Separate board out if IBHE ousted

By Jim Wozniak

A proposal to eliminate the Illinois Board of Higher Education and consolidate four of the university governing boards into two might hurt chances of giving NIU its own board, local legislators said.

Former Southern Illinois University President Albert Somit, in the October edition of Illinois Issues, called for removing the IBHE and putting NIU and SIU in the University of Illinois governing board along with U of I-Champaign and U of I-Chicago.

All other four-year universities would be grouped together in a State University of Illinois system. The article did not mention the need for any change to the junior college system.

Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, said if the state legislature calls for a study of the entire higher education system, “it could derail attempts at a separate governing board for Northern.”

Senate Bill 782, which Welch sponsors, calls for NIU to be removed from the Board of Regents and be given its own governing board. The bill, listed as a conference committee report, was supposed to be heard earlier this month in the legislature, but Welch decided to wait until the spring.

Welch said such a study could give Senate members an excuse to not vote for the bill. However, he said if this article causes legislators to see the need for changes, but not a total overhaul, it might help SB 782’s chances.

ep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, agreed the article might cause problems for SB 782. Some legislators might question the bill’s validity when they vote on it.

“I do think this could be harmful to us,” Countryman said. “I think this article says we shouldn’t go to separate boards.”

egents Chancellor Roderick Groves said he does not support higher education restructuring. However, he said Somit’s plan is better than Welch’s bill.

“The Somit proposal is a genuine effort at approaching the issue comprehensively instead of piecemeal like Senate Bill 782,” he said.

“I don’t think it would be any particular advantage,” Groves said about the new system. “I think the cost advantages would be small indeed. I think it would be deficient in that there is no singular review.”

Somit’s article summarizes the IBHE’s history. The IBHE was developed in 1962 to replace the old system, in which individual universities and governing boards went directly to the legislature to lobby for funds, it states. Since then, it states, the IBHE has become “the single most potent factor in shaping Illinois’ higher education policy.”

The article states part of the IBHE’s responsibility is to review budget requests of the governing boards and then to submit a budget for all of higher education to the legislature and the governor. The IBHE then receives an allocation from those two sources and divides that among state public universities, the article states.

The IBHE also reviews any academic degrees or new colleges that universities would like to add, it states.

But Somit cited six criticisms of the IBHE and the higher education structure that he said are reasons for pushing for the two-system structure for higher education. These include the following:

.The IBHE is more concerned with maintaining private education instead of furthering public education.

.The IBHE has not criticized the governor for consistently allocating less to higher education than the IBHE requests, thus becoming “a compliant gubernatorial tool.”

.The IBHE’s budget recommendations consistently favor U of I-Champaign.

.Governing board staff and leaders in addition to campus officials are expensive and create duplication of effort.

.Governing board structure is imbalanced. The Regents system has three universities, the U of I system and the SIU system each have two universities and the Board of Governors has five universities.

.The IBHE is ineffective with policy decisions. Somit cited opposition to bringing the Law School to NIU in 1979, even though the legislature OK’d the move. He also cited IBHE support for NIU’s College of Engineering, even though they privately disliked it.

.Welch said the IBHE had trouble publicly supporting the engineering proposal.

“The (IBHE) staff, in a preliminary study, said there should not be an engineering school,” he said. “I think the criticism of the board is the leaning toward the University of Illinois. Given that light, you can understand why they opposed that.

“I think it (the law school decision) kind of put them in their place. I don’t think state agencies should tell the legislature what to do. From that standpoint, they may have lost.”

Countryman said, “The Board of Higher Education has not done much to recognize Northern in the last 10 years. They just haven’t shown leadership.” He said, “Their weakness is they have failed to make a comprehensive program in DuPage County. The IBHE is unwilling to make waves when they need to be made.”

NIU President John LaTourette declined to comment, and the IBHE said Executive Director Richard Wa