The Single-Ply Canary and a Lame Waddling

Dan Maurer, News Editor

When I first came to Northeastern Illinois University, I did not know quite what to expect. I had previously attended the College of DuPage, a suburban community college. This was my first time learning at a university. My first class was at Lech Walesa Hall. I could tell right away that it was an older building. NEIU was founded over 150 years ago, so that was to be expected. There was one thing that did concern me though: Single-ply toilet paper. Maybe I am spoiled, but the hygienic peace of mind that comes with two layers of paper is something I would expect to be a given from any institution with a multi-million dollar budget. Even Walmart has industrial size rolls of two-ply in all their restrooms. NEIU’s sporadic use of single-ply was a bit of a red flag for me. This is now my second semester here, and I now realize that this is a canary in a coal mine.

Northeastern Illinois University is in crisis. Our university is suffering from a dire financial and enrollment crisis. We are running an $11 million budget deficit, according to Manish Kumar, the Vice President for Finance and Administration; and undergraduate enrollment has fallen by 29% since 2018. The number of credit hours are down even more over the same time span, down roughly 44.4% according to slides from the University Town Hall on Jan. 24, 2023. Of course, a downturn was expected during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, all of our peer universities in the Chicagoland area have seen their enrollment ticking upwards, while ours is still falling. Even before 2018, enrollment was falling.

President Gloria J. Gibson had been appointed as university president in 2018 with a mandate to fix this problem. Clearly, in the last five years, she has failed to do so. Not only has she failed to reverse our enrollment crisis, she has managed to alienate the faculty. Her term as president has been rife with accusations of a lack of transparency and little engagement in the shared governance framework in place with the Board of Trustees and Faculty Senate here at NEIU. Late last year, the Faculty Senate delivered votes of no-confidence in both President Gibson, and the Board of Trustees. This was not even the first time faculty members had indicated that they had no faith in Gibson. She had previously lost a vote of no-confidence as provost at the University of Northern Iowa in 2012. All of this is happening with ongoing union negotiations with the University Professionals of Illinois, the union representing faculty and staff at NEIU, have been less than pleasant. There have also been staffing scandals as well, including NEIU operating without a marketing director for over a year, prior to the appointment of Christopher Childers to the post, at a time when marketing is critical for attracting new students. There was also the scandal involving the Interim Associate Vice President of Student Success and Retention, Diane Fuselier-Thompson, working remotely from out of state.

Since then, the Board of Trustees has voted not to renew Gibson’s contract as president when it expires June 30, 2023. Gibson is still president, however, and she still has full authority to enact change at the university, changes that she will not be around to have any accountability for. She still has authority to make decisions about faculty promotions. Her interim provost, who will most likely not last much longer than the end of Gibson’s term, is mandating reorganizations of the colleges and a reduction in department chairs and staff cuts, none of which are proven to cut even more than $1 million off the deficit.

This is a pivotal moment for our university. We are trying to attract new students while cutting staff, putting more pressure and work on what staff we retain. The Faculty Senate has passed a resolution calling for transitional leadership, and have asked the Board of Trustees to appoint an interim president. Faculty and students interrupted the budget town hall on Jan. 24, 2023 protesting faculty cuts and calling on President Gibson to resign, shouting out that she had “already been fired,” and that she was a lame duck. They asked why she was still making decisions and policy that she would not be president to be accountable for? And I have to wonder about that as well. Just as the US president is a lame duck after a new one has been elected until Inauguration Day, Gibson is also a lame duck. But US presidents are only in office for two months before the new one comes in. Gibson will still be here for another six months, and so will her cabinet: A waddling of lame ducks.

NEIU has had an interim president before, and I think it is time we did once again. President Gibson has proven, year after year, that she cannot turn our flagging enrollment trend around, she cannot work with and accept criticism or feedback from faculty and she cannot effectively staff her own departments. And now, she has been given notice that she will not continue in her job. Her contract will not be renewed. Still, she has full authority to enact changes at NEIU as she makes her way to the door, including burning the institution down on her way out, as she seems to be doing. For the good of the university, of the institution she claims to love and serve faithfully, she should resign, and allow those who actually hold a stake in NEIU’s future to make decisions about our university.