BoT Meetings Heralds Changes At NEIU

Luis Badillo and Emily Haddad


New buildings on Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU)’s main campus, an increase in the student U-Pass fee and tenure for instructors were just some of the topics discussed at the recent Board of Trustees (BoT) meeting. In a change of venue, the BoT met at NEIU’s El Centro campus on April 11, 2013.
Mark Wilcockson of the Finance and Administration department and Jeff Schliesmann of the Facilities Planning and Construction department proposed a view of the future of the NEIU main campus by proposing a total of six new buildings be built there. The proposed new 189,000 square foot Education Building was reported as fully-funded by Schliesmann at the BoT meeting. The state of Illinois approved an appropriation of $73 million for this expansion, $7 million of which is immediately available for planning purposes. According to Wilcockson, the new Education building could be built as soon as 2016, and would occupy currently open green space between the WTTW building and the P.E. Complex.
The other five buildings described during the proposal were an expansion to Building F, a new science building, a larger childcare center, a mixed used facility and a residence hall capable of holding approximately 300 students. The proposed state of the art science building would take up the majority of the space parking lot J currently occupies. Enlargements of the retention green space and a rooftop garden addition to the parking structure were proposed by Schliesmann to replace the potential green space loss.
According to Schliesmann and Wilcockson, NEIU has requested an appropriation of $100 million to fund the new science building. Citing this time period as a “decade of dreams,” NEIU President Sharon K. Hahs stressed that only the Education building was fully paid for and that the rest of the proposed buildings had to be worked toward. “There is work to be done to move forward,” said Hahs of the infrastructure spending.
Hahs also explained that the plan to build a new science building stemmed from the current structural limitations of Bernard Brommel Hall that would cost “something like $70 million, and when we were done it would not be big enough.” She continued on to say that a new science building that “NEIU students were worthy to have” would cost about $90 million, and that if NEIU was going to raise money through grants and fundraising, “the difference between $70 [million] and $90 [million] is really not that big a deal.”

Business School Closer to Accreditation
Provost Richard Helldobler announced to the BoT that NEIU received word from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) that NEIU had been approved to move forward a stage toward becoming a fully accredited business school.
Faculty Members Granted Tenure
Fifteen members of NEIU faculty were unanimously granted tenure approval by the BoT. Chairman of the Board Carlos Azcoitia immediately asked Hahs about the diversity of the faculty being granted tenure, framing the question within NEIU’s Strategic Plan for faculty excellence and university values. Hahs responded by assuring Azcoitia of the part excellence played in the selection process and by numerating the ethnicities of the faculty. “…we have among them two African-Americans, two Latinos, two Asian Americans, and these are categories we tick off in terms of census,” said Hahs. She went on to note that there were also faculty of Polish and Greek heritage, and “an authentic Middle-Easterner” gaining tenure.

U-Pass Price Increase
According to Hahs and VP of Student Affairs, Frank Ross, as a result of recent system-wide CTA fare increases, the cost of the U-Pass must increase an additional $ 26, from $102 to $128. Ross confirmed that $128 was the actual cost of the U-Pass from the CTA, and told the BoT that NEIU would be absorbing more of the administrative costs related to the U-Pass to “minimize the increase to the students.” According to Ross, the administrative fees in question, quoted as $75,000 for last year, go toward the services of two staff members who act as “conduits between the university and the CTA to maintain the accountability of a multi-million dollar enterprise.” Vice Chair of the Board Jin Lee asked about subsidizing the price increase to avoid raising the cost students pay for the U-Pass. “If we subsidize this, this year, there is something else we simply won’t do,” said Hahs.
Wilcockson defended the increase by saying it was standard practice that universities charge administrative fees on top of the U-Pass program to administer the program because it was labor intensive. “When we implemented this program, the students were actually paying the full costs to administer this program, and so what Student Affairs has done actually, is now subsidizing the administration of this program with some other funds. I think it is appropriate that the students pay- the student referendum decided to implement this program and I think it’s appropriate that they pay the cost of this U-Pass card.”
Hahs cited a recent informal Facebook survey done by the Student Government Association (SGA) that said 3/4ths of the students surveyed felt they benefited from the U-Pass. She also said that since the U-Pass is only available to full-time students (comprising about 6,000 of NEIU’s approximately 12,000 students), it was not fair to subsidize it from funds to be used on behalf of all students.

WZRD Comment to the board
Only one speaker commented during the meeting’s Opportunity for Public Comment. That person was Peter Enger, geography major and member of NEIU’s WZRD radio station. Enger’s public comments to the trustees were in regards to WZRD’s closing last year.
“We came to this body last fall with a stack of documents outlining the serious miscarriage of justice and violation of NEIU and SGA policies and what we believe was unethical behavior by employees of this university.”
The WZRD station had its members locked out in July 2012. The Wizards, the student organization running the WZRD station, were deactivated as part of the process. After several months, a board of SGA judges found the closing unjust and reactivated the Wizards in December of that year.
In seeking further action by the trustees, Enger said “Contrary to the board of trustee’s policies identified in movement policies here, there is criminally no code of conduct for university employees, vis-à-vis how they treat students.”
“[There were] employees that slandered our student organization and made false statements to university officials and because there is no code [of conduct] they enjoy impunity for what they have done to us.” Enger held out a stack of papers; “I have here a total of thirteen complaints by students against staff of this university for the harm that was caused to them last year and this harm continues to happen as long as there is no accountability or findings of innocence found by this university.” Enger then handed the stack to Ross.
“Thank you for bringing your comment today, we appreciate sharing your matters of interest with the board. These matters will be reviewed through a passing of this information,” said Azcoitia.
Dr. Frank Ross did not respond to a request for comment at the time of this writing.