Departed NIU officials could face more consequences

Aug 17, 2012

Two Northern Illinois University administrators who abruptly resigned last month could be subject to further consequences despite termination agreements with NIU that put a stop to investigations pending at that time.

Robert Albanese, Associate Vice President for Facilities & Operations, submitted his resignation on July 19, effective July 31. John Gordon submitted his resignation as director of the NIU Convocation Center on July 20, effective immediately. 

In both cases, the university acknowledges that there were separate, independent allegations against Gordon and Albanese that were administratively investigated, and that the matter is subject to further investigation. 

At the time of their resignations, there was no evidence that the allegations against them were related to each other, according to the university.

Both men negotiated agreements with the university in which “… the Employer agrees to discontinue processing administrative notice of his prospective dismissal from service for cause in accordance with university procedures for reasons directly associated with serious and substantial allegations of misconduct …”

Paul Palian, Director of NIU Media and Public Relations, said Friday that the agreement applies only to the allegations under investigation at the time. “The ‘coffee fund’ information, for example, was not known at that time,” he said.

The Daily Chronicle approached NIU Media and Public Relations on Friday, Aug. 3, with information they had received alleging that NIU employees were selling scrap material to a local salvage company, with proceeds going to a secret bank account dubbed the “NIU Coffee Fund.”

That information was passed on to senior officials at NIU, and an investigation was launched by NIU Police that same afternoon. That investigation continues, and NIU Police declined to comment about the process.

"We acted swiftly ..."

“We acted swiftly upon learning of the possibility of impropriety, and I instructed the NIU Police to launch a thorough investigation,” explained Eddie Williams, executive vice president and chief of operations at NIU. “We are waiting for the police to conclude their investigation. We look forward to receiving the findings in the very near future.”

The university also is conducting an internal review of known bank accounts and contacting local financial institutions to determine if an unknown NIU account related to a purported “coffee fund” indeed exists. Thus far, no NIU accounts containing the name “coffee fund” have been located within the university’s accounting system and no university-owned bank account has been found containing that title or description.

“If a connection is found between the coffee fund and the two gentlemen who resigned,” Palian told WNIJ news, “there could be further consequences.”

Palian also said that the termination agreements to discontinue investigations into improprieties only covers NIU efforts and would not apply to other possible probes, including any by law enforcement.

The termination agreements also provided roughly three months’ compensation -- $45,000 for Albanese and $36,240 for Gordon – and what amounts to a non-disclosure clause, with both sides in both cases, and a “covenant” not to disparage either the university or the former employees. Gordon also received health insurance coverage for six months.

Albanese, following his resignation, applied to the State University Retirement System (SURS) for retirement benefits he has accrued following more than 20 years at NIU.

NIU Trustees are aware of case

“The Board of Trustees has been fully briefed as to this matter and is confident that the university is proceeding in a responsible and thorough manner,” Chair Cherilyn G. Murer stated.

Kathryn Buettner, Vice President for University Relations, expressed frustration on behalf of the university regarding NIU’s inability to comment on many of the questions related to the allegations due to employee privacy laws in place at the federal and state levels.

“I want to remind the university community that allegations are just that—allegations—and until an adjudicatory process has been completed that provides all parties the opportunity to make their case, findings of fact are not determined,” Buettner cautioned.

Major reorganization

Williams has announced a major reorganization within the division.

Vice President for Administration Steven Cunningham was given responsibility for the Office of the Controller, the Accounting Office and operation of the Holmes Student Center in addition to his current responsibilities; and Bill Nicklas, associate vice president for university planning and sustainability, was named acting supervisor of Building Services. Norm Jenkins has been named acting director of the Convocation Center.

Williams also took on personal control of other areas Albanese supervised.

“The university has no plans to fill the position vacated by Mr. Albanese,” said Williams, noting the abilities of those appointed to serve for the coming year.