Lawrence K. Pettit, chancellor of Southern Illinois University, thinks the higher education community will spend much of the spring session "cutting our losses." The universities' problem is financial. Gov. James R. Thompson allocated higher education less than a 3 percent increase in new money, and tax increases and bookkeeping measures that he included in his spending plan have drawn overwhelming legislative opposition.
Pettit sees opportunity too, the opportunity to force Illinois to face the issue of restructuring its spending priorities. In Pettit's view higher education has not been a priority in Illinois. He contrasts it with other states: "When he was governor of Tennessee Lamar Alexander said, 'I knew that Tennessee could not get anyplace unless our colleges and universities got there first.' " That has not happened in Illinois where Pettit says its increases have been about on par with growth in revenues: "Education has been treated just like everything else, like any other budget category. And the longer you go without giving education a priority, the harder it is to do because you get locked into other expenditure categories."
In Pettit's view society wins when states recognize that money spent on public universities and public schools is an investment in human capital. "I think there are examples from around the country where people have looked at what has happened in the new information-driven global economy and have concluded that human capital is the crisis." By not increasing its investment Illinois has not made that decision.
Pettit has spent some time in the political world too (see box
22/May 1990/Illinois Issues
on page 22) and offers some insights on why Illinois differs from other states. First he says that the state's political culture is balkanized. "I can't find Illinois. I can't find people who regard themselves as Illinoisans." Instead he sees Chicagoans, Springfield natives and southern Illinoisans — all with strong regional identities. The result is lack of state level chauvinism that he saw in both Texas and Montana. His example: "In Texas no matter where anybody lives, they want anything that carries the name of Texas to be so-called world class."
Pettit sees several reasons for the differences. Business leadership is concentrated in Chicago, not dispersed as in other states. "It probably includes people who have no prior connection to Illinois and who head organizations or corporations that are multinational or national and for whom Illinois is simply a convenient location but not a place of identity, again unlike Texas.'' Partisan politics plays a role, too. "It seems that in order to get anything on the policy agenda, it has to fit into a power equation," Pettit observes. He says that is characteristic of all political systems but seems to be "true in spades in Illinois."
The fragmented political culture spawns the lack of state identity, and partisan divisions make policy harder to establish. "These things together, I think, make it difficult to put together statewide coalitions of business, academia and government in order to articulate state aspirations and in order to put together a coherent state agenda," he says. Without an agenda, in turn, higher education is unsure of its place. "We really need to link our destiny better, I guess, to the destiny of the state and its people. We can't do that ourselves. We can't just arrogate ourselves a role. There has got to be a context for it, and it's that context that seems to be hard to establish in Illinois."
For this spring the fiscal crisis is higher education's short-term problem. Finding higher education's place in Illinois will require a long-term effort. Pettit sees a number of other issues facing higher education both in the short and long terms, including:
Accountability. Pettit says that public universities must do a better job explaining how they function and what they mean by productivity. He says there is no unit of production for higher education: "The real argument over productivity comes down to what's produced rather than the energy that goes into each unit of production."
Attacking societal problems. Pettit believes that universities should martial their resources to further causes like preschool education. "I think we need to work with a range of human service agencies, not just with the education people, but with all of them and come up with partnership arrangements where we provide training, research, maybe student interns or whatever, in settings where it could make a difference."
Complaints that universities should do more teaching and less research. Pettit calls the two processes "symbiotic." "At the university level the professor needs to be on the cutting edge of knowledge in his or her discipline, needs to give the students the most recent information and knowledge and that requires scholarly activity." Furthermore he insists that if universities do not conduct research, no one else will. "There's a whole range of human problems that can be understood and ameliorated only through research."
Demographics. The number of 18- to 22-year olds will
May 1990/Illinois Issues/23
decline through 1995 before turning upward again. ' 'If we want to keep intact the capacity that we have, we may be doing it with fewer students for a period of three or four years, and the consequences of that might mean that we'll look less cost-effective during that period."
Faculty shortages. National studies point to shortages of professors
in math, computer science and liberal arts before the end of this decade. Particularly difficult will be recruitment of minorities and women, needed as role models at universities.
Making international linkages. Campus-by-campus exchange programs will become too expensive, forcing consideration of systemwide or statewide programs. "The state of Illinois should probably have some sort of plan for how the universities as a whole should further the state's international economic linkages or international linkages generally."
Minorities. "We simply have to be prepared to make a greater effort to clear the pathway for minority students to get to college and to complete college successfully."
Paying the costs of keeping up with the knowledge explosion. Pettit sees increased need for cooperation among universities and colleges to spread costs of keeping up with technology.
Public hostility to rising costs. Pettit lays the blame on prestige private universities that he says have jacked tuitions to "unconscionable levels." Public reaction against the increases is further aggravated by the fact that opinion leaders tend to send their children to private institutions and feel the increases directly. But government can do nothing about private institution costs, so the ensuing public backlash manifests itself in restrictions on public universities. "The problem lies with the high-priced private institutions, and it's the publics that suffer," Pettit says.
Many of those are longer range issues. For this spring the problems are more obvious. Says Pettit: "Maybe this session, because of the fiscal crisis, we can persuade people to begin to look at more fundamental issues, that is, the restructuring of the state's priorities. If at the same time we can come out of it without suffering retrenchments, we may in the long run be ahead."
24/May 1990/Illinois Issues