Local officials voice support of new board

By Jim Wozniak

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on the possibility of NIU receiving its own governing board. This part focuses on those people who support the proposal.

NIU’s local state legislators always have supported bills and amendments calling for a separate governing board, and Senate Bill 782, introduced late in June, has been no exception.

Despite the continual persistence, local legislators only have had such a bill reach the governor’s desk once—in 1949. Yet, Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru; John Countryman, R-DeKalb; and former Rep. Joe Ebbesen remain adamant in their support. The legislators said they think there are now enough fellow legislators who agree with them to make their goal a reality.

“Number one, it’s more prestigious to be a separate university,” said Welch, a Senate Higher Education Committee member. “NIU is large enough and has its own law school, its own engineering school; it’s one of the top-ranked accounting schools in the nation.

“Secondly, it would save money by having a separate governing board. Board meetings would be uniformally at NIU. Any staff to assist the governing board would be able to locate right there on campus. Travel would be cut down for university personnel.

“Third you would eliminate the need for the chancellorship system, which is a layer of bureaucracy that is not necessary and is redundant,” Welch said. “Why do we need somebody going to each of the three schools telling the Board (of Regents) what they should do or how to carry on.

“Fourth, the school would have the authority to hire its own lobbyist solely responsible for bettering the condition of NIU and not be held to two other universities. Fifth, the students would be able to follow what the governing board is doing as opposed to having important decisions made for DeKalb on the campuses of Illinois State and Sangamon State.”

Welch said NIU students also might have a better chance to pass a bill for a student vote on the board if NIU was removed from the Board of Regents and put by itself.

The Regents received a good deal of attention toward the end of former NIU President Clyde Wingfield’s brief tenure because of presidential house expenditures. Welch said the expenditures, which later led to a Senate investigation, might cause some legislators to give NIU a new board.

Countryman said, “There’s undoubtedly been problems with the board. I think that might be the motivation in some peoples’ minds. I think Wingfield and the house situation … certainly don’t add to the board’s credibility. What each legislator is considering in his head may be totally different.”

Welch and Countryman said NIU and the other Regency universities often are not equal in the their goals or their progress.

“Northern is at a point where it needs a governing board which can devote more time for Northern academically and in all other respects,” said Countryman, a House Higher Education Committee member. “There is a major imbalance with an institution of 26,000 (NIU) and an institution of 2,000 (SSU). I feel Northern has not really had a balance of geographical appointments to the Board of Regents.

“I really feel the Board of Regents has too much to do with governing three state universities. (But) I’ve seen more effort out of the Regents since we filed the conference committee report.”

Ebbesen said he has lived in DeKalb all of his life and said NIU has needed its own governing board in that time. He said two-thirds of the state’s population is in the northern one-third of the state, he said. As a result, he said NIU has a high concentration of legislators near the university.

“There is a bureaucratic layer that is absolutely unnecessary,” he said. “They put Northern together with Illinois State because they said at this point and time they are similar in scope, so that may have made sense. But Northern in the last 10 years has far outdistanced (ISU), and it’s partly because of the area.”

NIU had trouble in the 1970s passing the bill because it was not timely then, Ebbesen said. He said NIU’s progress has made a separate governing board for the university a timely issue.

ep. E.J. Giorgi, D-Rockford, said he has supported the bill in the past and would continue to do so. He agreed with Countryman that a separate board would serve NIU’s interests better.

Sen. Dennis Jacobs, D-Moline, said if Welch was able to convince him that giving NIU its own board would not harm the overall structure of higher education, he would vote for it.

ep. Richard Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said he supported the proposal when Ebbesen was a House member. He said his stance has not changed. He said the law school’s relocation from Lewis University to NIU forced a re-evaluation of the university’s position in higher education. But he said he can envision ISU pushing for a new board if NIU succeeds.

Sen. William Marovitz, D-Chicago, said he has supported a separate governing board for NIU before and “probably would be included” in supporting Welch’s proposal this time around as well. He said he does not know enough about the issue, but if it comes up, he will discuss it with Welch.