Neither candidate proposes real oversight of Illinois higher ed spending

By John Biver
One of the boondoggles we’re sure to hear more about during this year’s gubernatorial campaign is the condition of our state’s university system. Judy Topinka has already blasted Rod Blagojevich for his having allowed the “rapid decline in the condition of Illinois higher education.”


A few things for the record.


First, this issue, like the prison staffing issue, is used primarily for its potential political value. University employees and contractors vote.


Second, the state universities are pigs when it comes to tax dollars – U. of I. being the Chief Pig. They might even want to consider the pig as a new mascot. If you doubt this, take a look at their budgets. Their crying poor is as believable as the K12 system’s lament.


Third, legislators who have state universities in their district are the servants of those universities. Even if the legislator disagrees with what’s being asked for, they nevertheless do whatever they’re asked for fear of inspiring an articulate university payroller to run against them.


Fourth, there is no real independent oversight of those institutions. Much like the K-12 public schools system, taxpayers are at the mercy of those who act as stewards. Instead of proper checks and balances, we’re dependent upon the goodness of their hearts.


The Cato Institute covered a different higher ed issue this week and flagged this from the Des Moines Register:

“Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, (D-NY), appeared together here Wednesday to tout a new $220 billion Democratic initiative to send more students to college in the face of soaring tuition rates.”


“If enacted, it would create 1 million more college graduates than would have been expected by 2015, they said. Americans must be ‘the most innovative and creative people on the face of the Earth, and to do that we have to have young people have access to college,’ Vilsack said.”

Cato’s answer:

“Here’s how it works: People who want to go to college complain to their representatives in Washington that higher education is too expensive. Politicians, in turn, boost aid to get the petitioners’ votes. Colleges, because they know students can now pay it, then raise their tuition to get more money to conduct research, pay higher salaries, and build nicer amenities to attract the now better-heeled students. But then the people who complained originally are priced out of college again … and the cycle repeats.”

While this isn’t exactly what’s at issue in Illinois right now, it’s close enough.


The real core of the problem is the lack of any independent oversight. Anything a governor will do short of addressing this lack is just the act of throwing more money at the problem and hoping for the best.


If the gubernatorial candidates want to propose something constructive, they should talk about establishing some credible oversight body to watch over all tax dollars being spent on education in Illinois.


To do that, however, would require the kind of courage neither candidate seems to possess.



John Biver is a veteran of politics and government and is a resident of Illinois.