NIU, ISU might face ‘retribution’

By Eric Krol

What goes around comes around? NIU certainly hopes not.

NIU and Illinois State University at Normal have been the most vocal opponents of the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity streamlining initiative, and this could cause future problems for the two schools.

PQP, which seeks to reinvest funding through the elimination of academic programs, has sent shock waves throughout the state higher education world since its inception in October 1991. The process has been criticized for what many call a business management-style approach and its use of faulty data to justify its recommendations of downsizing or eliminating 190 academic programs.

IBHE Chairman Arthur Quern, the architect of PQP, has said several times at public meetings that universities should heed his warnings and proceed with the PQP process. There are questions about the status of public higher education in this state, Quern says, and if “we don’t answer them, the state legislature will.”

Quern has stressed the need to move quickly in the process and has had stern words for universities who have said PQP is moving too quickly using faulty data.

Judging by events so far, NIU and ISU have provided most of the opposition to Quern’s process.

The two Board of Regents universities made up two-thirds of the speakers at a Nov. 23 public hearing protesting PQP and IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner said three-fourths of the written testimony was submitted by “one system,” referring to the Regency system and NIU and ISU.

At last week’s regular meeting, Quern congratulated several universities for their efforts in the PQP process, including Chicago State University, Regency school Sangamon State University and Western Illinois University. NIU and ISU were not on the list.

At the Oct. 6 IBHE meeting, board member Rey Brune said all of the schools except one had been cooperative in the PQP process, a reference to the vocal opposition of ISU President Thomas Wallace.

Quern now has thrown the game back into the hands of the individual universities, who will haggle with the IBHE staff during the coming months over which programs will be eliminated and which comparable substitutions will be made.

NIU and ISU could feel some retribution for its opposition during these negotiation sessions, especially since NIU will likely try to substitute its three-year, $15 million reallocation process for the IBHE’s recommended cut of the law school. This could be seen as an act of defiance to Quern’s mandate of “doing things we do well first.”

NIU President John La Tourette downplayed the opposition. “We did nothing to encourage these speakers,” La Tourette said.

When asked about whether there will be retribution, La Tourette said, “I would hope not. After all, we live in a democracy … and the invitation (to respond) was an open offer.”

Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said, “It is true that we took greater advantage of the opportunity to voice concerns; however, I wouldn’t confuse that with non-cooperation.”

The Regency system is “going to cooperate just as much as the other boards,” he said.

“I take as a strong responsibility to take seriously (Quern’s words),” Groves said. “I intend to use my influence to get this done.”