Committee discusses academic priorities

By Brian Slupski

The continuing saga of setting academic priorities continued yesterday in a meeting of the Academic Resource Advisory Committee.

NIU Provost Kendall Baker began the meeting asking, “What kind of excellent university can NIU afford to become in the current and foreseeable financial environment?

“Given our financial constraints, what can we reasonably aspire to?” Baker asked the committee.

Accountancy Professor William Cummings said he sees a shift at NIU toward becoming more like an urban institution. He said because of NIU’s proximity to Chicago, many students come from the city and its suburbs.

“What we are, and will become, is dictated by the students we have and what they want,” Cummings said.

He also said the Illinois Board of Higher Education is a political body which reflects the priorities of politicians.

Much concern was raised at the meeting about IBHE reports and letters on productivity. The committee members were especially concerned about a Nov. 26 report on productivity which has recently been proved to be inaccurate.

Baker said the report’s legitimacy and accuracy was destroyed by the analysis of the report by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

However, Baker said even though the report has been disproved, “the basic imperatives of the Nov. 26 report are still with us.”

English Professor James Giles said it appears the IBHE still has a narrow view of production based strictly on number of graduates, and is not taking the quality of programs into account enough.

Giles also expressed concern about the issue of work force preparation. He said he agrees that one of the university’s purposes is to train people, but it is not the only purpose.

Baker said it is important that students are taught to continue to learn their entire lives, and that it was important that state officials know a university’s full role.

“A university is supposed to prepare its students for their lives as well as their careers. We must take an activist’s position in promoting this purpose,” Baker said.

Art Professor Gordon Dorn said the committee “could make national news if we eliminate the athletic program.”

Dorn also commented on the university’s bureaucracy. He said the undergraduate catalog was generally difficult to understand, and many things at NIU seemed to be made much more difficult than they should be because of red tape.