Controversy erupts over term limits

By Markos Moulitsas

Controversy erupted Wednesday when the University Council attempted to remove the term limits of the ombudsman.

The ombudsman serves a maximum of five years, the last two subject to the approval of the Ombudsman Review Search Committee, but the proposal would replace that with successive three-year terms, also subject to renewal by the same committee.

The ombudsman assists with grievances from the university community, makes reports and recommendations to the president on unremedied problems and gives an annual report to the UC on the operation of the office.

UC member Joan Greening, associate director of NIU’s Career Planning and Placement Center, explained the argument for the change.

“The position of the ombudsman requires a one-year learning curve, and the second year the ombudsman already has to look for a new job,” Greening said.

Student Association President Abe Andrzejewski said he agreed. “I think that anytime you limit the term of office, it limits the office.

“(Elimination of the limits) will allow the position to be a consistently effective resource to students especially, but also to the faculty and administration,” he added.

Linda Sons, professor of mathematical sciences, said she disagreed with eliminating the term limits.

“The ombudsman is unlike any position. The ombudsman can become part of a particular group on campus, which would make him less effective,” Sons said. “That’s why the term limitation was made.”

But Greening said she did not agree with that argument.

“The ombudsman would be as effective after 10 years as after one,” she said.

Lorys Oddi, associate professor in the school of nursing, was also critical of that argument.

“They are people with a code of ethics. We should not assume that they would operate differently. I don’t think we should make those assumptions,” Oddi said.

Robert Suchner, associate professor of sociology, fueled the controversy by suggesting that guidelines for the search of the ombudsman remove requirements for a national search.

“I’m uncomfortable with the words ‘national search,’ given the president’s position on the positions of provost and vice-president,” Suchner said.

“We’re in a debate on whether we should have national searches for vice president, so why should we mandate it for the ombudsman? I don’t think it’s as important,” he added.

Suchner was referring to a recent controversy regarding the university’s search to fill two vice-presidential positions.

NIU President John La Tourette said he wants to keep the search internal, as opposed to conducting a nationwide search.

However his proposal has met fierce opposition from faculty and administrators who think an exclusively internal search will exclude a whole range of potentially qualified candidates.

At last weeks Faculty Senate meeting, the senate voted for a national search to fill the two positions. La Tourette has not yet decided if he will follow the senates resolution and have a national search.

Not everyone agreed with the idea of eliminating the national search requirement.

“If you cut out a national search, you limit some very qualified personnel,” said UC student member Mary Heather Hannah.

In the discussion it was pointed out that there were only a limited amount of ombudsmen across the country, and this shortage would force the university to look beyond its boundaries.

James Lankford, dean of the College of Professional Studies, said he could not understand all the controversy.

“I was not aware that the ombudsman had so much power. His job is only to assure that we follow our own rules and regulations,” Lankford said.

The proposal was sent back to committee for further consideration.

“The position of the ombudsman requires a one-year learning curve, and the second year the ombudsman already has to look for a new job.”

Joan Greening

UC member