Regents beware

It seems Gov. Jim Edgar wants to destroy NIU’s governing board, the Board of Regents, by any means necessary.

This is reflected in what happened to former Regent Sylvia Nichols. Nichols, a dedicated Regent for six years, first received a letter stating she would not be reappointed, then a letter she would, then a third letter stating she would not.

Why wasn’t Nichols reappointed when she has served the Regents well for six years and chairs one of the primary committees within the board?

The answer seems to stem from Edgar’s dislike of higher education’s governance system. Earlier this year, Edgar supported a plan which would have eliminated the Regents and given NIU its own governing board. Not a bad idea, but one that failed in the state legislature.

However, in government, no idea truly dies. The governance issue is bound to resurface down the line and Edgar might want people on the Regents who think the board should be eliminated.

This sounds like a ludicrous idea because a person appointed to the Regents, who wants the Regents eliminated, would not make a very effective Regent and would hinder the ability of the board to govern its universities.

One would hope that Edgar’s strategy is not to weaken the Regents through poor appointments and then try to eliminate them again. Whether or not the Regents should be eliminated is debatable. However, the Regents is NIU’s governing board and it should have the best available members, like Sylvia Nichols. The board should not be downgraded for political reasons to the detriment of NIU.

Before this year, Edgar had made one appointment to the Regents, Joe Ebbesson. Based on Ebbesson, Edgar has a very poor track record of appointments to the board. Not only did Ebbesson miss three meetings in a row last year, including a meeting in his hometown of DeKalb, he also spoke in favor of eliminating the Regents.

One can only hope Edgar’s future appointments improve and that they are as effective as the Regent he refused to reappoint.

Now that the state has made the decision to stick with the Board of Regents, the board needs the state’s support. Higher education has enough trouble without being made a battleground for endless political squabbles.