Monday, September 7, 2009

What has the BOT done on summer vacation?

So not understanding the pressing demands of being a volunteer board member,I am just wondering out loud what they might spend their time doing. It has been almost five months since the Faculty Senate asked the Governor to replace the Board of Trustees for “misconduct, incompetence and malfeasance.” In the intervening months a more important scandal emerged. Yes, political influence peddling of admissions at the University of Illinois superseded the questionable selection of a president at CSU. A retired federal judge and a commission were needed to sort through the U of I scandal. Meanwhile, on the South Side the BOT has not even made any official notification of who is running the university. Instead the Board appears to be focused on faculty work load and program elimination, and firing and hiring of university personnel. The Board does not appear to be focused on issues I imagine a board of trustees of a troubled university would be focused on. Maybe some attention to the issue of restoration of MAP funding for the Spring semester would be of some help to the 3,000 students who won’t be here without that funding. Maybe some attention to getting a university budget approved earlier than a month prior to the end of the fiscal year. Since that has been identified as a problem by the HLC, I would think that our volunteer trustees would want to address real problems. Maybe some attention to the risk of losing accreditation would inspire the volunteers to speak up.

In its May meeting the Faculty Senate took the unprecedented step of creating a Summer Committee in order to have an official presence at the university to ensure neither the administration nor the BOT got up to unobserved mischief. One of the issues that emerged was how the university was spending money. One of the things the university was spending money on was lobbyists. I believe faculty would agree that effective intergovernmental relations is critical to the institution. Lobbying is just one element of those activities. Since FY 2000, the university has spent roughly $850,000 on lobbyists. The question is not about how much was spent. The question is about the oversight and return on investment. I have seen no documents, memos, letters, reports, or any other written statements about the work products of these lobbyists. What did the BOT and the Presidents they supervised get in return for the $850,000 spent? I would think the Board would be more interested in stewarding scarce university resources and ensuring the university and its students and faculty benefit from its efforts.

And then there was the recent newspaper story and editorial about the university’s $40 million surprise. The BOT chair stated that he didn’t know anything about the capital development windfall. One might think that maintaining communication links with legislators would be a job for the volunteer trustees.

I spoke to Governor Quinn’s staffer who manages higher ed issues and she told me that it was “very likely” new trustees would be appointed by the end of September. If I were to guess I would imagine there would be new appointees after the September BOT meeting on the 23rd. Given Illinois politics, there are no guarantees.

Could it get any worse? Probably. And it is bad enough having a board of trustees that continues to be malfeasant and incompetent. Will the end of September come soon enough?

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