Report threatens governance

As I have discussed in this column previously (The Northern Star Feb. 8), the Kustra-Quern Task Force Report on Higher Education poses a serious threat to shared governance here at NIU. This threat remains despite IBHE Chairman Art Quern’s recent statement that he “…would not continue to seek program-cutting authority from the Illinois General Assembly” (The Star March 3). Indeed, Chairman Quern indicated that he might still seek such authority in October, after reviewing the response of NIU and other public universities to the IBHE’s controversial Priorities, Quality and Productivity (PQP) directives. Quern clearly revealed his true intentions when he stated, “I don’t think the issue is going to go away. I think the board, at some point, will have to … come to a conclusion about whether it wants … to go to the legislature and ask for this power” (The Star March 3).

As a further indication of Quern’s plans to seize absolute control over NIU and other public universities, consider the language of the Kustra-Quern report regarding abolition of the Board of Regents and creating a separate governing board for NIU. That report states that such a separate board “… should have only skeletal staffs…”. As we all know, a skeleton, by definition, has no muscle! Thus, the separate board proposed for NIU, as clearly envisioned by Quern, would be exceedingly weak. Additionally, the Kustra-Quern report states, “The IBHE should establish and continue to update minimal guidelines and requirements for academic programs. … (and) if the institutions fail to adhere to the guidelines, the state then should consider strengthening the authority of the IBHE to eliminate academic programs no longer economically or academically justified or viable.”

Make no mistake, the language of the Kustra-Quern report, as well as other comments and actions by Quern, clearly reveal his intention to seize power as Czar of Illinois public higher education. Such a development is truly frightening to all of us at NIU.

The recent efforts of our faculty colleagues on the Academic Planning Council (APC) are instructive in this regard. During the countless hours of dedicated study and review of programs, for which the APC was justly commended by the Faculty Senate on March 3, APC members labored under a cloud of uncertainty stemming from the actions of the IBHE. APC members have told NIU-UPI of their perception that the IBHE never made it clear to the NIU administration, much less the faculty members on APC, the “rules of the game” regarding PQP-driven decisions on elimination of academic programs at NIU. In fact, it was suggested that the IBHE “never made the game clear, much less the rules.” When such manipulation and uncertainty confront both the NIU administration and our dedicated faculty colleagues on APC, how can any of us feel secure regarding other academic programs that Quern in the future might decide are “…no longer economically or academically justified…”

NIU-UPI’s position is that only a contract resulting from collective bargaining can provide our faculty with protections not presently available in our governance documents. Contracts negotiated at other universities contain legally-binding language which would prevent the kind of “power grab” threatened by Quern’s vision for Illinois’ public universities. Such a contract for NIU faculty must be honored by the Illinois General Assembly. As a political scientist, I understand the meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s provision prohibiting states from “impairing the obligation of contract.” Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat 518 (1819), state legislatures have been prohibited from altering the governance of higher education institutions where such colleges or universities are protected by a legally-binding contract of the type which will be negotiated with the Board of Regents after NIU’s faculty vote for collective bargaining. If you have not already done so, show your support for protection of faculty rights in our governance system by signing a statement of support for NIU-UPI’s efforts when contacted by a faculty colleague.

This is another in a series of articles in The Northern Star by the NIU chapter of the UPI. The views expressed are those of NIU-UPI. Comments should be addressed to Kevin McKeough, NIU-UPI President, department of political science, 753-7059 or 748-2799.