IBHE out of focus

There’s a controversy raging in higher education surrounding the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s attempt to issue the state’s 12 public universities’ “focus statements.”

A university’s mission statement is important for several reasons. It tells the university what its “mission” is and this helps determine things such as what kind of programs the school should offer and how much research it should sponsor. If the university wants a program which does not coincide with its mission, then the program will likely not be approved by the school’s governing board, like NIU’s Board of Regents.

The IBHE wants to issue focus statements which it will use to review university program offerings. In essence, these statements will likely shrink the university’s world and will be used to filter down program offerings.

The IBHE has been criticized by higher education officials for overstepping its bounds. However, the IBHE is the coordinating body of higher education in Illinois. The IBHE’s job is to look at higher education on a statewide level. While the IBHE’s vision of NIU’s mission might not be in the best interest of NIU, it could be in the best interest of the state. The IBHE is well within its authority to release and review the mission statements of this state’s universities.

The problem with what the IBHE is doing now is that it is not changing the universities mission, or discussing a change with the universities. It is issuing focus statements, which curtail the universities mission.

The universities are angry and rightfully so. If the IBHE wants to change the mission of a university because Illinois’ higher education needs have changed, it should explain how the state’s needs have changed, what its plan for higher education is and discuss with the universities how those needs can best be met.

Instead, the IBHE has attempted to alter the universities’ missions, without touching the actual statements. The IBHE’S focus statements are perceived, and might very well be, ammo with which the IBHE plans to use to blow away programs it feels are unnecessary and costly.

The focus statements have come out of the IBHE’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative. The initiative was not supposed to be strictly a cost cutting exercise. PQ was supposed to be the IBHE’s attempt to restore statewide vision to higher education. However, thus far PQ has focused more on cutting the “fat” off higher education and not establishing any vision.

The focus statements seem to be just another weapon in the IBHE’s arsenal. The statements should be thrown out and the IBHE disarmed.