State legislator urges student involvement

By Ken Goze

A state legislator visiting NIU Monday spoke about the bleak state of higher education funding and urged students to get involved.

State Rep. Arthur Lee Turner, D-Chicago, addressed the fate of the Board of Regents and the state budget cuts facing NIU. Turner is a member of the House Committee on Higher Education, which is studying a proposed bill to eliminate the Regents and Board of Governors.

The Regents govern NIU, Illinois State University at Normal and Sangamon State University at Springfield. The BOG governs Chicago State, Governor’s State, Eastern, Northeastern and Western Illinois Universities.

Turner said he supports the bill’s goal but is skeptical of proponents’ claims that it would save the state $3.9 million. A more realistic selling point is the bill’s potential for giving schools a more direct voice in Springfield.

“There may be some credence in terms of having a structure that would allow universities to avoid having to stop at the 7-Eleven before going to the big supermarket,” he said.

Turner said there is some substance to the Regents’ claim that they have a greater voice in Springfield than individual universities.

“The Regents have done a decent job in terms of saying, ‘This is the overall picture,’ but if I want to know what’s going on at a specific school, I go straight to that school,” he said.

Several previous efforts to dump the Regents failed. Although the bill has Lt. Governor Bob Kustra’s endorsement and the support of students and faculty at recent hearings at NIU and Eastern, Turner said he doubts it will fly this time.

“In terms of the issues that the state is confronted with now, reorganization doesn’t have priority,” he said.

On other issues, Turner said he voted against the budget compromise in January which cut $2.5 million from NIU’s current budget.

“There’s another answer other than cuts. We’re the sixth lowest state in terms of income tax in the country, but we’re one of the richest states in the country,” he said.

Turner said higher education ranks about sixth in state priorities, after health care, social services and corrections. He said legislators respond to those who call, but students are silent.

“Register to vote and mail a copy of your voter registration card to your state rep. Tell them you’re voting absentee this year in your home district. Even if you don’t fully understand the issues, at least let the guy know that you’re part of the solution,” he said.