Funding of trip sparks controversy

By Sean Noble

NIU Student Regent Nick Valadez said Tuesday he refused to go on last week’s Las Vegas trip with other Regents because it was partially funded by private conributions from the NIU Foundation.

The NIU Alumni Association sponsored a trip to see the NIU-University of Nevada football game in Las Vegas last weekend which was attended by three regular voting members of the Board of Regents and two student Regents. Tome Montiegel, vice president of development and university relations, said the NIU Foundation helped finance the Regents’ way.

Valadez said, “I’m not criticizing my fellow Regents, and I had no objections to them going (on the trip). But I thought it would be somewhat difficult to relate to the students I’m supposed to represent while being flown to Las Vegas. As a principle, I thought it better that I didn’t go.”

Sociology Professor Joseph Harry, in a Nov. 30 letter to The Northern Star, objected to the use of private donations to the foundation as “expenses for entertainment” in cases such as this. Harry said, “Do not give to the NIU Foundaton. There seems little likelihood that one’s money will be used to benefit the University.”

Defending the use of foundation money to help pay the Regents’ way, Montiegel said the funds used for the Las Vegas trip came from NIU President John LaTourette’s account with the foundation, which is “for official entertaining expenses . . . that cannot be covered by state funds.”

e said about $1,200-$1,500 of the president’s account went for payment of airline tickets and hotel rooms for the Regents. Some complimentary tickets and rooms help “cut the bill in half,” Montiegel said.

Foundaton Executive Director Richard Ubl said about 10 percent of all donations are unrestricted, having no designated use. He said the foundaton’s board of directors and the Alumni Association Board decide how the unrestricted funds are to be allocated.

Ubl said $40,000 is allotted each year for scholarships from the foundation’s unrestricted funds. He said these funds also have paid recently for such things as a video camera for the Anthropology Deaprtment’s Honduras trip and some St. Louis conference costs for the Steel Drum Band.

Montiegel said LaTourette’s account is about $22,000, which he called a “miniscule aount” compared to the $1.9 million the foundaton raised last year.

“The money the president spends from his account probably raises 10 to 15 times that amount,” Montiegel said. “The payoff is very clear.”

Ubl said he thought the funding of the Regents’ trip was justifiable because “the Regents make important decisions for the university. We should want to make friends with the Regents and show off our better side. It really isn’t a waste of money, but rather a sound investment.”

LaTourette asked Regents to go to the football game because he has asked them to support changes in NIU’s intercollegiate athletic program, Montiegel said last week.

Valadez said he thought it was “somewhat paradoxical” for the other student Regents to decide to attend because all had voiced their opposition to raising student costs earlier in the year.

“I think the Regents should be friends of NIU without being flown to Vegas,” Valadez said. However, he said the regular voting memebers of the Board of Regents should be given opportunities to attend university functions free of charge to solicit their support because they are no paid for their work as Regents.