Students and faculty demand a new president and changes to NEIU

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

During the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 8, about 15 students, faculty and staff came to stand in front of the podium to address the Board and Interim President Richard Helldobler about issues surrounding the school.

As the search for a new president continues, students and faculty voiced their frustrations about the long waiting process for a new president.

The final four candidates are Maria Guajardo, Gloria J. Gibson, Sukhwant Jhaj and Carlos Medina. They visited the main campus last month to conduct their interviews and to meet the community of NEIU.

Before the Board held an executive session to vote on the presidential candidates, the public comment session commenced.

Student senator Joe Gerber, one of the first speakers, said, “We have met four highly qualified, wonderful candidates. I urge you to remember that your main concern as members of the board is the student body. We as an institution currently are not serving as well as we should. This is not a political issue and should not be made into one. This is about the 9,000 students who call Northeastern home.”

The Student Government Association urged the Board to consider Maria Guajardo as their first recommendation, and Gloria J. Gibson as their second recommendation for NEIU president.

Dr. Frank Gaytan, a member of the president search advisory committee, said, “When systems are in place to make things fair, hard work pays off. When people try to subvert those systems, the outcomes are obviously unfair. There has been a lot of talk about the fairness of the presidential search. As a member of the search committee, I enter with caution and optimism.”

“Sadly, there has been a decline of Latino retention, and African-American freshman retention in the last five years. Still, I believe finding ethical people to do a job well will improve the system here. I am hopeful of all the candidates that were brought to campus. Please hear that the systems setup for this search process were fair. Please appoint the candidate that you believe deserves to lead NEIU given who we are as a university,” Gaytan concluded

Precious Tyler, a graduate student of The Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies and resident of The Nest, said, “I had to come to the main campus to live. And from what I observed is that there is no advertisement of the CCICS program. No one is aware, but we also have a large number of African-American students living in The Nest. But nobody is aware of our program.

Tyler continued, “There is a large percentage of African-American students, but why is it that they don’t even know that the building exists? There is also no resources (at CCICS). On Tuesday, we had to continuously ask them to turn on the heat, to clean the bathrooms. Why is it that I get to get resources here at The Nest, but not at CCICS?” Tyler concluded that she is in support of the presidential search, and that new leadership is needed.

Isaura Pulido, chair of Educational and Curriculum Studies, said that she is in full support of the presidential search.

“I believe each of them have the potential to transform Northeastern into a beaming urban institution. I’ve worked at many different universities that might be characterized as ‘top-tier’ schools in Illinois, but the lack of diversity and these spaces made them hollow and completely divorced from the real world. The students here remind me every day why I went to graduate school, and why I teach. I tell my colleagues that Northeastern has the best students, because we do,” said Pulido.

“It is a time for change in leadership. We need leadership with a proven record for strategic planning, recruitment and leadership development like Dr. Guajardo holds. We need leadership with knowledge of experience like Dr. Gibson has. We need the skill set of someone like Dr. Medina, who deeply understands issues of diversity and equity. We need the skill set of Dr. Sukhwant Jhaj, who can help us redesign services to better serve students. We have four excellent presidential candidates and I urge you to move forward and pick one,” Pulido said.

President of the Student Government Association Ashlei Ross, said, “I ask that each Board member put their personal agendas aside, and truly think about what’s best for NEIU students. How can we say that we are a Hispanic-serving institute, when we are graduating less than 20 percent of our Hispanic students?

“We need someone to not use the diversity as a tagline, but actually makes sure every student, faculty and staff feels included,” said Ross. The SGA wrote a resolution to stop the presidential search last year after being told it would cost $90,000 to pay a presidential search firm, as the school was in a budget crisis. The Board went along with the decision, and about 180 employees had to be laid off.

“The resolution didn’t mean that students didn’t ever want to search, we just didn’t want to search at that time. We are in new times and ready to move forward. With the search, we are able to see hope again. We ask the Board not to take our hope away. As students, faculty and staff are all on accord to move one of these candidates to revalorize this institution,” Ross concluded.

The Board of Trustees has moved to begin contract negotiations with one of the candidates. They have not disclosed which candidate at this time.