Officials explain PQP effects

By Jerry Lawrence

Mission statement. Productivity. Hit list.

These are words which have been bandied about quite frequently in the arena of higher education lately. But how do these words affect NIU students?

Three top NIU officials sat down with The Northern Star to discuss how the complex streamlining process currently sweeping through state public universities will affect the NIU student body.

The process in question is called the Priorities, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative. It was started by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) one year ago. The IBHE oversees all 12 state public universities, from NIU in DeKalb to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The PQP process has raised many eyebrows on college campuses. Critics say PQP only looks at how many degrees a program awards instead of program quality.

James Norris, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the initiative has forced departments to analyze their strengths and look for weaknesses in programs. But Norris also said the IBHE has erred in the way it looks at the programs it has recommended for elimination.

“I think the biggest problem is that there isn’t enough consideration of quality,” Norris said.

Norris said the IBHE’s proposed elimination of the NIU College of Law and of graduate programs in psychology and geology are examples of the IBHE ignoring the quality of the programs it slated for deletion. The IBHE has recommended cutting 190 programs statewide.

Norris cited the proposed elimination of the master’s programs in Russian and German as an example of questionable reasoning in the IBHE. “Why would they give us master’s in foreign languages and two years later say, ‘Get rid of them.’ They were wrong one of the two times. Are they saying, ‘Russia and Germany are no longer important to us’?” Norris said. “I don’t agree with that.”

The obvious effects of program elimination are that students will no longer have those programs as an option, Norris said. If these programs are cut for the reasons that the IBHE states, it sets a dangerous precedent for future cuts by the IBHE, Norris said.

If the IBHE succeeds in getting these cuts where it has in effect ignored quality, it is unclear where it will stop, Norris said. He added that this type of program elimination will continue to affect not only graduate students in the programs in question, but also will affect undergraduate students who have the benefit of having graduate students available for teaching and program quality.

Norris also said eliminating graduate programs also may affect the type of professor who is recruited by NIU. “It’s easier to recruit people who want to stay up in the top of their fields by teaching graduate courses,” Norris said. As graduate programs get cut, he said, “we’ll have a harder time recruiting really good faculty and keeping them here.”

Norris said graduate students aid professors in research that helps them in undergraduate education, as well as in teaching some lower level classes. Norris said that graduate students have been quite successful teaching undergraduate classes.

Richard Brown, dean of the College of Business, said he believes Arthur Quern, architect of PQP and IBHE chairman, has the right idea, but his methods are what is causing the controversy.

Brown essentially agreed with the goals of the PQP process. He was quick to point out that NIU’s mission statement, which outlines the goals of the university, emphasizes serving the northern Illinois region through undergraduate education. Brown said that this does not altogether rule out graduate programs, but instead focuses only on graduate programs beneficial to our region.

According to Brown, “We have focused on our graduate education and research as our primary outcome, and undergraduate education is secondary. I think that’s really our problem.” He said the IBHE is trying to force NIU back toward our mission statement.

“Schools like ours want to be national universities in athletics, in research and in doctoral programs. The bottom line is we don’t have the resources to be first-class in athletics, first-class in doctoral programs and then also be first-class in undergraduate education,” Brown said.

Brown said he thinks too many graduate programs is to the detriment of undergraduate education while Norris said he thinks too few “quality” graduate programs is to the detriment of undergraduate education. Somewhere in the middle is NIU Provost J. Carroll Moody.

Moody said, “If the university identifies certain programs that need to be eliminated or consolidated or modified in certain ways, it could reduce the options that students have for selecting courses and programs that they might be interested in.”

Moody also said many parents and students look for a comprehensive university that provides many options for students. Moody said one of the things he likes about NIU is how diverse of a campus it is. The proposed PQP cuts could harm that diversity.

“You could find a great number of faculty who would say,‘I selected Northern because I knew that the department I was going into had a Ph.D. program,'” Moody said. It can be quite intellectually stimulating to teach graduate level classes, he said.

Moody also agreed that NIU appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis between being a nationally-acknowledged university with fine graduate programs or a university with a primarily regional emphasis.

Moody said a regionally-based doctoral program “is not going to fulfill its purpose unless it has some national standing.”