Chancellor’s position on dispute vague

By Eric Krol

The head of NIU’s governing board did not take a firm stand on a campus dispute over the exact duties of a student Regent.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said he thought NIU legal counsel George Shur raised a valid point, but did not say whether he agreed with the point.

Groves was responding to a disagreement between NIU Legal Counsel George Shur and NIU student Regent James Mertes in which Shur questioned Mertes’ role in advocating individual student concerns against the university. Shur called Mertes’ actions a “conflict of interest.”

The controversy arose as a result of Mertes’ actions in attempting to help an NIU student whose bookbag was stolen during an exam. The student’s professor had requested the bag be put at the back of the classroom as part of a course policy designed to avoid cheating.

Shur questioned whether Mertes, a member of NIU’s governing board, should be advocating students with potential legal claims against the university. Shur also did not think it was proper for Mertes to tell the student he had a good case against the university.

Groves said, “I think (the case) has to be taken in the context of a legal claim.”

In that context, Groves said, Shur’s action was appropriate. “He’s got a point in the sense that a person representing the particular interests of a student in a semi-legal context would be pushing things a bit too far,” Groves said.

Groves compared the situation to that of a state legislator pushing a bill which would benefit an individual constituent.

Groves said he thought Shur was reacting to an inference that Mertes was going to represent the student in the case.

Mertes, a second-year law student, said, “Mr. Shur stated I was prepared to go to small claims court.

“I never made those statements,” Mertes said.

Mertes said he is not licensed to practice law and has always been aware of this fact.

Groves also stressed that Shur’s viewpoint did not necessarily represent the Regents’ opinion. He also said he did not anticipate the issue being raised at December’s Regents meeting.

Mertes said, “I would never limit my options, but I have no specific plans at this time.”

As for the actual job description of a student Regent, Groves said it is the responsibility of the individual student associations to develop a job description.