Regents’ findings attacked

By Jerry Lawrence

After a few months of silence, Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra has launched a new attack on NIU’s governing board, the Board of Regents.

Kustra has alleged the board has hidden the findings of a private consulting group it hired to study system efficiency. Last year, the Regents hired the Bronner Group Inc. to evaluate the efficiency of higher education governance in the Regents system for about $41,000. The board has yet to release a report on the group’s findings.

The Regents govern NIU as part of the system of systems Illinois maintains to oversee the operations of all 12 public universities. As co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education, Kustra spearheaded last year’s efforts to break up the system of systems. But the efforts failed due to lack of support in the State House of Representatives.

Kustra alleged the Regents have hidden the findings of the Bronner Group, and used the charge to renew his call-to-arms for higher education governance reform. In an Oct. 14 letter to all members of the Illinois General Assembly, Kustra stated, “The sorry history of a Board of Regents consultant’s study provides additional evidence of the lack of accounting at the BOR and the need for wholesale change.”

In an apparent attempt to address Kustra’s charges, on Oct. 15, Regents Chairman David Murphy invited Kustra to attend today’s meeting so Kustra could outline his concerns to the board.

However, Regents spokesperson Lana Kains said, “He (Kustra) has indicated that he has not accepted our offer to come, and it’s a shame.” She said Murphy and the Regents want Kustra to understand the report is not being kept secret.

Murphy said, “The board is not trying to hide any secret report. What we have received from the consultants is only background material and discussion drafts.”

However, neither the background material nor the discussion drafts have been discussed at any public Regents meeting. Kains said no written report exists to detail the group’s findings. The Regents did not contain a provision for a written report in the original contract, he said, and the study was commissioned without specification of a final product.

“I find it mind boggling that the Board of Regents would enter into a $41,000 contract for a study of the Board’s efficiency, but the BOR is not able to show taxpayers the results of that review,” the Kustra letter states. He added, “Only the most gullible would believe the Chancellor’s claim that the consultant did not supply something in writing. I have to conclude that the Chancellor (Roderick Groves) wants to keep the recommendations under wraps.”

In a Regents press release, Murphy said the delay in discussing the group’s findings was at least partly related to the high turnover of Regents members in the last year, and a “highly charged political atmosphere”—an atmosphere that brought the Regents to the brink of extinction at the end of the last legislative session.

Instead of a public release of a final report, some of the Bronner Group’s findings were discussed in a closed meeting of the Regents last year. Kains said Regents Legal Counsel Carol Fines recommended the executive session to discuss the Bronner Group’s initial findings.

In his letter, Kustra called the executive session a possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Kains said she did not know what provision of the Illinois Open Meetings Act was cited by Fines as legal justification for closing the meeting, and Fines was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Furthermore, Kains said it would now cost more money to have a written report drafted—a possibility, she said, that has not been ruled out. “This is not a dead issue,” she said.

Kains also confirmed the Bronner Group was paid about $41,000 to analyze the efficiency of the Regents system, but added the group did not study the efficiency of Regents office personnel.

“The whole reason for this study was to look at the efficiency of the system (as a whole),” she said.

In his letter, Kustra offered a recommendation of his own. “I have my own recommendation for streamlining, and this offer comes free of charge—abolish the Board of Regents.”

Kains said the matter might be discussed at today’s meeting of the Regents at ISU. “It’s not on the agenda, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it will not come up,” she said. According to Kains, Groves has called Kustra’s attacks politically motivated. She said Groves believes the charges are clearly related to Kustra’s failed attempts to eliminate the Regents last year.