Shur questions Mertes’ role

By Eric Krol

The exact duties of a student Regent have come into question because of a recent memo.

NIU student Regent James Mertes said he was concerned with the content of an Oct. 29 memo from University Legal Counsel George Shur which he said called into question his ability to advocate student interests.

The memo was in response to a student Mertes was assisting with a problem. Shur stated he was unsure whether it was appropriate for Mertes to directly address a member of the president’s staff (Shur).

Shur added he had understood Mertes, as a member of the Board of Regents, would address inquiries to the Regency Chancellor’s office or NIU President La Tourette.

Shur also questioned Mertes’ “dual role” as an open advocate for students with claims against the university and his position on the Board, which sets university policy.

Mertes said this memo could have a two-fold effect on his position.

As for the procedural point of to whom to address inquiries, Mertes said, “I assume the truth is going to be the same regardless of whether I go through one or five people to get it.”

Mertes said Shur’s point about conflict-of-interest could undermine his ability to perform as a student Regent.

Mertes said Shur in effect stated that he cannot represent a student organization on any issue which might have an adverse affect on the university.

“The bottom line is Mr. Shur is trying to tie my hands,” Mertes said.

“I do hope the NIU student body can see what is really happening here,” he added.

Shur initially said there was a difference between advocating matters which would affect a majority of students and advocating matters which would affect individual students.

He also said Mertes had a definite conflict of interest in telling the student he had a good case against the university.

However, Shur later said he stands by what he wrote in the memo and hoped to avoid a major conflict. “I’d be delighted to sit down and talk to him personally and I’m sure that President La Tourette would speak with him as well,” Shur said.

Shur said Mertes had not discussed the memo with him before releasing it to the press.

SSU student Regent Teresa Haley-Washington and ISU Student Regent Jeff Ogren both said they support Mertes’ student advocacy role. “He has a responsibility to the students first of all,” Haley-Washington said.