Governor opposes Regents

By Brian Slupski and Jerry Lawrence

The attack on the Board of Regents by state officials continued Wednesday with Gov. Jim Edgar’s endorsement of Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra’s demands for its elimination.

During his State of the State address Wednesday, Edgar said, “We have some of the most respected universities in this nation, but let’s face it—they are operating under a system that encourages duplication and discourages innovation and productivity.”

Edgar called for a restoration of accountability in higher education that included the elimination of the Regents, which governs NIU, Illinois State University in Normal and Sangamon State University in Springfield.

Edgar endorsed a report by the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education which was released Wednesday and recommended the abolition of the Regents as well as the Board of Governors.

The task force, which is co-chaired by Kustra, recommended replacing the Regents and Governors with individual governing boards for all state universities.

“The individual governing boards will not require the bureaucracies that now spend millions of dollars and make it difficult to fix responsibility,” Edgar said, an apparent reference to an Illinois Auditor General report released earlier this month.

The Auditor’s report detailed what Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra said showed “sloppy management and a lack of fiscal responsibility” by the Regents.

Edgar also praised the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s controversial Priority, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative which has sought to streamline the operations of all 12 state public universities.

“I commend the Board of Higher Education for launching a sweeping re-evaluation along with the state’s universities of the priorities and qualities of their programs,” Edgar said.

PQP has been criticized for its business management style approach to university governance and use of outdated data.

“We must eliminate programs that exist to serve only a handful of faculty and an even smaller number of students,” Edgar said.

Under the PQP initiative, the IBHE has recommended the elimination of 190 academic programs at state universities, which the IBHE deemed either unproductive or of low priority.

At NIU, 15 programs have been targeted for elimination, including the College of Law and several doctoral programs.

The IBHE has maintained throughout the PQP initiative that it is not a budget exercise. However, public higher education officials maintain that public higher education is being underfunded to the benefit of private institutions.

Edgar said increased state funding for education is not the only answer to the type of problems faced by state universities.

“We need to remind ourselves constantly that money is not the only answer and money without reforms is no answer,” Edgar said.

Edgar said the higher education system should, “be in the vanguard of change,” as an example for other areas in the state.

The Board of Governors oversees Governor’s State University, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University.