Opinions voiced on proposed bill

By Ken Goze

A state house hearing Friday at NIU on a proposal to abolish the Board of Regents tapped a vein of faculty and student frustration with the current system.

The Illinois House Higher Education Committee heard opinions of students, faculty and administrators on a proposed bill announced last week that would dissolve the Regents and Board of Governors, the governing boards for eight of Illinois’ 12 public universities.

The proposed bill, cosponsored by Reps. Michael Weaver, R-Matton, and Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore, is the latest attempt to abolish the Regents, which govern NIU, Illinois State University at Normal and Sangamon State University at Springfield.

Proponents say the move would save as much as $3.9 million and bring better representation to the affected schools.

NIU President John La Tourette, seeking to distance himself from the move, said earlier he was satisfied with the current arrangement and dismissed the attempt to dump the Regents as election year grandstanding by the bill’s sponsors.

Weaver responded to the statement: “We stand for election every other year. There is almost no time when we can introduce a bill and not be accused of politicking,” he said.

In a prepared statement read by his executive assistant Anne Kaplan, La Tourette left the separate board issue to the legislature and called for local control and investment of tuition dollars as a way to run NIU more efficiently.

No one from the Regents or the Board of Governors came to speak in defense of either system.

Burzynski said he will work for a measure to allow retention of tuition.

William Monat, former NIU president and the Regents’ first chancellor, said he supports an objective review of the boards, but said he had “serious reservations” about the proposed bill.

The current proposal calls for direct governance by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. “I shudder at the prospect of the IBHE becoming a governing body,” Monat said.

Weaver said the bill later could be amended to include separate, local governing boards for each school.

Monat said unless Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois, which have their own boards, were restructured, the newly-freed eight universities would be politically weak and trampled in the competition for state dollars.

Weaver said the boards in place now haven’t followed through on their claims of strength in numbers.

“I haven’t seen a great lobbying effort. They (the boards) act more as a bottleneck than advocate. Higher education does not have an advocate in Springfield,” Weaver said.

Robert Lane, operations management and information systems professor, said the board is a remote, self-serving and ineffective body.

“The Board of Regents is thoroughly ineffective, totally useless. They don’t understand what a university is, what a university should do. They’re on there because they had the right political connections and had their name on a list,” Lane said.

Lane said a lack of understanding and responsibility for diverse institutions in different areas forces the boards to rely on oversized staffs.

“Rod Groves makes 120,000 bucks a year. There are a bunch of people who work for Rod who push paper around. They send requests here for information. Then, the president adds another bureaucrat or three to generate the reports and sends them back … another one to analyze the returns and send questions back,” Lane said. He said this structure has grown despite flat enrollments and instruction efforts.

Lane said the Regents have managed to squelch their most powerful opponents by co-opting them into the structure. He said Monat was working to get a separate board when he was made the first Regents chancellor. He said Regent Joe Ebbesen, while in the legislature, sponsored one of the earliest attempts to abolish the Regents.

Lane said NIU faculty are especially infuriated by La Tourette’s $10,000 retirement benefit and the fact that the Regency system is the only one with no salary increases this year.

“The sleepy old Board of Governors stonewalled until their union beat them over the head for a 5.2 percent increase. The University of Illinois cut in an increase of 3 percent. Our board comes up with nothing,” he said.

Lane said he also objects to governance by the IBHE and suggested setting up local boards for each school.

“Those people are more intensely political than any board we have. They’re on there, some of them to represent a particular interest, such as private education. They are totally remote.”

Weaver said previous efforts to abolish the Regents have failed because of connections in the legislature and widespread ignorance of higher education issues among legislators.

“I must admit we have members on the Higher Ed committee who have never visited a single college campus,” Weaver said.