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July 13, 2024

Questionable Foundation Fund use and hiring practices at Northern Illinois University –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On January 25, 2016

NIU / Dekalb, IL. (ECWd) –

When a donation is made to a university foundation, assumedly one would believe that the funds go to support the students in some manner. But apparently not at Northern Illinois University. At NIU, some of the funds are being used to cover the President’s deliberate violations of state rules. Is this what the donors intended?

For one example, let’s look at the President’s decision to “hire” an interim Chief Financial Officer, Nancy Suttenfield. President Baker chose to use an executive temp agency for this purpose: the Registry for College and University Presidents. Seems like a good place to look. But just one problem. The contract for the President’s choice to use Ms. Suttenfield’s services included a very hefty price tag: $220,000/year for Ms.Suttenfield, PLUS an additional $6,050/month for the Registry.

A professional services contract in excess of $20K is required by state rules to be publicly posted and open to bid. President Baker did not do this. But why let a little matter like state rules stand in the way of a Presidential decision? President Baker handpicked Ms. Suttenfield, but then could not pay for her contract through the University Accounts Payable department since it would be in violation of state rules. Poor President Baker; apparently he had given the Registry a verbal contract, and now he would have to renege on it? NOT in this President’s world—not when he believed that he had unlimited access to funds and that state rules do not apply to him. So to cover the violation, the contract was written so that Ms. Suttenfield could be added to payroll as yet another “affiliate” employee, and therefore she could be paid with a “salary”.

BUT, the Registry’s portion of the bill was still outstanding. HOW could President Baker manage this payment? FOUNDATION! The Foundation issued the first check for the full eleven months of the contract, $66,550, then followed with monthly or bi monthly payments on its extension(s). Ms. Suttenfield was an “employee” of NIU from November 2013 to February 2015, a total of 16 months; the payments made directly to the temp agency for Ms. Suttenfield’s “employment” cost the Foundation a total of $96,800 of donated monies meant to benefit students!

Money issues aside, it is interesting to note that even though the President knew that this contract was a violation of state rules, THE PRESIDENT signed the first extension himself.

But the Presidential largesse did not just stop there. In May 2014, the President decided that, although Ms. Suttenfield was already under contract until September 2014, she deserved a pay raise from $220,000/year to $290,000/year-RETROACTIVE from day 1. (To put it in other terms, this is a RAISE of $70,000/year or $5,833/month or $1,346/week). Since President Baker decided that this raise was payable retroactively, in June 2014, a lump sum payment of $56,269.69 was made to Ms. Suttenfield for the back pay.

Unfortunately for the University, a single payment amount of this size in the University payroll system would raise an immediate red flag to the state; and of course, state attention would be a very bad thing when you are deliberately violating state rules. So the payment couldn’t be made through University payroll. So HOW did the President manage this adjustment? FOUNDATION! The Foundation was instructed by the President’s secretary to pick up the tab for the President’s decision to unilaterally change a contract that was already in effect. $56,269.69 of donated monies meant to benefit students!

The President further decided that this “employee”, in addition to her base “salary” of $290K per year, also deserved an additional $920 per pay check starting at day 1. This additional pay was justified on the Personnel Action Form (PAF) as “additional pay for increased duties” or “duties as CFO”. Why weren’t these increased duties, the scope of which must have been decided at the same time as the scope of the initial contract, included in the contract itself? It appears that this extra payment may be compensation for benefits to which affiliate employees are not entitled. Regardless of the reason for these payments, the President’s decision resulted in an additional $29,440 of extra payments to Ms. Suttenfield.

Prepare for sticker shock. The total cost of ex-interim CFO Suttenfield’s 16 month contract was $512,906. This is $384,680/year. The prior President of NIU only made $334,589! As part of the total amount paid for Ms. Suttenfield’s services, the Foundation paid $153,069.
$153,069 of the donated monies meant to benefit students!

Maybe the NIU Foundation can use this in their next fundraising campaign: Please donate to us so that we can bail out the University when the President deliberately violates state rules. Then again, maybe not.

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dr-baker-NIU (WinCE)


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  • Dave
    Posted at 21:14h, 25 January Reply

    Makes one wonder who got a kickback…

  • Bessie Chronopoulos
    Posted at 00:44h, 26 January Reply

    How does this information gets to the mainstream media and to the Board of Trustees.Thus the information will be more widely known so as to empower the voice of the people to speak out to demand a resolution. It is wrong to foolishly spend financial resources which are meant for educating people.

    • Sharon May
      Posted at 09:30h, 26 January Reply

      The Chronicle was pointed to this story almost a year ago. They showed no interest.

  • Michael Haji-Sheikh
    Posted at 07:12h, 26 January Reply

    This is a man who made no effort at all to follow any rules.

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