18.11.12

TRYING TIMES.


The Chicago Tribune offers a round-up of the troubles in the Northern Illinois University bureaucracy coinciding with a presidential search.
Wanted: A visionary leader to oversee the state's third-largest public campus, where two high-ranking administrators recently resigned in disgrace, eight employees face felony theft charges and the campus police chief — once hailed a hero for his swift response to a 2008 shooting spree that left six people dead — has been placed on leave amid questions about concealed evidence in a rape case. Budget currently includes more than $15,000 per week for suspended employees who are still being paid.
Headquarters suggests that on balance, the university presidency is an opportunity.
The university's academic strengths include business, education and art. It has one of the 10 largest teacher preparation programs in the country, and its art school produces more art teachers than any other school in the state. Unlike the state's other regional public universities, NIU also has a law school.

It's those amenities and rankings that will attract the next president and prospective students, despite the recent troubles, NIU officials said.

"There are so many great things going on at NIU right now. I think the good far outweighs the challenges," said Kathryn Buettner, vice president for university relations.
Among those challenges: fifty-year-old classroom buildings with leaking roofs, worn floor tile, and insufficient dry-erase markers for the whiteboards that were installed, at great expense, along with space-consuming computer consoles that contribute to the Power Pointlessness of too many classes.

It is true that great things are going on, including a steel band about to celebrate its fortieth anniversary. Today's concert included settings of "The Star-Spangled Banner", "In the Mood", and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for solo or ensemble steel pan.  A recording of a Wind Ensemble performance might be more suitable to tonight's story, though.


The business of the university goes on, administrative side-show or not.
In recent months, however, the school has endured a series of scandals that have seemingly overshadowed its brightest spots. There's been nearly as much news coverage of the administrative turmoil as of the university's football team, which recently won its third consecutive Mid-American Conference West championship.

None of the scandals has involved NIU's academic departments, meaning the vast majority of students and faculty have seen no disruption to their daily routines on campus or in their classrooms. But faculty senate President Alan Rosenbaum said he worries that the negative publicity — which many professors consider overblown — could have a detrimental effect on efforts to recruit.

"There are some problems, but the university is confronting them and doing its best to correct them," Rosenbaum said.
Yes, if "doing its best" includes cancelling the few faculty searches that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences saw fit to authorize for this year. The College has a substantial cohort of new hires in the past year or two, as many of the long-time faculty members have reached retirement age. The size of the faculty continues to fall.
Todd Latham, president of the university's Supportive Professional Staff Council, said the negative publicity — along with the state's serious financial troubles and broken pension system — are a constant concern among NIU employees. He worries that the problems, particularly at the state level, could make the university less attractive to potential president candidates.

"We want to compete on a national level," he said. "Do we feel the public eye heavily upon us? Yes, we do. We know the general public is looking at us, and they should. As employees, we need to do our best to help attract the best students, faculty and now university president as possible."
Developing.

RUNNING EXTRA.  The alumni members of the presidential search committee respond.
We seek a leader with vision, courage, entrepreneurial spirit and good Midwestern common sense who will be attracted to a great public university located in one of the most vibrant, dynamic regions of the state and nation, a university that has seen tremendous growth in key areas.
Greater Chicago may continue to thrive, Democratic politicians or not, public universities or not.  Take care of the supply of dry-erase markers, and the faculty and the honor students will take care of themselves.

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