25.7.17

WHAT ON EARTH IS A STRATEGIC INITIATIVES ADVISER?

The unwinding of the disreputable Doug Baker presidency at Northern Illinois University continues.
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.

“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.
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.

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.

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.”
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.
“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.”

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.”
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.

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