Education under review

By Ken Goze

NIU’s governing board will come under increasing scrutiny in coming months as state lawmakers including Gov. Jim Edgar squeeze the current system from several sides.

While announcing his budget plan last week, Edgar called for a special committee co-chaired by Lt. Gov Bob Kustra to review the structure of higher education. Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Weaver, R-Ashmore, is pushing his bill to eliminate the Board of Regents and Board of Governors. Proponents claim the move would save $3.4 million in administrative costs.

Although the bill drew faculty and student support in hearings at NIU, Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Weaver still has to muster Democratic support to get it onto the Senate floor.

Weaver said he doesn’t know of any concessions Democrats might want in exchange for support.

Weaver denies critics’ charges that the bill would weaken universities by transferring control to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“There would be local boards of trustees. The only large responsibility of boards now is legal representation and collective bargaining, which would be transferred to the IBHE. It will not take governance away, it will bring it closer,” he said.

“They (Edgar’s committee) were given a deadline of June 1. It is my intention to run the bill out of the committee but hold it on the floor as a vehicle for changes proposed by the committee,” Weaver said.

BOR officials hope Kustra’s previous support of the Weaver bill won’t prejudice the committee’s review.

Regents Chancellor’s Assistant Cheryl Peck said the situation has shifted since Kustra voiced support for the bill.

“By being chair of the committee, he (Kustra) will be taking on a broader scope. I believe he will give this a fair hearing,” she said.

“If changing the structure will improve those things, then do it. If it won’t, let’s look at where we need to change. Separate boards wouldn’t necessarily save costs,” Peck said.

IBHE Chairman Arthur Quern said he has not taken a position on the bill and will stick to Edgar’s mandate of a thorough, objective review of higher education administration.

“It (Weaver’s bill) has reached a conclusion already. We have to take a look at everything and then decide what the best course is,” he said.