NIU leaders criticize PQP at hearing

By Eric Krol

NIU student leaders were among 65 speakers who addressed a controversial state higher education streamlining initiative Monday.

NIU student Regent John Butler and Student Association President Paul Middleton criticized the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity (PQP) process at a public hearing. PQP would eliminate or reduce 190 academic programs throughout the state including the NIU College of Law and doctoral programs in geology, psychology and economics.

Butler told the board members that NIU and the individual campuses are better qualified to make judgements about academic programs than the IBHE staff.

“I believe the IBHE stepped out of the system in rewriting our mission statements and suggesting that we close our School of Law as if it were a car dealership not selling enough cars,” he said.

Butler said any intelligent student supports refining state higher education but “faulty data” and “nonsensical references,” two common criticisms of PQP, “have turned our institutions of higher learning into corporations.”

Middleton admitted the student government and NIU administration might have been “combative” in the past, but are unified in their questioning of PQP. “There is a climate of unrest and uneasiness in all departments,” Middleton said. “We fear that even if our department is not directly affected, the right of our own institution to determine its own priority is in great jeopardy.”

In a statement later echoed by other student speakers, Middleton said student input to the IBHE was trivial concerning PQP.

IBHE member Rey Brune asked Middleton if he was aware of how PQP worked. When Middleton responded that he was, Brune said, “I did not gather that from your remarks.”

Speakers addressing NIU programs comprised about one-third of the hearing, which was divided into two groups.

Also speaking on NIU’s behalf was Bill Monat, a Regency professor and former NIU president and Board of Regents chancellor.

Monat addressed six misconceptions he said board members might have been laboring under because of attacks on higher education in the media.

Monat said the claims that demand is declining, professors are not teaching and that universities are bottomless money pits are “simply not true.”

Speakers also defended NIU’s doctoral programs in geology and business education and the master’s degree in outdoor teacher education.

Pete Vagt, who received his doctorate in geology from NIU, said NIU’s program allows great field experience, improves communication skills and allows in-depth study. In addition, he brought up the fact that President-elect Bill Clinton will invest money in the environmental industry, creating job demand. “The environmental problems facing Illinois are very complex and long term,” he said.