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December 6, 2022

NIU President's On-going OEIG Investigation –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On October 27, 2015

Northern Illinois University (ECWd) –
On May 23, 2015, we publish an article, NIU – procurement evasion, manipulation, or criminal act? In this article, we discussed Pres. Baker’s retention of the law firm of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Golvgsky and Popeo, PC.( Mintz Levin), for one dollar under the threshold of requiring a bid for professional services. We have recently obtained some additional documentation for the purpose and scope of this retention.
NIU’s Board of Trustees held a special meeting of the Board of Trustees on February 26, 2015, to discuss Pres. Baker’s engagement of Mintz Levin. The agenda of this special meaning contains no agenda items concerning what will be discussed in closed session. However, John Butler, board chair, sent a memorandum to Pres. Baker the day after this special meeting. In this letter, it states that the board of trustees reviewed the retainer agreement between Pres. Baker and Mintz Levin. The letter also states that Pres. Baker retained separate counsel, Mintz Levin, because of the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Executive Inspector General (“OEIG”) and the question of whether there exists, or in the future may exist, a material conflict between the board and the president on matters related to that investigation. The letter also talks about the broad parameters of the OEIG investigation.
The board expressed concerns about the billing rate of the lead partner on the engagement team. The board requested that Pres. Baker and Mintz Levin abide by certain limitations. The first limitation dealt with the scope of the retainer agreement. The board stated that they were only providing support for representation of Mintz Levin as it related to the ongoing OEIG investigation.
The second limitation related to the maximum billing rate per hour. The maximum billing rate per hour has been redacted, but it also states that any amount above the maximum billing rate will need to be covered by Pres. Baker’s personal funds.
The third limitation was to set the threshold of $50,000 for all expenses of services billed by Mintz Levin for representation for the ongoing OEIG investigation.
The fourth limitation was to determine if an open bid was required. The last limitation was to remove oversight of the management and cost on this representation by Mintz Levin from the Office of the General Counsel to John Butler, board chair.
As we suggested in our May 23 article, the board would have no attorney-client privilege in this matter because the client is Pres. Baker directly. The board, to solve this problem, retained separate outside counsel for this matter. On page 3 of the Drinker Biddle’s contract, it shows the contract was signed by Pres. Baker on April 20, 2015, and the contract was copied to both the board chair, John Bulter, and the vice chair, Marc. Strauss. Additionally, all invoices are sent to the current board chair, Marc Strauss, at his place of business in Sycamore, Illinois for approval of payment. This suggests that the actual client for the contract is the Board (and NIU), rather than Pres. Baker.
One last thing should be highlighted in the Drinker Biddle contract. On page 1 of the contract (in section 2. Primary Lawyer; Fees and Expenses), it states that Daniel Collins, primary lawyer, is reducing his billing rate from $650 per hour to a blended rate of $450 per hour. Makes you wonder if the redacted amount in John Bulter’s letter to Pres. Baker was $450 per hour!
This article is the first of many articles on the legal expenses related to the OEIG investigation of Pres. Baker.
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2 Comments
  • Bessie Chronopoulos
    Posted at 17:52h, 28 October

    This article is most disturbing as it brings forth questions of the actions of Pres. Baker and the BOT. What in the world is going on at NIU? As a DeKalb resident and NIU alum, I am deeply concerned about any wrongdoings that will negatively impact the ability of this institution to deliver a good education to its students.
    Seems to me that some type of a deadline should be imposed to complete any and all investigations so that the BOT can focus on its main function of promoting the very best atmosphere for the NIU students and staff, not to mention the greater DeKalb community.
    I cannot even begin to imagine the legal cost because of this situation. All I can think of as a retired educator, is how many students could be educated with the money spent, how many professors could be paid, how many repairs and updates could be made with this money.
    Integrity, transparency, and commitment to quality education should be the guidepost for NIU’s BOT and Administration and both entities should strive for attaining and maintaining the highest of standards…anything less is unacceptable.

    • Michael Haji-Sheikh
      Posted at 12:07h, 29 October

      The OEIG must investigate at their own pace. Making an artificial deadline would be unproductive. Several members of BOT have been complicit and may also be under scrutiny. John Butler and Marc Strauss along with Cheryl Murer have been informed of misappropriation of State funds along with the bypassing of State Purchasing rules, but turned a blind eye. Keith Jackson was terminated because he wouldn’t play ball. Baker allowed Ron Walters (University Employee) to be reimbursed for his commuting from Seattle. There was a picture on the internet of Walters and Walter’s spouse in their apartment in Seattle. The University (Baker) paid Walters to commute from his house on Lopez Island to the apartment in the picture in Seattle prior to his flying to Chicago. He billed that as staying with a “friend”. The University is desperate to tamp this down so they are getting their allies in the Daily-Chronicle to aid them as we speak. Rumor has it that the allies of Baker are going to pay for his commuting costs through the NIU Foundation. Is that is a good use of the Foundation?

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