Faculty Senate discusses state funding

By Alex Fiore

The NIU Faculty Senate discussed Vision 2020, teacher quality, and state funding Wednesday afternoon in the Holmes Student Center Sky Room.

NIU President John Peters opened the meeting, expressing his concern about the lack of state funding NIU has received and said the university is currently owed $40 million by the state.”In terms of state priorities, the role of public higher education is hard to find,” he said.

Peters did not appear pleased when he mentioned “the continual and rapidly deteriorating focus by the state on higher education.”

Peters said he was having trouble getting an answer from the state about when money would arrive.

“We’ve had a frustrating time over the last few years over what our budget is, and when we will be receiving payments,” he said.

Peters expressed frustration that the university has had to “delay any kind of discretionary spending on what makes a university great,” but reassured the senate that there is “no threat of layoffs.”

Peters then switched the subject to the Vision 2020 project, designed to improve the university over the next decade.

He was adamant that the project “is not strategic planning.” Peters said the problem with long-term planning is the fact that context changes over time.

According to Peters, the purpose of Vision 2020 is to “align our resources and make some progress.”

Vision 2020 will be headed by a “steering committee,” a group of about 40 people who will meet three or four times to review the ideas of seven work groups.

The current work groups are academic planning, faculty activity, excellence and rewards; student recruitment, retention and success; student experience, facilities and environment, engagement and sustainability.

Each group will have a unique focus on improving the university, and will be made up of faculty, administration, alumni and students.

Faculty Senate President Alan Rosenbaum asked Peters to clarify what he meant by “faculty.” Rosenbaum said the most common definition of faculty was everyone up to and including a department chair.

Peters said he would take this definition into consideration when forming work groups.

The academic programming work group is designed to handle priorities like academic climate and experience, and to delve deeper into improving the study abroad program.

Peters also asked “where is NIU in regards to online learning?” and expects the academic programming work group to provide an answer.

The faculty activity, excellence and rewards work group is designed to attract and retain the best faculty possible.

“Faculty members drive the institution,” he said.

Peters said the student recruitment, retention and success group would be true to its namesake.

“We’re in a very competitive market for qualified students,” he said.

The committee will also focus on determining incoming freshman and transfer class sizes, as well as focusing on graduate programs, he said.

Peters spoke only briefly about the student experience, sustainability, and engagement work groups, instead focusing on the facilities and environment group.

He said that committee would be focusing on creating “environmentally friendly, technologically infused buildings” as well as a “campus beautification program.”

Senator J.D. Bowers brought up a Nov. 9 Associated Press article picked up by the Chicago Tribunethat alleged NIU does not adequately prepare education students to become teachers.

Both Bowers and Peters were upset with the article’s content.

“A good group of people got bushwhacked by bad methodology,” Peters said. “For over 100 years, people have benefited from the quality of our teachers.”

During an Oct. 27 meeting, Rosenbaum informed the senate that there is no current policy for allowing guests in classrooms. At that time, the senate roundly agreed they assumed it was up to the discretion of the teacher whether or not to allow friends, children, or unregistered students in the classroom.

At that meeting, Rosenbaum asked the senate to consult with their staff about what their personal policy was.

Senate member Teresa Fisher said she consulted with her staff and they said they were “strongly in favor of leaving it to the instructor’s discretion.”

Because of this response, the Senate decided to send the issue to the faculty rights and responsibility for review.

The Faculty Senate will meet again Jan. 19.