Brady wants to push university privatization discussion

 

David Mercer | AP Photo In this Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 file photo, a woman walks on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Ill. Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady recently introduced then withdrew legislation that would privatize the state's public universities, but says he still hopes to create a discussion about the subject.

David Mercer | AP Photo
In this Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 file photo, a woman walks on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Ill. Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady recently introduced then withdrew legislation that would privatize the state’s public universities, but says he still hopes to create a discussion about the subject.

DAVID MERCER, Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — As Illinois’ 12 public universities were planning last month for the possibility of steep funding cuts proposed by the state’s new Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, a state senator quietly proposed legislation that would have gone much further: privatizing them all.

Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican from Bloomington, introduced his university funding legislation on March 18 and withdrew it a week later. Although he said he won’t try to push his plan further this year, he hopes it will start a serious discussion about the state’s future role in the funding of higher education.

“My point in introducing this, can I foster a discussion that takes us somewhere?” Brady explained in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is a big issue.”

Brady’s idea caught university officials off guard. Rauner had already proposed cutting their state appropriations by 31.5 percent to help deal with state financial shortfalls. As the schools worked to deal with that potential loss, at least one said it would nonetheless be interested in hearing Brady out, given his longtime role as a legislator representing an area that includes Illinois State University. He also came within about 30,000 votes of becoming governor in 2010.

“He’s got some ideas that he’s obviously given a lot of thought to,” University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said. “Yeah, you want to be able have that conversation.”

State support for public universities has been falling for years, dropping to less than 20 percent of the operating budgets at the University of Illinois’ three campuses, for instance. But that still costs the state $667 million this year.

Brady would like to roll the state appropriation that now covers salaries and other operations into financial aid to help ease the burden of rising tuition on students.

He said he hasn’t talked to Rauner about his plan, and had only cursory conversations with the governor’s staff.

In the interview, Brady talked about his idea and where he hopes it leads.

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WHAT LED YOU TO INTRODUCE YOUR LEGISLATION?

“I’ve represented a university campus, Illinois State, for nearly 20 years. I’ve seen the (government) red tape these guys have to cut their way through and the expense associated with it. My discussions, too, with presidents of the universities when I was the nominee for governor. They came at me and said there are ways we can do a lot more for these students with less.”

“We have … so reduced government spending on higher education. One has to wonder if they almost couldn’t save more money than we’re giving them.”

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HOW COULD SCHOOLS MAKE UP FOR THE LOST FUNDING?

“Where does Northwestern get it? Where does Illinois Wesleyan get it? Where does Bradley (University) get it? They adopt a business model,” one that includes large donations.

Those private schools usually charge higher tuition, too, but leaders at most of the public universities already said after Rauner’s proposal this year that tuition is already such a burden for students that it can’t be used to make up for funding losses.

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STATE SUPPORT GOES BEYOND THE APPROPRIATIONS TO INCLUDE THE STATE-OWNED BUILDINGS AND THEIR UPKEEP, AS WELL AS SIGNIFICANT MONEY FOR NEW FACILITIES, PENSIONS AND HEALTH CARE. HOW WOULD THAT CHANGE?

Regarding the buildings themselves, “You’d probably lease them for a hundred years at a buck a year.”

“The state would continue to be responsible for retirees’ health insurance, retirees’ costs, and anybody who has earned a benefit.”

And benefits current employees and new hires? “That would be up to the university.”

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WHAT KIND OF REACTION HAVE YOU GOTTEN?

“Some of the reaction I’ve gotten, it’s ‘How could you even think this?’ That’s why I think a lot of people would be afraid to discuss it.”

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WHAT DO YOU DO NOW?

“Take input, seek it. And try to get a couple of these universities to say yes or no, we’d be interested and why, or why not. My aim is to convince people this is the right thing to do, or prove to me why it’s not.”

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.