Professors protest Rauner's nomination of Bambenek to IBHE board

Professors protest Rauner's nomination of Bambenek to IBHE board

URBANA — Gov. Bruce Rauner's nomination of a part-time University of Illinois lecturer to represent college faculty on the Illinois Board of Higher Education is prompting backlash at the UI and across the state.

Members of the Urbana campus Senate Executive Committee are drafting a letter to the Rauner administration protesting the nomination of John Bambenek, a former Champaign school board member and onetime Republican state Senate candidate.

And the Faculty Advisory Council to the IBHE planned to send a memo today expressing "shock and dismay" at the governor's choice to the state Senate's Executive Appointments Committee, which must review Bambenek's appointment. The faculty council had nominated two of its longtime members for the IBHE seat.

Professors said Monday that Bambenek isn't qualified for the post and criticized Rauner for ignoring the faculty group's recommendations. Other critics have raised concerns about Bambenek's views on academic freedom, among other issues.

The seat is the only designated faculty position on the 16-member higher education board, which coordinates, sets policy and recommends budgets for the state's public colleges and universities, including curriculum and minimum admission standards. The governor appoints 12 of the 16 members.

Rauner announced Bambenek as his faculty choice on April 15, saying his experience as a lecturer and small business owner would bring a unique perspective to the board. The appointment must still be approved by the state Senate, which is dominated by Democrats.

Bambenek earned a bachelor's degree in physics from the UI in 2001. The governor's office said he has taught a class in cybersecurity at the UI since 2013 and is president of Bambenek Consulting, which conducts cybersecurity investigations and intelligence. He also is manager of threat intelligence systems at Fidelius Cyber Security.

Faculty members complained that Bambenek is only part-time, teaches one course a year, hasn't been a faculty member very long and doesn't hold a graduate degree, a common requirement for university faculty.

"He's representing all universities in the state. Other universities are even more up in arms about this than we are," said UI education Professor Nicholas Burbules, who is drafting the Senate Executive Committee's letter.

Ideally, the person representing professors across the state would be a full-time, tenure-system faculty member who understands the "lifeblood" of a university, said DePaul University Professor Marie Donovan, chair of the IBHE's Faculty Advisory Council.

"No. 1, he's not a faculty member. That has not been his livelihood," she said Monday. "He's not been working with students, advising them. He's not been deliberating curricula, he's not been engaged in sustained research, and he hasn't had to juggle all of those teaching, research, scholarship and service activities," she said.

"It's not his fault," she said. "I'm pointing our fingers at the governor and the governor's staff who are responsible for advising him."

Bambenek, 38, is traveling in Russia this week and unable to respond fully, but said via email:

"I have attempted to reach out and have meetings with anyone I have heard who has issues. To date, no one has contacted me directly nor has taken me up on my offer to meet with them. Anyone can always feel free to reach me at to discuss IBHE matters."

The faculty seat was created by state statute in 2005. But the first IBHE faculty member wasn't appointed until 2011, when Gov. Pat Quinn named Allan Karnes, a professor of accounting at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, to a five-year term.

Karnes had been nominated by the Faculty Advisory Council, where he served prior to the IBHE appointment.

When Karnes stepped down from IBHE last year, Donovan said, the council again nominated two of its longtime members: Terry Clark, professor of business and marketing at SIU Carbondale, and Venkateswara (Devi) Potluri, a professor of plant biology at Chicago State University. Both are recognized scholars with long records of service to their institutions and statewide higher education, Donovan said.

Donovan said she heard nothing back from the governor's office, learning of Bambenek's appointment when it was made public on April 15.

The board seat was designed to ensure that the other IBHE members would get the perspective of a full-time faculty member who has to "make the hard decisions about curricula, about student assessment, you name it," Donovan said. "So to have someone who doesn't have that background appointed, without any explanation to the FAC ... just doesn't make any sense."

In the "Academe" blog for the American Association of University Professors, editor John Wilson labeled Bambenek a "right-wing crackpot." He cited past columns by Bambenek denouncing campus labor unions, calling for limits on academic freedom in the classroom and urging the teaching of intelligent design.

But Burbules said Monday politics isn't the issue, and faculty senators who are often at odds on other matters agreed.

"The governor is entitled to appoint somebody who shares his views in a broad way. It's the governor's appointment, subject to approval," Burbules said.

"The question is what authorizes someone as a representative of the faculty. And it seems to me that the selection process in some way ought to give this person credibility and the legitimacy as a representative of the faculty, not just someone who is appointed and happens to be a faculty member," Burbules said. "That person speaks for us."

The Senate Executive Committee plans to send its letter by May 23 to the governor and to Sen. Anthony Munoz, chair of the Senate Executive Appointments Committee.

In response to questions about the appointment from The News-Gazette, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly issued the following statement: "John Bambenek's knowledge and experience make him a valuable addition to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. He is qualified under statute to serve in this position."

Bambenek said last month he had expressed interest in serving in the Rauner administration for some time and wanted to do something "policy oriented," and had a keen interest in higher education.

He declined to discuss his views on higher education at the time, saying he wanted to talk first with the IBHE's current chairman, Republican Tom Cross, and other board members.

Bambenek opposed current State Treasurer Mike Frerichs of Champaign in the 52nd Senate District race in 2012, losing 65 percent to 35 percent. He also served on the Champaign school board from February 2014 to April 2015.

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JustAnOpinion wrote on May 17, 2016 at 7:05 am

Another attempt by Rauner to cut higher education off at the knees.

rsp wrote on May 17, 2016 at 8:05 am

What happens if the UI has to keep making cuts and he loses that one class he teaches? Does he lose the appointment too?

andrewscheinman wrote on May 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

Nick Burbules certainly didn't "Support Salaita," don't know about his stance on Kilgore.

jwr12 wrote on May 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

Actually, in point of fact, no.

spangwurfelt wrote on May 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

Hard to imagine a worse choice. 

acer217 wrote on May 17, 2016 at 11:05 am

That is some rather loaded language coming from John Wilson, which really isn't appropriate for a discussion on this level. 

I do agree that Bambenek hasn't been put through the academic ringer that comes with earning an advanced degree and being placed in a faculty position, earning appointments, chairing departments, applying for grants, conducting research, and gaining tenure. It really is a grueling process that cannot be fully appreciated unless experienced. It also, unfortunately, necessitates on some level the adoption of political viewpoints in the sense of "go along to get along".

My knowledge of Bambenek spans about 10 years, and from what I know, I think it’s a stretch to say he endorses "crackpot views" or desires to restrict "academic freedoms". 

Quite the contrary. I have the understanding that Bambenek is a devoted Catholic and his views are more aligned with the Pope than the majority of narrow minded fundamentalist religions. Let's try to keep in mind that the Pope represents a large international contingent and it would be a mistake to dismiss the Catholic faith as "crackpot". We should also keep in mind that the modern foundation of the university is rooted in monasteries and religious teaching. It’s fair to disagree with Catholicism and the church, and I think Bambenek would encourage and participate in a lively debate, but it would be nothing short of bigotry to approach him or his faith as "crackpot".

For whatever its worth, I am neither a Catholic nor particularly spiritual, but I have spoken to Bambenek quite a bit over the years and can understand and appreciate where he comes from. His views are more in line with William F. Buckley ... without the libertarian leanings if that makes sense ... than Pat Robertson. I think that Bambenek can get easily agitated and is sometimes driven to double-down on a conservative platform when provoked by the constant barrage of anti-intellectual liberal voices that are intolerant to his point of view, but I respect the fact that he has consistently placed his view in the public realm and is willing to go toe-to-toe with views far opposite of his own. 

In this sense, and from what I know of Bambenek, he probably sees academia as having become more narrow minded and intolerant towards "traditional" values. On this issue, I happen to agree. Again, I'm rather liberal in my points of view and don't even agree with Bambenek's politics, but there is a strong case that academia has become saturated with faculty positions - particularly in the humanities - that are actively hostile and belligerent towards views they don't agree with. The American Indian and other X Studies programs on the campus have been dens of iniquity for fostering group think and indoctrinating impressionable young minds to go out and become activists for their pet causes. Very few have made any contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge and the rigor of their work doesn't even come close to that demanded by every other field of study. 

I don't like having that perspective about those departments because I have seen some outstanding scholars in those fields, but Bambenek's views pale in comparison to the flood of obnoxious solipsism that comes out of those fields. It’s of little wonder that John Wilson of the AAUP has a problem with Bambenek. For crying out loud, those are the folks that thought Steven Salaita and James Kilgore were a good fit for the university.

Would I dare voice those opinions in public? No way. Look what happened to Phyllis Wise. She quickly went from campus hero to public enemy #1 after tangling with those folks. They are bullies and use the heckler's veto against anyone that isn't onboard with their agenda driven academics.

There is virtually nothing that I can find to agree with the joke that has become the republican party and those that call themselves "conservatives", but I do think that true intellectual conservatives and liberals agree that universities have become chock-a-block with faculty that are open hostile towards the marketplace of ideas. So in that sense, I *think* that I understand what Rauner is trying to do by appointing Bambenek into the position: giving academia an outsiders perspective.

I cannot completely agree with the faculty that Bambenek would be a danger. I think that state universities in Illinois are teetering on the edge because they have allowed their ranks to be filled by activists and political appointments. I think it’s particularly telling that SIUC and Chicago State have such a strong representation when they are both failing institutions. I think the mad focus by state universities to give everyone a bachelor’s degree in spite of their inability to demonstrate the minimum capability for aptitude or gain the ability think critically has dragged down university systems across the board. I think Rauner is a broken clock - correct twice a day - and a loose cannon, and I don't think he fully appreciates academics, but he is absolutely correct that should not be an automatic entitlement to a bachelor’s degree and most people would be far better off with vocational studies when they certainly have no intention of making use of exposure to the classical sense of liberal arts education. 

But, I'm conflicted that Bambenek would be the right fit. I know he's had a series of academic professional appointments around the campus. He's engaged the community on many levels, written books, given speeches, taught courses, and served in various capacities. I think Bambenek needs more academic exposure to advanced scholarship and doctoral studies. I think going through the process will ultimately help him speak with authority because its going to be hard to take him seriously as a representative of the academic community without a PhD. And I think that the rigor applied to earning a PhD will help soften his rhetoric and strengthen his ability to abstract intellectualism from emotion. I support Bambenek and enjoy that he challenges the status quo, and he's certainly capable of the achievement, but I'm not ready to support him in the capacity of representing IBHE. I would prefer to see a classical liberal, but good luck finding one of those at the U of I... seems we swing hard from activists in the humanities to the borderline autistic in engineering (I probably fit in the latter) :). 

wayward wrote on May 17, 2016 at 3:05 pm

In fairness to Chicago State, they have a tough situation in that they serve a lot of low-income students with marginal skills that UI would just turn away.  That's not to say that there hasn't been some serious mismanagement in its past, but it seems like the current president is doing his best with the hand he's been dealt.

John Snow wrote on May 17, 2016 at 7:05 pm may be too intelligent, erudite and balanced for the NG comment section.  That was almost breathtakingly well written compared to the usual reactionary partisan sniping one finds in these parts.  Please feel free to post on the other articles as well.  

wayward wrote on May 17, 2016 at 12:05 pm

It seems like the big question here is not how people feel about Bambenek, but what (if anything) the law says about the qualifications for the faculty representative on IBHE.  Is a terminal degree required?  Does the board member have to be employed full time in an instructional capacity?  What about tenure?

If the requirements for being a faculty representative on IBHE are vague or non-existent, a good first step might be to do something about that.

CU_townie_2_time_UI_grad wrote on May 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm

How dare the Factory Advisory Council question Ruaner's decision!?!?  I'm sure a Jim Dey column comparing them to Nazis is forthcoming.

Lostinspace wrote on May 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm

I believe that both the faculty and the governor would be happy to see budgetary cuts within the university administration.  They are both pressuring the administration in that regard.

billbtri5 wrote on May 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm

let's see,  not an academic elite,(a person who has never left school),  self employed so he knows money doesn't grow on trees...

seems like the right choice...


rsp wrote on May 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Editted sections:

 (110 ILCS 205/2) (from Ch. 144, par. 182)  Sec. 2.

Beginning on July 1, 2005, one of the 10 members appointed by the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, must be a faculty member at an Illinois public university. 

No more than 7 of the members appointed by the Governor, excluding the Chairman, shall be affiliated with the same political party.

The 10 members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate shall be citizens of the State and shall be selected, as far as may be practicable, on the basis of their knowledge of, or interest or experience in, problems of higher education.
(Source: P.A. 93-429, eff. 1-1-04; 94-905, eff. 1-1-07.)

wayward wrote on May 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm

OK, so that's kind of vague on what "faculty member" at a public university means -- presumably someone who teaches a single class as a side job would fall into that category.  But the "university" part would presumably exclude people from community colleges, even full-time instructors.  IMHO, it might be a good idea to take another look at that law.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 17, 2016 at 10:05 pm


Would Rauner appoint an education friendly person or an anti-free speech shill for his own purposes...? as usual NG a day late and dollar short on this story

"Gov. Rauner Appoints a Right-Wing Crackpot to Represent Faculty on the Illinois Board of Higher Ed"

There, now you can see what Mr. Bambenek is really like