HRS Progress and Leadership Update

One of the university’s goals for 2020 was to begin work on reimagining Human Resource Services (HRS). We asked alumna Audrey Southard, a 30-year veteran in the HR field, to help us identify how to modernize processes, strengthen relationships with colleagues throughout the university and foster talent growth within HRS. Just prior to COVID-19’s intrusion, Audrey had spent several weeks at NIU assessing our processes, conducting employee focus groups, holding open forums, meeting with each division’s leadership and benchmarking best practices for HR functions within higher education.

Recognizing the myriad impacts our employees would face because of COVID-19, we asked Audrey to extend her time at NIU and serve as an interim leader to provide additional support to our expert HR professionals during an exceptionally challenging time. With her guidance, our colleagues in HRS have done an incredible job of supporting the university and our employees through these difficult circumstances. In short order, they transformed manual processes and developed new approaches that were responsive to the dynamic situation.  We want to thank the leadership in HRS for guiding and leading their units, and the staff for their tireless work in adjusting to a remote working environment.

Audrey’s role as interim chief human resources officer ended in May, but her experience gave her even more valuable insight into how HRS could be modernized and supported. We invite you to review her recommendations, which can be found on the new HRS site that was launched earlier this week. We’ve also provided a feedback section where employees are welcome to comment on the report from now through June 30. Anonymized feedback will be compiled and shared with us to inform the path forward.

As you will see in the submitted report, a strong and visionary leader is key to having a highly resourceful and successful HRS function. We wholeheartedly agree, and want to build on the progress that’s been made thus far.  With Audrey’s endorsement, we have asked Dr. Vernese Edghill-Walden to serve as the interim chief human resource officer for the next year. Dr. Edghill-Walden is a proven leader known for inspiring positive change at NIU through collaboration and for creating synergy in her role overseeing Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI). A closer alignment of HRS and ADEI will help create an even more inclusive university that begins at a prospective employee’s first impression of NIU to becoming a part of the Huskie family. We are pleased to share that she has agreed to guide the division and the implementation of the recommendations. We will initiate a formal search process later this year.

Dr. Edghill-Walden, who came to NIU five years ago this summer, has been a tireless advocate for building and sustaining a learning and working environment that is welcoming, inclusive and equitable. Over the past several years, her portfolio has grown to include our cultural resource centers, social justice education, undocumented student support and Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Education. In fact, in recognition of her expanded responsibilities as NIU’s chief diversity officer, as well as her impact and success, the university will recommend reappointment of Dr. Edghill-Walden with a new title of vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at the June meeting of our Board of Trustees.

During this interim period, NIU General Counsel Bryan Perry will continue to oversee labor relations for the unions that represent a wide classification of our Civil Service workforce while Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Chad McEvoy will oversee academic labor relations. We look forward to seeing the collaboration between Vernese, Bryan and Chad and the positive effects it will have for our community.

Together Forward,

Lisa C. Freeman
Beth Ingram
Executive Vice President and Provost
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