Motion tabled

CHICAGO—During its meeting Wednesday at Chicago State University, the Illinois Board of Higher Education spent more than one hour trying to zoom in on public universities’ focus statements.

However, a divided board and several upset university administrators forced the tabling of the motion to pass a slew of focus statements for Illinois’ public universities into IBHE law.

The creation and implementation of university focus statements is yet another move in the IBHE’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative, the aim of which is to streamline the Illinois higher education system.

The focus statements are intended to take the place of the universities’ mission statements.

The university mission statement expresses the guiding philosophy of the university, its goals and long-range aspirations.

The IBHE attempted to revise the mission statements of Illinois public universities last year, but the attempt failed under pressure from the universities.

The focus statements, apparently drawn up by both the universities and the IBHE, are intended to meet the more tangible and short-range goals of the university.

However, the biggest difference between the statements is the mission statements are what the IBHE has given the universities to write and follow in their own autonomy and the focus statements are what the IBHE intends to refer to when reviewing and making recommendations on university programs.

Numerous complaints made during the discussion of the focus statements forced IBHE Chairman Arthur Quern to recommend tabling the proposals until the IBHE’s January meeting.

The concerns were voiced by several board members in addition to numerous university administrators, including NIU President John La Tourette.

La Tourette said he disagreed with several aspects of the focus statements, both for NIU in specific and the process in general.

“I think there may be a misconception here,” he said. “These statements were not drawn up by the universities.

“I’m also very concerned that the words stated here, which are not our (NIU’s) words, will be a barrier to us doing the very thing this board wants us to do—strengthening our commitment to and working with our region.”

Roderick Groves, chancellor of the Board of Regents, also found a few criticizing words to say about the proposed focus statements.

“There are many misgivings to the process,” he said.

Groves also questioned whether the IBHE should even be getting involved in the universities’ mission statements.

However, the strongest objection to the IBHE’s proposal came from within its own ranks.

IBHE member J. Robert Barr questioned Quern’s reasons for backing the implementation of the focus statements.

“This is bologna,” Barr said. “What I just heard you say is there is no difference (between the focus and mission statements) but the name was changed to make some people feel better. It has been a worthless waste of time putting these statements together.”

Quern admitted, “These focus statements continue to have a flavor of mission statements. At some point, however, we are going to have to vote on the focus statements which I’m sure will make the world smaller than most of these universities want it to be.”

Quern said the universities will be given one more meeting with IBHE staff to alter “oversights and inconsistent statements” in their focus statements.

He added, “I was very discouraged by President La Tourette’s comments, but I do not think it is a good idea to ignore the comments of an institution’s president. I think that at this point one more step in the process, even if it does take four more months, is better than constant amendments.”