Regents’ message ‘wrong’

By Claudia Curry

In light of university administrative salary increases, two state legislators again agree the Board of Regents is sending the “wrong message” to Illinois lawmakers, and one legislator is advocating the establishment of NIU’s own governing system.

The Regents approved a 17.2 percent salary increase for NIU President John LaTourette and an 8.2 percent salary increase for Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves at the board’s meeting last week.

Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, said he found the salary increases to be “surprising.

“I think the Regents will have to explain their actions to the appropriations board in Springfield when they ask state legislature for a tax increase to support higher education funding,” he said.

Welch said he believes NIU should leave the Regency system in favor of forming a governing board of its own. “It could meet at Northern once a month instead of all over the state. It could concentrate on the needs of NIU alone and not three universities at one time.

“I think the Board of Regents is a bureaucracy that should be terminated. It would be better for the entire higher education community to establish a separate governing board. It seems to be the only answer to the problem.”

Rep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, called the salary increases “another example of the board making another big mistake.”

He said the Board of Regents made a mistake in hiring Illinois State University President Tom Wallace earlier this year at a high salary, which forced the board to raise LaTourette’s salary to make them equal. The two presidents now receive an annual salary of $97,500 each.

Countryman said, “I’m not saying that President LaTourette doesn’t deserve the increase he received, but the Regents lack complete knowledge of the political process in this state.

“They ask for tax increases to help fund higher education, then turn around and do things like this,” he said. “Just another instance of the Regents doing what they please without being concerned about the message they send out to state legislators and the public.”

Welch said, “I have to wonder what the students at NIU are thinking when they hear about the salary increases. They were told that their tuition money was going to be spent on retaining NIU professors and paying them to teach more class sections.”

Welch said the mid-year renegotiation of contracts for the presidents and chancellor is questionable. “However, the Regents are a group whose opinions are, from time to time, questionable.

“They are trying to say it’s lapse spending, left over from the last fiscal year’s budget. It’s all a question of priorities how they spend that leftover money. It seems that the Regents have concerns of their own.”

Welch said his position has been that the Regency system can do without a chancellor completely. Groves’ 8.2 percent salary increase raises his annual salary to $114,650.

Some of the approved salary increases are merited and some of them are not, he said. “State legislators will definitely have some legitimate questions to ask the Regents about their actions in the last few months.”

Countryman and Welch also had criticized the Regents’ approval of $85,000 for former NIU President Clyde Wingfield’s work assignment in Washington, D.C. this year.