New board faces opposition

By Jim Wozniak

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the possibility of NIU’s receiving its own governing board. This part focuses on those who oppose such a move.

If Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, and Rep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, are going to be successful in their attempts to give NIU its own governing board, they will have to overcome opposition among their own ranks and the Board of Regents.

One of the biggest arguments against creating a new board for NIU is that other state universities also would need one.

“If you’re talking in terms of sure numbers, why shouldn’t the University of Illinois-Chicago or SIU-Edwardsville have a separate board,” Senate President Phil Rock, D-Oak Park, said. “A lot more discussion, a lot more study has to be done. One of the axioms we live by is if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

“It’s under the Board of Regents, and it should stay that way,” Sen. John Davidson, R-Springfield, said. “We already have enough governing boards, especially with the current budget situation. I think many people in the legislature feel as I do that we have enough boards.”

Davidson’s district includes Sangamon State University, which comprises the Regency system along with NIU and Illinois State University.

Another objection often raised is a new governing board would be too expensive. Rock said this idea might cause some legislators to vote against the proposal, which might come up for vote as early as the end of this month. But he said that thought might not hold much value.

“It would be more expensive, meaning duplicating (the Regents’) staff,” Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said. “You need people and staff to make it most competitive. Proponents of a separate board are not making this to be less competitive. In all likelihood, if Northern got its own board, it would want to staff it like the Southern Illinois University system.”

NIU President John LaTourette said he opposes a new board because he feels it would not make a difference and might make the university more isolated when it is time to receive state money. Welch said he thinks LaTourette supports the proposal but cannot publicly admit it.

ISU President Lloyd Watkins said he preferred to let LaTourette deal with the issue but said he thought the Regency system would be better as is.

Sen. John Maitland, R-Bloomington, said he does not favor the the proposal because he does not believe NIU will benefit.

“I can’t understand what Northern would gain,” he said. “I think Northern (would) lose power. I think Northern has done quite well funding-wise over the years (with the Regents). The strong lobbyists are the local legislators. What they (Welch and Countryman) are telling you is that they are not strong.”

In addition to the cost factor, Groves pointed out other reasons why he opposes such a move. He said the move is unnecessary because the Regents have given NIU “excellent” support and NIU has not complained about its lacking. He mentioned NIU’s law and engineering school additions as examples of progress.

NIU needs supporters in the legislature to obtain money, which the university receives from SSU’s and ISU’s legislators, Groves said. He said such a move might lead to a situation where all universities were lumped under one or two systems.

“I hear a lot of generalities, but I haven’t heard any specific concerns,” he said.

Thursday: Supporters of a new board.