Officials defend business project

By Mark McGowan

NIU officials are defending the Business and Industry Services project which Tuesday became the reason behind a $1 million lawsuit.

Charles Blanchard, president of the plaintiff (Managment Association of Illinois), criticized the B&IS for being part of the business world and not education. Classes offered by the project are non-credit.

“NIU’s mission is to be the educator of the business leaders of tomorrow,” Blanchard said. Attaching NIU’s name to B&IS gives the project “competition at an unfair advantage,” he said.

The lawsuit stems from the August opening of the B&IS in Hinsdale. Six former employees of MAI left their jobs Aug. 19 to come to NIU to run the project.

The six—Mary Rose Hennessy, John Conrath, Daniel Hochstetter, David Murray, Sandra Pater and Sharon Young—are named in the suit along with the Board of Regents.

As of Wednesday, a General Accounting System budget status report shows the project operating at $170,750 in the red.

However, James Norris, dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said B&IS actually is $170,750 away from meeting what was budgeted to them. Norris said if B&IS is this close after five months of the year, the project easily should generate profits.

“We’re very pleased with where they are now,” he said. “By June 30, if things continue to go well … they should produce a surplus.”

NIU Legal Counsel George Shur said the project is “on target for breaking even by the end of June. Everyone remains extremely optimistic.”

Shur said B&IS is bringing in “some pretty impressive contracts” on a weekly basis and might be sitting on $500,000 of contracts. B&IS is contracting with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, which represents thousands of manufacturers statewide, Norris said.

“We’re doing what businesses think we should do,” said Norris, who said he puts “no merit” in the lawsuit. “I’m not the least bit disturbed (by the suit).”

Norris said NIU is answering Illinois Board of Higher Education Chairman Arthur Quern’s call of last semester for state universities to train the work force. “We’re doing exactly that,” he said.

Shur said the university still is in good shape for the lawsuit and talked with the B&IS staff Wednesday morning. “I was impressed,” he said. “They have their act together. There’s no feeling we did anything wrong.”

Blanchard said Wednesday MAI plans to “move ahead on the depositions” and put the issue in the hands of the court. Hearings begin today in Cook County Circuit Court.