BOR releases disputed report

By Jerry Lawrence

NORMAL—More than 364 days after the Board of Regents originally discussed a draft report, the board released the draft report Wednesday, following a week of speculation and controversy over its contents.

Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said other documents relating to the Oct. 22, 1992 report also are available, even though they were not distributed at Wednesday’s meeting.

Regents Chairman David Murphy said the draft report, which the board paid a private firm $41,000 to create, was being released to show the taxpayers of Illinois and students, whose tuition and fees help support the Regents, that the board has nothing to hide.

“We want to keep faith by being very candid about this draft,” he said.

The most vocal criticism of the board’s delay in releasing the report has come from Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra. Kustra has accused the board of hiding the report, which he speculated was critical of the Regents.

“While the Lt. Gov. is hoping the study recommends the abolition of the board, it actually does the opposite,” Murphy said.

“We would have preferred to have provided the document together with our own conclusions, observations and expectations following both study, discussion and input from campus and system leaders,” he added.

Murphy said the board wanted to wait until a final report was prepared before discussing it in public. “(The report) was not finalized because of unusual factors beyond our control,” he said.

Murphy cited program eliminations and last year’s failed legislation that would have eliminated the Regents as some of those factors.

Murphy also cited the absence of Regent Joe Ebbesen, who was a primary supporter of the efficiency report, as a factor that delayed the report’s release.

Murphy said Ebbesen was absent from spring and summer Regent meetings because he was recovering from surgery, and the board did not want to finalize the report without his presence.

This left the Regents in a rather awkward position. Ebbesen has allied himself with Kustra in his efforts to eliminate the board. If the board finalized and approved an efficiency report Ebbesen had pushed for, it could have set itself up for charges of tampering with the contents of the report.

But the path the board decided to take has proven to be just as untenable. Kustra has cited the delay caused by waiting for Ebbesen and other variables to pan out as evidence of the same kind of cover-up.

Groves said he did not believe Ebbesen’s call for the efficiency report was related to his efforts to lobby for the abolition of the Regents.

Murphy said he wanted to “emphasize that this is not a secret report, but a confidential one.” When asked to elaborate on the difference, Murphy gave an analogy of how the content of someone’s doctor bill is also confidential, but not necessarily secret.

The draft report that was released Wednesday did not give any cure-all prescriptions to remedy what Kustra has said infects the Regents ability to operate efficiently.

Kustra’s diagnosis has been that the Regents represent an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and should be eliminated.

Both Murphy and Groves accused Kustra of political opportunism, saying the Lt. Gov. exaggerated the contents of the report and the board’s delay in releasing it.

Murphy said Kustra was using the chance to gain new publicity for his efforts to eliminate the Regents.

The draft report released by the Regents Wednesday included some minor criticism, such as the time it takes the board to disseminate advance information about public board meetings, and how the Regents use their legal counsel.

Instead, the report calls for more responsibilities to be placed on the Regents office staff, not an elimination of the board, as Kustra has called for.

In press releases and letters to the Illinois legislature, Kustra has said he will again push for the elimination of the Regents during the next legislative session, after his attempts failed in June.

On Oct. 15, Murphy invited Kustra to attend Wednesday’s board meeting, but Kustra refused. Wednesday, Murphy said he didn’t really expect Kustra to come.

Murphy also leveled some sharp criticism at Kustra who has accused the Regents of everything from wasteful spending on office refreshments to hiding damaging reports out of self-interest.

Murphy said Kustra should “find something better to do with his life” than continually look for reasons to attack the Regents. He suggested Kustra should “use his good office” to take care of real problems like those of the Chicago school system.