Steven Cunningham, former vice president for Administration and director of Human Resources, said officials made him a scapegoat for the decisions made by former President Doug Baker, who resigned June 15.Perhaps as the deanlets and deanlings and special-assistants-to engage in deflection and buck-passing, it will be time for the faculty to reclaim their proper role as stewards of the university.
“It’s clear that in my absence, I was an easy target to point at with respect to these matters,” Cunningham said in an interview with the Northern Star.
The OEIG report found that Baker “mismanaged” NIU and improperly classified at least five employees. This misclassification resulted in the mismanagement of $1 million in public funds because of a competitive procurement process not taking place, according to the May 31 report. Baker resigned amid the backlash to the OEIG report.
The misclassification involved the use of the affiliate employee classification. The classification, which has since been eliminated, was to be used for “individuals whose primary job is not with NIU, but who teach an off-campus extension class (typically non-credit) for the university on an occasional basis,” according to the report.
The investigation also concluded Cunningham misused the affiliate classification by approving it for the temporary hiring of Ron Walters, former strategic initiatives adviser, and Nancy Suttenfield, former interim chief financial officer.
Greg Long, former Faculty Senate president, said Baker was acting on the recommendation he received from Cunningham regarding the use of the affiliate employee classification.
If nothing else, the administration-speak does not give much cause for faculty confidence.
Cunningham said the employee classification was designed to bring accomplished professionals into roles at the university, most of them instructional. He said there were some instances in which the classification was used for non-instructional professional expertise.It's moot, as Mr Cunningham gave up his administrative role. That's likely a good thing, as the following remarks demonstrate his unfamiliarity with the proper chain of command (if there is such a thing) in a university.
Cunningham said the short-term nature of Walters and Suttenfield’s initial appointments resulted in the affiliate employee title being selected.
“The key here is that it was appropriate based on the information I had at the time during the first four months or so of President Baker’s term while I still had effective supervisory authority,” Cunningham said. “Based on that information, clearly these were short-term roles that were not permanent positions at the university, that had substantial responsibilities in the institution, and therefore did not fit the profile of the independent contractor status.”
While Cunningham said he stands by the classification being used at that time, as he said these were not procurement hires, looking back now, he said he would have done things differently.
“In retrospect, which is always 100 percent, I would have insisted on a temporary supportive professional staff title,” Cunningham said. “But that’s all hindsight at this point.”
“Administrators are there to implement the will of the president,” Cunningham said. “In this case, the president directed that these individuals be brought in. Certainly, this was his decision to bring these individuals in and no other person’s decision. And so the circumstance that is addressed then by presiding administrators is how to get that done.”The president is present to ensure that the faculty have the resources, and the political support, to conduct their teaching, research, and scholarship. To do anything else ... well, that's what Northern Illinois University has got.
Despite his assertion that he was made a scapegoat in this OEIG report, Cunningham said he has faith in NIU as an institution and thinks it will have the opportunity to prosper under the right leadership.
“I had the privilege in participating with the NIU community for almost 20 years; I know the community well,” Cunningham said. “The institution itself is very strong; there’s great integrity at NIU -- there always has been. It’s very much alive and well in the faculty and staff and the thousands of people who have long-term or even near-term experience in that institution.”