A website called Complex appears to be a forum for aesthetic criticism.  One gallery features The 50 Ugliest College Campuses.  The gallery is full of references to "brutalist" and "modernist" and "post-modernist" and unfavorable comparisons with office parks and medical complexes.

In other words, the startup universities and the upgraded teacher's colleges of the Baby Boom era get most of the stick.  That includes Northern Illinois.
As for the architecture, most students agree that the school sometimes presents itself falsely. It shows pictures of the castle-esque Altgeld Hall online, when most students never get the luxury of even being on that side if [c.q.] campus.
That's a fair point. I've featured the Northern Illinois State Normal School side of campus for my winter scenic shots.  The cluster of falling-apart 1960s red-brick buildings that house Liberal Arts and most of the classes surely is office park modern.  Perhaps the high ranking for lack of aesthetics is a call for truth in packaging.  There's no whimsey or Arch Deluxe in the office park.

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