IBHE considers blocking programs

By Peter Schuh

The Illinois Board of Higher Education is considering a moratorium on new programs, but that could hurt Illinois public universities, according to NIU President John La Tourette.

If the IBHE decides to implement a moratorium it would mean that no new program requests for Illinois public universities would be considered for the duration of the moratorium.

Simply put, the IBHE would refuse to grant new program requests until it decided differently.

In an interview Friday, La Tourette said the moratorium might not be in the best interest of the universities.

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea because we’re dealing with a very dynamic society,” he said. “There are constantly changes in society. Illinois’ universities must remain progressive to meet those needs.”

At a legislative hearing on higher education held last Thursday at NIU, IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner announced the IBHE was considering the moratorium and might implement it for as long as two years.

Wagner said the moratorium could be used to make the universities and their governing boards focus on the IBHE’s next round of recommended program cuts, which is due out in November. The recommendations are part of the IBHE’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative, which aims to cut the fat out of Illinois higher education.

“Unless we’re really talking about a situation here where a program needs to be restructured, we would not need to take considerable time away from the consideration of a new program,” La Tourette said.

“There could be a program in one college that needs restructuring and a new program in another college. I don’t see there is any conflict in pursuing those actions simultaneously.”

La Tourette said he realizes funds for new programs have been practically non-existent in the past few years and the IBHE needs to “closely scrutinize” new programs under the current climate, but he said a moratorium would be taking things too far.

“Just coming in with a blanket prohibition on new programs can be unhealthy for the universities,” he said.

In the past, the IBHE has said the universities should continue with business as usual while acting on PQP recommendations. Earlier this semester, when defending the IBHE’s second hit list, Katherine Kelly, IBHE deputy director for Academic Affairs, said the list could include recommendations for program expansions as well as cuts.

However, the moratorium could stand in the way of both of these initiatives.

The Board of Regents, NIU’s governing board, has opted to hold its response to the possibility of a moratorium at this time, said Chancellor’s Assistant Lana Kains.

“The chancellor feels it would be premature to comment on it at this time because it’s only under consideration,” she said.