8.3.13

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL?

Wednesday's work was disrupted by the clean-up after snow, and by the presence of FBI agents searching the university police headquarters.
It is unknown what the search was related to, but NIU has faced investigations throughout the year.

In August, allegations surfaced that university employees had been selling NIU-owned scrap metal and depositing the funds into a “coffee fund.” One former and eight current NIU employees were charged with various felonies and misdemeanors in relation to the fund in October. Donald Grady, former NIU Police chief, requested FBI assistance with the coffee fund investigations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In September, claims surfaced against John Gordon, former Convocation Center director, and Robert Albanese, former associate vice president for finance and facilities. Allegedly, Gordon had a Convocation Center custodian clean his home and Albanese used NIU property for his own purposes at his home. Gordon resigned and Albanese retired effected July 31.

In November, Clay Campbell, former county state’s attorney, formally requested that the ISP investigate the NIU Police Department and Grady, then the chief. Campbell wanted the ISP to focus on the mishandling of evidence in the case of former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin. Judge Robbin Stuckert said the NIU police withheld information in the case. In response, NIU President John Peters requested the ISP review how the NIU police department handled the case. The charges against Rifkin were dropped, but he has since been re-indicted for criminal sexual assault. Grady was terminated in February.
A statement by retiring university president John Peters expresses surprise.
I am sure all of you were as surprised as I was to receive the news that the FBI and the State Police arrived, along with two other federal agencies, at the NIU police department Wednesday morning to serve a search warrant and remove a large number of paper and electronic police department files dating back to January 2005.

That these issues are causing the campus community distress is understandable. However, NIU must always be able to sustain external and independent review and investigation of any aspect of our operation. It is now clear that once the university comes through this trial, our university and, more specifically, our police department will be stronger, more transparent and more effective.
It's not solely about the police department.  We've been following the coffee fund investigation for some time.  Several people have been arrested.  A number of people have been placed on leave, with the local newspaper speculating that Someone Higher Up knew.


Between the start of the new semester and the immoderate weather, there has not been time to report on the firing of university police chief Donald Grady, for reasons involving the conduct of his department, and unrelated to the sale of scrap metal.  The chief is challenging his dismissal, and the editors of the local newspaper suggesting that he may have a claim in equity for being dismissed while other officials, who have been charged with crimes, remain on leave.

The most recent coverage of the FBI investigation suggests that Someone Higher Up might also be involved, in ways that are not yet clear.
“Separate from his university duties, [Vice President for Finance and Facilities Eddie] Williams has developed affordable housing resources in the DeKalb community.  Eden’s Gardens, a privately funded, two-phase project, is not affiliated in any way with Northern Illinois University, and it does not provide student housing.  Its sole purpose is to meet the housing needs of those in the community with limited financial resources.  Prospective Eden’s Gardens resident screening has been conducted for more than five years by Screening Reports Inc., a national provider of background screening service to the multi-family housing industry.

“Dr. Williams is cooperating fully with the authorities and Eden’s Gardens has provided all materials requested, but Dr. Williams has no idea why he or the project is the subject of any government interest.”
The university announced today that Mr Williams, whose branch of the organization chart includes property control, policing, and the convocation center, has also been placed on administrative leave.

President Peters likes to charge the graduating students to a life of service and social justice.  It appears, though, that the closing remarks to his tenure will be something else.
While this is a particularly uncertain time for our NIU community and one in which we must endure this external scrutiny, we will get through this and become an even better university. Trials bring strength, personal and institutional introspection and the opportunity for rebuilding.
Those trials might also offer ample opportunity for recriminations and squabbling. The FBI investigates, and the heating equipment in the Zulauf-Watson complex is broken.

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