presidential contracts are signed, that public notice be given and that the Illinois General Assembly get 30 days to review the deals.

Cullerton dismisses the idea that such disclosure requirements would discourage top candidates from applying for presidential posts — an argument that opponents have raised. “I don’t think it’s going to handcuff anybody from getting the best-qualified candidate because they’re not going to get an exit package when they screw up,” he said.”

I talked to an individual who was lobbying the legislature over the higher-ed portion of the budget. He said that your deal almost made it extremely difficult to get the University its share of the budget. I hope this experience shows you the importance of good governance and fiducial responsibility and how poor committee structure and not following the rule of law and your own rules can harm the University.

Michael Haji-Sheikh