Two Board of Regents members and its first chancellor might have different views on the proposed bill to eliminate NIU’s governing board, but all agreed that higher education governance needs a statewide review.
The bill, sponsored by State Reps. Michael Weaver, R-Ashmore and Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore, is the latest in a string of attempts dating back to the 1970s to get NIU a separate governing board.
The current bill would dissolve the Regents and the Board of Governors and place the two systems’ eight schools directly under the thumb of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The bill’s supporters claim the move would save $3.9 million and bring better representation to each school.
Regent Joe Ebbesen, who spearheaded the first attempt to create a separate board for NIU during his tenure in the legislature, said he still favors the concept but objects to the piecemeal nature of the bill. The bill addresses the Regents and BOG, two of the state’s five higher education systems.
“Every so often, all higher education governance needs a review. It’s been nearly 20 years since it’s been done,” he said. Although unsure of the amount, Ebbesen said some money would be saved under the bill or a restructuring of the system.
When you have a bureaucratic level of administration, I would have to assume that there is some duplication and money could be saved. That is just a personal observation,” Ebbesen said.
Ebbesen said the Regency draws criticism because it places three geographically diverse institutions with no clear relationship— NIU, ISU in Normal and Sangamon State University in Springfield— under one umbrella of governance.
“It doesn’t make the greatest sense to me. This is not an indictment of the people who sit on the board,” he said.
Ebbesen said his attempts to get NIU a separate board rather than dissolve the system was not based on the BOR’s performance, but a realization that NIU had grown enough to need its own board.
I’m in hopes that someday they will consider that, but maybe a review will decide this (the Regency) is the best way to go,” he said.
Regent Milton McClure agreed higher education statewide should be reviewed, but said the bill would not save any money in the long run. “The work now done by the chancellor’s office would have to be absorbed either by the campuses or the IBHE,” he said. McClure said the Regents system already has the smallest budget of any higher education system in Illinois.
“Believe me, if I felt as a taxpayer that elimination of the board would save money, I would probably support it,” he said.
William Monat, who served as NIU president for seven years as well as two years as the Regents first chancellor, said he has serious problems with the bill in its current form.
Monat said placing the eight schools under direct IBHE control would leave them vulnerable in the competition for dollars. He said a review of higher education is needed, but the main priority should not be cost.
“There has to be a look at the missions and goals of the university,” Monat said.