Observations: Yesterday’s Town Hall Meeting with NIU

NIU president Baker and the mayor each spoke to the group, as did NIU vice-president Bill Nicklas and an architect who explained the process involved in the development of the Bold Futures Thesis.

In a nutshell, NIU wants to transform the thesis into a real plan for better use of the physical campus in nurturing a sense of place. It is one of several initiatives they hope will improve enrollment and retention of the hip, urban Millennial Generation.

When audience members expressed concern that the university is also pushing development plans for nearby historic neighborhoods without their input, the NIU representatives seemed genuinely surprised that they’d reached this conclusion. The NIU thesis isn’t a plan yet, they said; and besides, the focus is on the campus center.

Funny. I’d reached the same conclusion that the audience did when I attended the March 15 City of DeKalb strategic planning meeting. There, VP Nicklas shared his top budget priorities that involved the city and my notes show one of them is “Locust Street enhancements.”

So, I think maybe the NIU folks are back-pedaling a little.

However, I also believe the city has hitched its caboose to the NIU train with a little sleight-of-hand. Continue reading Observations: Yesterday’s Town Hall Meeting with NIU

Can DeKalb Really Help Fix NIU?

The Daily Chronicle’s editorial board scolded a group of residents this week for being total NIMBYs hating on good and necessary change.

[D]espite all the benefits that our communities draw from having the university here, there is resistance to ideas that could change the nearby neighborhoods, particularly the Ellwood historic and Hillcrest neighborhoods, where residents have formed a community group, Preserve Our Neighborhoods, in response.

People by nature don’t like change. It’s natural for them to be skeptical. But fighting to stop any change will not be good for anyone, really.

My observations suggest this is a mistaken assumption. Group members aren’t resisting change per se but rather are targeting the utter gall of NIU’s handing down a plan for their neighborhoods without their input.

Now that Preserve Our Neighborhoods has succeeded in forcing something of a pause, maybe we could productively use it to think through the notion that widening sidewalks, installing tram service and building more housing are really the best uses of resources in combating the problem of plummeting enrollment. Continue reading Can DeKalb Really Help Fix NIU?

NIU Enrollment by Campus — Er, Mostly

When we talk about NIU enrollment we are usually referring to the enrollment at all four campuses, which is the number NIU must report to the state.

With a drop of 4.9% as we had this year, a lot of questions come up. Hypothetically speaking, what if DeKalb had lost 10% but nobody knew because growth at other campuses made up for it?

I requested a more detailed breakdown under the Freedom of Information Act and was denied. During the subsequent review by the Public Access Counselor of the denial, however, counsel for NIU offered these numbers:

[table id=66 /]

“Other/Multiple Locations” means there are about 2,000 students who attend classes on more than one campus, and for whatever reason NIU assigns them to none. Leaving room for speculation is not ideal, but this is more information than we had before so to me it was worth the effort.

DeKalb’s Population Illusions

**Update: DHS enrollment projections for next year have been corrected from 17,000 to 1,700 and I appreciate receiving the email heads up.**

Possibly the worst argument in support of the land swap deal between District 428 and Shodeen is this:

The land near [DeKalb High School] offers more promise for the district than Kiwanis Park. School officials said 1,800 students are enrolled at DHS now, but that number could expand to 2,500 or 3,000 students in the future, making it necessary to plan for a expansion of DHS facilities in the future.

I see that a commenter at the online newspaper site has already pointed out, “The most recent report done by an actual demographer and not an extrapolater shows flat enrollment for 20 years.”

It’s true. There was a demography report done pre-referendum, while our community enjoyed tremendous growth; then a second one was completed at the insistence of District 428’s Facilities Planning Committee after the economy tanked. Projections from the second show DeKalb’s high school enrollment dropping under 1,700 next year and the year after (which makes me wonder how close an estimate is the 1,800 reported above).

Unfortunately, the school board had their fingertips packed firmly in their ears during the presentation of the second demographer’s report, and they built DeKalb High School for 3,000 students. This has led to operational difficulties such as having to open DHS short four of the custodians they needed.

So, talking about expansion of DHS with any urgency right now is just…just

Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
Dark Helmet: No, no, no, light speed is too slow.
Colonel Sandurz: Light speed, too slow?
Dark Helmet: Yes, we’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed.

Yeah, that’s it: ludicrous speed.

Continue reading DeKalb’s Population Illusions

Warrants Issued in NIU “Coffee Fund” Case

Daily Chronicle has the story that arrest warrants have been issued for nine current and former Northern Illinois University employees in the “Coffee Fund” case.

Those charged are: Robert Albanese, Michael Hall, Lawrence Murray, Susan Zahm, Kenneth Pugh, Keenon Darlinger, Mark Beaird, Joseph Alberti and Keith Jackson.

According to the NIU Materials Management website, Pugh serves as Materials Management Director and also is listed under Furniture Repair Services. Alberti is listed as the manager of Central Stores while Darlinger is listed under Special Orders for Central Stores. Murray is listed as the manager of Receiving and Property Control. Hall is listed as the manager of Distribution Services. Zahm is listed as the inventory record control supervisor of Property Control.
Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities, left quietly July 31 after signing a separation agreement that showed they faced “serious and substantial allegations of misconduct.” John Gordon, former Convocation Center director, also left July 31. He has not been charged in connection with the coffee fund investigation.

Northern Star has posted copies of the arrest warrants.

“We Are Taking Edgebrook”

The following is a report from DeKalb Police of a gathering on the 800 block of Edgebrook Drive in the wee hours of Saturday, August 25.

Due to a large crowd gathering the previous night, I assigned officer Boldt to monitor the lot at 809 Edgebrook and to advise me of any large parties forming.

He advised me that there was a party at apartment 8 and the apartment was full with some people standing outside. We arrived and advised the occupant to move everyone inside and not allow any more people inside. He was warned that if a crowd gathered outside his apartment, that he would be cited. During this time other officers cleared the lot of approximately 10 cars and 30 people who did not reside at the complex.

Cars that had exited the lot were stuck in traffic from other cars wanting to enter the lot. The lot was blocked as was the intersection of Normal and Edgebrook. During the time it took to clear the road, two groups of people began to gather on opposite sides of the street where officers were directing traffic.

Officer Boldt was getting names of tenants in other apartments with loud parties. While preparing to clear officers from the scene, I heard a passerby speaking on his phone. I heard him say, “We are taking Edgebrook.” Continue reading “We Are Taking Edgebrook”

Northern Star: NIU 2012 Fall Enrollment Report

The Northern Star is Tweeting (from about 4:40 p.m.) NIU enrollment numbers obtained from a press release:

  • Fall 2012 new freshman enrollment is up 2.9%.

  • There’s an increase of 25.7% in the Honors Program incoming class since 2010, and the number of minority students in the Honors Program has more than doubled, to 253.

  • New transfer admissions are down 10.4% from last year.

  • Total enrollment went from 22,990 in fall 2011 to 21,869 for fall 2012, a drop of 4.9%.

Northern Star Online will publish a full article tomorrow.

NIU Misconduct Allegations Have Now Hit the Chicago Tribune

**Update 9/7: Here’s an image of yesterday’s print edition of the Northern Star with synopses and photos. In reading it again I’m struck at how much time and money have been spent already and still NIU is unable to determine whether any of its employees have done anything wrong.**

…and the Trib has more about specific allegations than we’ve heard before. (What we’ve heard before is mostly here and here, and if you still want more check the NIU tag.)

One of the two employees who resigned in July was John Gordon, director of the university’s 10,000-seat Convocation Center, which hosts about 200 events a year, including concerts, athletic events and meetings. Gordon allegedly had a Convocation Center custodian go at least four times in the past year to his home, where she cleaned the windows and floors, washed dishes and vacuumed, according to an interview and documents obtained by the Tribune.

The employee told the Tribune she was picked up in the morning at the loading dock outside the Convocation Center and driven to Gordon’s home about two miles away. She said she was given a “tip” of $20 to $40 for the work.

According the the article, the employee filed a grievance about this treatment in May.

Other allegations against both Gordon and Robert Albanese, the other NIU administrator who resigned under a cloud, include accusations that they kept NIU property at their homes, according to the report. For example, Gordon was said to have kept a snowblower and vacuum cleaner.

And, yes, the “coffee fund” information is there, too.

The article was written by Chicago Tribune reporter Jodi S. Cohen and front-paged for print subscribers this morning. The link to the online article is here, but it’s behind a subscription gate. The Northern Star and the Daily Chronicle also posted stories today on their own websites that contain the allegations uncovered by the Trib.

NIU “Coffee Fund” Updates

NIU Today: NIU confirms the existence of a “private, non-university bank account named ‘coffee fund.'” In the article, NIU says, “Any determination of criminal charges will be made by the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office after reviewing the evidence collected during the criminal investigation.”

Northern Star: State police are now involved as far as advising “how to proceed.”

NIU Closes Somebody’s Coffee Fund

**Update 9/1: DC has significantly re-worked the story, so the quote below no longer appears there.**

I very much appreciate the Daily Chronicle‘s continued persistence and endurance with the NIU “coffee fund” story, especially as things get curioser.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University has located the “coffee fund” and shut it down.

University officials said the private, non-university bank account, which contained about $2,100, has been closed, with the money deposited into the university’s general fund.

Four employees in NIU’s Materials Management Department have been placed on paid leave for a maximum of 30 days, but NIU spokesman Paul Palian did not know the names of those employees.

If the account was a private, non-university account, how is it that NIU was able to determine it was NIU money, and how did NIU close it? And if NIU knows the money from the account is NIU money, why are people being put on vacations instead of being charged with crimes?

And speaking of crimes, where is our able State’s Attorney and his much-ballyhooed (well, self-ballyhooed) anti-corruption unit?