Faculty express concern over Illinois state bill

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Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

The Board of Trustees meets in Altgeld hallat least once a quarter in room 300.

Kierra Frazier, Managing Editor

DeKALB – Faculty members are concerned about the future of four-year institutions in Illinois, including a state bill that would create bachelor degree programs at community colleges, sociology professor Símon Weffer said at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

Weffer spoke out about the bill as a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Strategic Planning Advisory Board. The board is working to lay out a framework for the next 10 years of higher education, Weffer said. NIU President Lisa Freeman also serves on the board.

“There are two things that have come up in particular that I’m concerned with, that President Freeman is concerned with, that we wanted to get on everyone’s radar,” Weffer said.

Weffer said he’s concerned with the general underselling of the importance of four-year institutions in the fabric of our society as a state.

Weffer said the final document the board is putting together regarding their 10-year plan would include a narrative about the importance of higher education, but it’s not actually in the metrics.

“We’re worried that with this document, people will skip the narrative and go straight to the metrics and not see anything that really measures the impact of higher education on the greater society, and when I mean higher education, I mean everything research, artistry teaching, civic engagement and on,” Weffer said.

Weffer also addressed Senate Bill 1832, a bill that would allow community colleges to create bachelor’s degree programs for early childhood education. The bill has gained support from Illinois lawmakers and would address high turnover and low wages in the early education workforce and low enrollment at community colleges across the state, according to an April 7 Chalkbeat Chicago.

“The problem is that if we allow community colleges to start granting a B.A. in any way, shape, or form, it’s only a matter of time that they might say ‘this is only early childhood education,” Weffer said. “We know that one of the things that happens is that these programs tend to be extended.”

Weffer said if faculty members want to take action, they can comment on the 10-year strategic plan that will be released soon and attend Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting to speak out about the plan.

“I join Jason Akst and his comments in the chatbox that this is on all our radar screens, and let’s make it a goal, having NIU faculty voices be the largest contingent of voices, weighing in on this issue in the state of Illinois,” Faculty President Kendall Thu said.

Faculty Senate President elected for 2021 – 2022 academic year 

Peter Chomentowski, assistant professor of exercise physiology, will become the next Faculty Senate president for the 2021 – 2022 academic year after being elected at Wednesday’s meeting.

Chomentowski has worked at NIU and served on the Faculty Senate since 2014, according to the April 21 Faculty Senate agenda. Chomentowski was the only Faculty Senate member nominated for the position.

Chomentowski said he’s looking forward to working as a leader in the Faculty Senate with active collaboration of ideas from faculty, staff and students.

“Shared governance is an intricate part of a university’s effort to promote excellence for all individuals who have a collective stake in the institution’s future,” Chomentowski said in the agenda. “It is critical that faculty from all disciplines are directly involved in the decision-making and managing of the university.”