Edgar, task force assert views, Report advises change

By Jerry Lawrence

A report released by the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education might be the final blow to eliminate the Board of Regents.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, recommends the creation of individual boards to govern the schools under the Regents and the Board of Governors.

Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra, co-chair of the task force, said, “By abolishing the Board of Governors and Board of Regents, we can give each university its own independent board of trustees and operate those boards with only skeletal staff on campus.”

Kustra said Gov. Edgar’s endorsement of the report was appreciated by students and parents. “Too many undergraduate students are taught by graduate assistants rather than full professors, and too often students cannot find enough open classes to finish their degree work within four years.

Kustra said the recommendation was based on more than just economic reasons.

“A streamlined governance system will do more than save tax dollars. It will bring more accountability to higher education—a sometimes foreign territory where the people paying taxes and tuition bills often don’t know where to ask a question, lodge a complaint or make a suggestion,” Kustra said.

Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves did not agree that the new system would increase accountability.

“This would be more boards than anyone ever thought of, I don’t know how that would increase accountability,” he said.

Groves criticized the new system because it would force small schools like Governors State University to compete with large schools like the University of Illinois.

He said the situation would not be “equitable” for the smaller schools, and that the small schools’ interests might be ignored.

“Whether popular or not, the Illinois ‘system of systems’ has proven to be a very workable structure over the years. It’s not broken and doesn’t need to be fixed.

“Illinois doesn’t need change just for the sake of change. The legislature should take an extremely skeptical look at the proposed alternative and the claims of its supporters,” Groves said.

Asst. Lt. Gov. Mary Reynolds said there might be legislation based on the recommendations as early as this spring.

“The lieutenant governor and the governor will be working together to come up with the appropriate legislation and have it implemented, hopefully, by next spring,” Reynolds said.

She said passage of the legislation this spring would have the individual governing boards established by fall semester next year.

Noticeably absent from the task force report was a recommendation to give the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) the power to eliminate programs at state universities.

The recommendation had been included in a June report by the task force.

However, the report states, “if the institutions fail to adhere to guidelines (program guidelines set by the IBHE), the state should consider strengthening the authority of the IBHE to eliminate academic programs no longer economically or academically justified.”

The absence of the recommendation might be a political move to gain legislative support. A resolution recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly stated that the IBHE should not receive program cutting power.

The program cutting authority is exercised by governing boards such as the Regents. According to the task force report, program cutting authority should be granted to the individual governing boards if the Regents and Governor’s are eliminated.

IBHE Deputy Director Ross Hodel said he did not know if IBHE Chair Art Quern would continue to seek the program cutting power for the IBHE after it was not recommended in the task force report.

If Quern continues to seek the authority, it would mark a strange dual position held by him. He also serves as co-chair of the task force which issued the recommendations.

Quern, who is in Arizona, was not available for comment, Hodel said.

Hodel said discussion of the issue can be expected at the next IBHE meeting in March.

The report does recommend some increased coordinating authority for the IBHE. Reynolds said such coordination included an establishment of better dialogue between the IBHE and the individual governing boards.

The Board of Governors, also targeted for elimination by the report, oversee the operations of Governors State University, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University.

NIU President John La Tourette was not available for comment. He is in Washington D.C. and is expected to return to DeKalb tomorrow.