Third party candidates in American politics are famous for injecting new ideas into the governmental arena. They usually don’t get elected, but the power party candidates pick up on them and sometimes they get enacted.
Former McHenry County College Board President Scott Summers is suggesting the aging of Illinois suggests it is time to “moth ball” universities or parts of them.
He is not so crass as to make the suggestion that I would, that is, the primary purpose of most public institutions is to provide jobs, but he’s skating close to that assertion.
The following blog post by the Libertarian Party candidate for State Treasurer stimulated the Daily Herald’s story to write a story yesterday on Summer’s suggestion that it is time to close two law schools.
These are dark days for governance in Illinois.
Shrinking revenues. Monster deficits. Mountains of unpaid bills. Political paralysis.
But even in these difficult times, we must pull together and plan for our future.
For perhaps the first time since the Great Depression, we face a period of contraction — not expansion — in public services.
We must be courageous enough — and shrewd enough — to plan accordingly for our state’s governance.
Apart from our dire finances — let’s begin by considering Illinois demographics with the broadest of brushstrokes.
Our statewide population is creeping up, but not by much.
Were it not for immigration, we’d be a net outflow state.
We’re also steadily graying: young adults in particular seem to be moving away.
Accordingly, consider — as the tiniest of sketches — higher education.
If the population of traditionally college-aged young people is static or even seems likely to shrink — then can we really afford all of our public universities going forward?
In other words — has the time come to (gasp!) slim down or even (gasp! gag!) mothball one or more of our universities?
There’s a subset to this, too.
Can we continue to afford some of the programs our universities offer?
For example, we have three public law schools
- University of Illinois (U of I),
- Southern Illinois University (SIU), and
- Northern Illinois University (NIU).
And we have a glut of unemployed lawyers.
Has the time finally come to slim down to just U of I for public law?
(Full disclosure: I’m an NIU law graduate. And I remain very grateful for the tip-top legal education I received there. Personally, I’d hate to see the place close. But I’m counting beans today, not wallowing in sentiment.)
Ditto medical schools.
- U of I has four campuses and additional satellites.
- SIU has two campuses.
They do wonderful work.
They are cherished assets of their host communities. But — but — but — can we afford them all?
So how do we make these horribly difficult — and, I freely admit, politically dead-on-arrival (at least for the present) — public policy choices?
We have to develop assessment and implementation mechanisms where we carefully evaluate our public needs — and then collectively/figuratively hold hands and jump.
Remember the military base closure commissions?
The Pentagon has gone through several iterations with these.
The blue ribbon types come in and do the meticulous analysis, and then Congress goes with a straight up-or-down vote on a recommended list.
There is anguish,
there is pain,
there is inequity,
there is dysfunction,
there is dislocation,
there is wailing,
there is gnashing of teeth —
but the bases get closed in stages, and life goes on.
So back to the higher ed example.
The General Assembly establishes something akin to a base closure commission.
There’s analysis. There are hearings. A set of recommendations is presented. And ideally (ideally!) the members of the General Assembly hold hands and jump — excruciatingly painful as that surely will be.
I could go on with other examples — but you get my drift.
Yes, the time has come. Call it — “Rightsizing Illinois”.
Our political leaders — and yes, we Illinoisans — need to team up and get it done.