Brady: University privatization bill not ready for hearing

Brady: University privatization bill not ready for hearing

SPRINGFIELD — A former Republican candidate for governor has proposed turning Illinois' nine public universities into private, not-for-profit universities, and using the state appropriations they now get to make tuition grants to eligible Illinois students.

But state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, admitted that his amended bill (SB 1565) is not ready for a scheduled hearing today before the Senate Higher Education Committee.

"It's not going to come up now. We're still working on it," Brady said Monday. "It's the last week to get it out of committee but it doesn't mean the issue is dead."

Brady, who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 and also sought the nomination in 2006 and 2014, said he wanted to "elevate the discussion" about higher education funding in Illinois.

"What is really the genesis of this bill is that when I was the Republican nominee for governor, I obviously spent time with university presidents, public and private, and really found two things that we're really trying to solve here," he said. "One is that the public universities told me how burdened they were by regulations from the Legislature, as compared to their private counterparts. My personal position is that we really ought to look at this because it may be the only way some of our universities thrive. I'm not saying survive, but thrive. We need to give them tools that would allow them to do a lot of things they just aren't equipped to do now.

"It also would hold students more accountable," he said. "If you get a (Monetary Award Program) grant today and you just quit after your freshman year or flunk out, we've essentially wasted taxpayer dollars without any accountability. So what this does is it takes the same amount of money that we spend on higher education, which has been depleted, and invests it in Illinois students to go to a place and holds them accountable. And it offers them an incentive to stay in Illinois."

'It elevates the discussion'

In budget hearings last week in Springfield, Republican lawmakers pressed university presidents about the value of winning relief from burdensome requirements, such as the state procurement code. But none had suggested making the universities private institutions.

"It's a discussion. A lot of people would probably be afraid to talk about what I'm suggesting here," said Brady, a 22-year member of the General Assembly and graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. "And my point is that someone's got to be willing to say, 'Let's talk about it. Is there a way that this can be a win-win?'

"I'd like to elevate the discussion and what I'd like to find out is: How much do the regulations on the state universities weigh on those universities? Are they worth it? When we invest money in grants to Illinois residents, how do we hold them accountable? And is this a way that some of our universities that aren't necessarily thriving — and by that, I believe they're losing enrollment — do they need their own private board eventually and maybe they can raise more outside private money. And so that's what this is all about."

Brady acknowledged that other Republicans have proposed less far-reaching reforms of the higher education system. Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet has a bill that would require MAP recipients to pay back the financial aid if they leave the state within five years of graduation. Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, proposed that MAP recipients have at least an 18 on the ACT or a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

"I don't pretend that my bill is the answer. I think it elevates the discussion. It could be the answer. I didn't draft it with the idea that it didn't make sense," said Brady, whose Senate district includes part of Normal, the home of Illinois State University. "Having represented a campus for almost 20 years, I think I know a lot about what goes on in higher ed, so I think I bring a background in this. But I'm not suggesting that this answers every question that needs to be answered."

Rauner not in loop yet

Under Brady's legislation, each of the Illinois public universities would transition to a nonpublic institution over a six-year period. A new governing board would be appointed, and "all books, records, funds and other property" of the university should become property of the university. The state would have no ownership interest.

State funds now appropriated to the universities — about $1.2 billion indirect appropriations this year — would be transferred to eligible Illinois college students in the form of grants that would be based on need.

Students who graduate in four years would immediately have half of their grant money forgiven. And for each year a graduate lives and works in the state, another one-eighth of the grant would be forgiven.

Students who do not graduate within four years or who drop out would have to pay back the grant over a 10-year period.

Brady said he isn't aware of any other case where a once-public university in the United States became private.

"I'm serious that we need to evaluate whether it's better off being private or public," he said. "I'd like every university to tell us what would happen if they did go private."

Brady said he hasn't discussed his plan with Gov. Bruce Rauner or any current university presidents.

"I didn't think that was appropriate. I intend to but I didn't want to put anybody in a spot," he said.

UI: 'News to us'

The veteran senator said he didn't consider proposing closing one or more public universities as an alternative.

"My whole idea is that they would grow and thrive in a regulatory-free environment," Brady said. "My goal is to motivate Illinois students to graduate and stay in Illinois while providing them with opportunities in Illinois that aren't there now and to give public universities the ability to compete and thrive and do the things they think they do best."

He said his plan calls for the state assets on campuses, such as land and buildings, to be leased to the universities themselves. The new universities would operate in the same manner as "private, not-for-profit universities" such as Bradley, Illinois Wesleyan and Northwestern, he said. They would not be sold to private, for-profit owners.

"My thought is not to have a DeVry or something like that. These would be private, not-for-profit schools," he said.

The University of Illinois is reviewing the legislation, said UI spokesman Tom Hardy.

"We're always happy to have a conversation with Senator Brady and anybody else about how best to make higher education accessible, affordable and excellent," Hardy said. "Senator Brady's bill was news to us, not something the U of I had been aware of. So, we're reviewing it, probably will have questions about its feasibility, and would look forward to discussing it with Senator Brady."

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Fedupwithstatereps wrote on March 24, 2015 at 8:03 am

I've been saying this for years.  Glad that there is a discussion in play about this.

reader0 wrote on March 24, 2015 at 9:03 am

It is shameful that the NG gives this fringe proposal to abandon competitive higher education in this state such prominent coverage. You can give as many scholarships as you want, but without state funding to operate the universities, there would be no universities left (which is of course the ultimate goal of the ultra-right wing for whom fact-based, rational inquiry are inimical). To get a sense of who we are talking about--and who's bizarre bill gets top-page coverage by the NG--it is helpful to recall this (from NBC-Chicago):

"Not many Republicans could have lost to Pat Quinn in 2010. But with his opposition to abortion rights, gay rights, animal rights, labor union, combined with his disdain for Illinois’s largest city, Brady pulled it off."

This guy would be more at home in the 1950s deep south than in 21st-century Illinois. He clearly grasps very little about how research universities function or how they serve the public good. He is proposing to undermine accessible college education--the single most important driver of upward mobility and the foundation of an informed citizenry. Once again, the NG is cheering on the most dangerous, fringe elements of the Republican party against the common (and local) good.

reader0 wrote on March 24, 2015 at 10:03 am


OldIlliniFan wrote on March 24, 2015 at 10:03 am

The US News list of top US universities has several things in common: all are private, all have less than 8,000 undergraduates, and all have annual tuitions over $45,000.  Turning the University of Illinois into a top university with over 30,000 undergraduates and a tuition under $25,000 would be quite a challenge.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm


Sure now you just need an endowment that will generate $6 Billion+ a year. And who are we getting to oversee this plan. Rauner just appointed two Alumni Association board members to the BoT (on the UIAA's recommendation of course). Sure, great only they have been presiding over millions of dollars in losses over several years.->   So I guess they can do more damage on a larger scale for the University as a whole.

Dumb just dumb. Not every idea an Illinois politician has needs to see the light of day. Orrrrr weeelll maaayybe were they just looking to have access to accounts that might be made exempt from FOIA scrutiny under such a privatization status, HUH?



bluesky wrote on March 24, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Brought to you by the same guy who wanted a more efficient way to gas dogs.

Rocky7 wrote on March 24, 2015 at 4:03 pm

A proposal that is long overdue and should be implemented.

And in response to 'Reader6', the comparison to the "DeepSouth" is wrong.  The Northeastern  and Mid Atlantic States are a more relevant comparison.

That said, Rice University, Tulane University, SMU, Triinty University (San ANtonio), and Emery University come to mind as high quality, Southern, competetive private universities that are also national and international institutions.  The day of old style finger-pointing regionalism is now over.

annabellissimo wrote on March 25, 2015 at 1:03 am

Brady's quote, "… public universities told me how burdened they were by regulations from the Legislature, as compared to their private counterparts" is then followed by the conclusions he draws from that idea, the invariable Republican answer to everything: privatization. It is absolutely shameful how the Illinois state government, through many administrations for years, has mistreated and disinvested public higher education. The fact that private institutions get public funding at all only means that the publics, as usual, are undermined. Privates, with endowments, with no legislative restrictions and regulations on tuition, on purchasing, on construction, on ANYTHING, get PUBLIC funding! Northwestern, by any standard, a highly affluent school for the very affluent, gets PUBLIC dollars that should go ONLY to publics! It is unconscionable how the publics are treated by the legislators: high-handed, arrogant and for the most part, ignorant. There are exceptions, and Chapin Rose is an exception, but not many others. The fact that Chicago State gets away with the corrupt misuse of public funds while the worthy University of Illinois and other legitimate institutions have to dance like monkeys to the legislators' tunes proves the misuse of power and public money by Illinois legislators and governors. Brady could just as easily, and correctly, have concluded from that quote, that the "private counterparts" should have the same regulations and demands and/or should not get any public dollars at all and if they continue to get the public dollars that the publics should get, then they have to adhere to all of the same restrictions and regulations. Whatever happens, the state of Illinois government does not have the wisdom, integrity, nor intelligence to exercise the kind of power they have afforded to themselves to wield over our colleges and universities. They are disreputable about some (DuPage, Chicago State) and intrusive, irrational and reckless about others. This “proposal” of Brady’s is disingenuous and continues to advocate for the erosion, undermining, mistreatment, disinvestment, and sabotaging of legitimate higher education in the state of Illinois. Republicans seemingly will not be happy until Social Security, the National Parks, Historical Sites, Environmental Protection, the United States Postal Service, public K-12 education and public higher education are destroyed, a process they like to slobber and call “privatization.”

spangwurfelt wrote on March 25, 2015 at 8:03 am

Republicans and education: like oil and water.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 25, 2015 at 1:03 pm

With another U of I scandal looming, the "privatization" idea is appealing to voters.  The animosity between the STEM faculty and the Liberal Arts faculty, the layers of high paid administrators, and the donor influence on hiring faculty, have left many voters wondering why the state funds anything to do with the university. 

With cuts in education, the voters are starting to realize that their K-12 schools will become more dependent on local taxes.  They feel little sympathy for a university.  Most will send their kids to a local community college for the undergrad requirements, and transfer them to a cost effective, employable degree university.  The vast majority of the voters cannot afford to send their kids to the "flagship". 

Brady is just playing the front-man for Rauner's ideas.  It is, also, a good way to tell the U of I to shape-up, or bad things can happen.