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Northeastern Illinois University has narrowed its search for a new president to four finalists, and neighbors will have an opportunity to grill the candidates during a series of upcoming forums. | via NEIU Facebook

Finalists for NEIU president to face questions from neighbors

SHARE Finalists for NEIU president to face questions from neighbors
SHARE Finalists for NEIU president to face questions from neighbors

Northeastern Illinois University has narrowed its search for a new president to four finalists, and neighbors will have an opportunity to grill the candidates during a series of upcoming forums.

The newcomer will step into a position that’s been vacant since fall 2016 after the resignation of Sharon Hahs, who had helmed the university for nearly a decade.

Hahs’ tenure at NEIU was marked by a number of developments, including the opening of the university’s El Centro campus in Avondale. It was marred by controversy as well, particularly the use of eminent domain to procure land on Bryn Mawr Avenue in order to build student housing.

Over the next two weeks, each finalist will spend two days on campus meeting with various stakeholders, with an open session for neighbors built into the candidates’ schedules.

The candidates:

Gloria Gibson, senior vice president and provost at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Jan. 11, 11-11:50 a.m., in Student Union Room 115. See a campus map.

Sukhwant Jhaj, vice provost at Portland State University in Oregon, Jan. 17, 11-11:50 a.m., Auditorium.

Carlos Medina, vice chancellor and chief diversity officer for State University of New York system administration, Jan. 18, 11-11:50 a.m., Student Union Room 103.

Maria Guajardo, deputy vice president at Soka University in Tokyo, Japan; Jan. 23, 11-11:50 a.m., Auditorium.

Finalists for president of Northeastern Illinois University are (clockwise, from upper left) Gloria Gibson, Maria Guajardo, Sukhwant Jhaj and Carlos Medina. | University websites

Finalists for president of Northeastern Illinois University are (clockwise, from upper left) Gloria Gibson, Maria Guajardo, Sukhwant Jhaj and Carlos Medina. | University websites

Top of mind with community members is sure to be the university’s ongoing plan to construct student housing in the 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue. A bitter eminent domain battle, settled in the school’s favor in early 2016, caused the eviction of a number of longstanding businesses and tenants.

Healing the rift left by the eminent domain fight should be the incoming president’s primary focus in relationship to the surrounding neighborhood, according to Carmen Rodriguez, the immediate past president of the Hollywood North Park Community Association and member of NEIU’s president search advisory committee.

“Beyond that, I think the president will want to re-establish NEIU as a community partner, an active participant in the civic association, and a supporter of the neighborhood’s priorities and initiatives,” Rodriguez said.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for the university to be a center of cultural and academic exploration, celebration and engagement,” she said. “I think the community would be well served with a university president who was more visible and accessible to his/her neighbors and who would be mindful of the broad impact the university has on our community.”

NEIU, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., enrolls about 9,000 students and occupies 67 acres in the heart of the North Park community.

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Richard Helldobler has served as NEIU’s interim president since Hahs’ departure, steering the university through the lengthy Illinois state budget stalemate, under which NEIU was forced to drain its reserves and enact a series of furloughs and layoffs.

According to university spokesman Mike Hines, no hiring deadline has been set for the new president, nor has it been determined whether there will be additional interviews to further narrow the finalists.

A special meeting of NEIU’s Board of Trustees is set for Jan. 23 and could address those issues, Hines said.

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