Department chairs denounce hit list

By Brian Slupski

Reactions continue as NIU department chairs attacked an Illinois Board of Higher Education hit list which is threatening doctoral programs.

The IBHE released a list of 190 programs Monday it thinks should be cut from the state’s 12 public universities. The list included 15 programs from NIU.

The list is part of the IBHE’s Priority, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative which is designed to streamline public higher education and make better use of available resources.

NIU’s hit list included recommendations to cut doctoral programs in economics and geology. However, the chairs of both departments said they feel the information used to justify the cuts was outdated.

Economics department chair Prem Laumas said the information used in the IBHE staff report to justify deletion of his program was first published in 1982.

Ten years ago, the program was very small and young and did not look too good, he said. But since then, the program has grown and improved, he added.

Laumas said a 1991 report written by economists from Harvard ranked NIU’s program very high.

He said NIU was ranked equally to such schools as Boston College and the University of Colorado and above schools like the University of Tennessee and the University of Arizona.

“In fact, we were ranked equal to the programs of 14 flagship universities (the primary university in a state) and ahead of six flagship university programs,” Laumas said.

Laumas said, “I think it is very strange that they are using 10-year-old data.

“The provost has assured me that they will make a very strong case for us,” Laumas added.

Laumas said he is confident that when the IBHE receives NIU’s report, it will reverse this recommendation.

IBHE Deputy Director Ross Hodel defended the IBHE staff’s data and evaluation of programs.

Hodel said programs are looked at from many angles using various criteria. As for the claim that the data is outdated, Hodel said, “I am quite sure that data used to evaluate programs was more recent than 1982.”

Hodel said one aspect of evaluation was the capacity of other schools in the same program. Besides NIU, three other public universities in Illinois offer a doctorate in economics.

Geology department chair Ross Powell said based on the information he has seen, the IBHE has been selective in the data it has used to evaluate programs.

Powell said in discussions with administrators, there is a sense of support for the program from NIU President John La Tourette on down the administration ladder.

In NIU’s productivity report to the IBHE, which was released Tuesday, the geology department is not targeted for elimination. However, there is a suggestion that the geology department merge with the geography department.

Powell said even though two other public universities offer doctorates in geology, NIU’s is the only publicly-funded university in this region of the state offering the program.

“When the program was created, it was justified based on the environmental concerns in Illinois and this region,” Powell said.

He said there is a big demand for environmentally-trained people in this region and that the program has a strong service aspect to the community.

He said in conducting its evaluation, “it certainly looks like the IBHE is just selecting bits and pieces of information.”