No pot of gold in travels

Globetrotting appears to be a favorite pastime for NIU President John La Tourette. He has his reasons, but they’re not very good ones.

The best reason La Tourette could give the Star for contributing to ringing up about $24,000 in travel expenses between himself and Ines De Romana, program coordinator for NIU’s Office of International Training and Consultation, is a $70,000 FIPSE grant he claims as booty from his exploits.

The $70,000 Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) grant will be used to reduce the cost of travel for seven NIU students. We’re not impressed—apparently, not nearly as impressed as the NIU Office of Public Information (OPI) who’ve been hyping the FIPSE grant all over NIU promotional material for the past several weeks.

Interestingly enough, major hyping for NIU’s “commitment to international studies” became suspiciously paramount to OPI during the time when the Star was requesting travel records on both La Tourette and De Romana.

Perhaps La Tourette’s ventures would be better received if all was quiet on the Northern front. But it is not.

Students, faculty and administrators alike are being assaulted by financial perils in the form of substantial tuition hikes and academic program eliminations.

Although other universities spend as much and sometimes even more on travel expenses, this does not mean the university’s top official should be left off the hook. La Tourette has been spending what could be construed as a ridiculous amount of money to personally promote a program that would survive quite well without his on-the-scene appearances.

In a time of budget constraints, tuition increases and program eliminations, one would think La Tourette would have more important topics to address. And addressing these issues at home would have saved the university a considerable amount of money.

The big question remaining is why both La Tourette and De Romana were needed for four international trips. What remains to be seen are the tangible benefits of having both officials, particularly since one is the most vital official at NIU, in foreign lands at the same time. Austria? Spain? Denmark? Mexico? What about DeKalb?

De Romana has held her position a few years. One would think by now she would be able to handle the responsibilities of promoting her program and keeping it afloat by herself. Why is it necessary to pull the university’s captain away from the ship onto a foreign tugboat?

It becomes even more questionable considering the category of the reward La Tourette has been so earnestly striving for, the FIPSE grant, will be eliminated this year requiring NIU to apply in a different category next year. This new category will not allow money to be spent on student travel, according to Charles Storey, a program director for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. This makes La Tourette’s hard work seem rather useless.

La Tourette has noted that he doesn’t plan to continue traveling abroad thanks to some personnel restructuring within NIU’s division of international programs. Perhaps these changes could have been made before he decided to begin his journeys.

It has been made known to the Star that today’s story would be closely scrutinized by concerned parties. We are left to believe these voiced concerns represent an attempt to squelch the story. We will not allow these concerns to hold legitimate news hostage.

Perhaps these concerned parties could better explain the big concern over why this story should not come out, as we expect they might in some form or another. All information was obtained by legal means from NIU records via the Illinois Freedom on Information Act.

All we are left to conclude is that it does not speak well of the president for him to be running abroad in times of crisis.

Obviously, Madrid held no secrets to save the master’s program in journalism, and it’s doubtful that a pot of gold will be found in Salzburg to save other university programs on the IBHE’s hit list.

It’s nice to know La Tourette got a chance to stay in the castle featured in the film The Sound of Music, while staying in Austria on one of the trips.

The Northern Star editorial board is quite content to stay in the castle of Altgeld Hall listening to the sounds of excessive spending and few results although the melody leaves something to be desired.