IBHE ends first part of PQP initiative

By Brian Slupski

SKOKIE—The first chapter of the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative began to close at Thursday’s IBHE meeting.

“We have been waiting two years toward this day,” said IBHE Chair Arthur Quern as he opened Thursday’s meeting.

Quern was noting the importance of the two-day meeting that will see Illinois’ 12 state public universities making productivity reports that will serve as tombstones for 108 academic programs statewide.

However, Quern’s optimistic attitude turned to sharp criticism when NIU President John La Tourette and Illinois State University President Thomas Wallace presented reports from their respective universities.

La Tourette reported NIU’s actions on 15 programs recommended for elimination by the IBHE nearly a year ago.

Seven of the programs will be eliminated, seven retained and one reduced. La Tourette said five programs the IBHE did not target also were now on the chopping block.

La Tourette said 22 programs were reviewed and ranked in three categories: high, medium and low. Quern asked if all programs ranked as low priorities were to be eliminated.

“There’s the possibility, if the program has a large demand and is not costly, that it will not be (eliminated),” La Tourette said.

Quern said he did not understand NIU’s reasons for ranking the programs. “If prioritizing does not lead to action, then we’re just spinning our wheels,” Quern said.

Quern also asked what “elimination pending” meant. Several programs in NIU’s productivity report, including graduate programs in German, Russian and journalism, were listed as elimination pending.

La Tourette said it meant the programs had been recommended for elimination by the Provost’s Office and the Academic Planning Council (APC), but still were moving through campus processes and had yet to be approved by NIU’s governing board, the Board of Regents.

Quern’s light prods at La Tourette were nothing compared to the criticism leveled at Wallace by the board.

At the conclusion of Wallace’s report, board member J. Robert Barr said, “You’ve attempted to make a speech. That’s not want we want you to do.”

Barr began criticizing ISU’s report that stated only two of the 12 programs the IBHE had recommended for elimination actually were going to be cut.

Barr said he also was put off by ISU’s “no response” on six programs the IBHE had recommended for review. He said ISU seemed to approach PQP as if it were purely a budget exercise, and kept programs of low cost without really examining their quality.

Wallace responded by saying quality really hadn’t been a part of the entire PQP process. At this point of the exchange, Quern jumped in and suggested Wallace clarify his point.

“I think you want to be clear. What was that point?” Quern asked.

Wallace said the quality guidelines for PQP were not clear and that the quality issue was not given a high priority by the IBHE during the PQP process.

Wallace added that he was a little surprised he was being attacked “for eliminating administration over academics.” Quern said the focus of PQP right now was academics. He said all universities have programs that are low priority or quality.

He added that PQP should not be viewed as a budget exercise because it is an attempt to establish priorities and better focus on higher education.