Legislators debate University System

Emily Andrews

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a four-day series examining Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut’s University System plan.

Despite Eric Fingerhut’s visits to Ohio universities and colleges to sell the proposed University System, Ohio legislature will have the final vote on whether the plan will be approved or not.

“We will work together to help with costs and concepts of having a state university system that is still separate entities, one system working together to do things collaboratively. It will be good for economic well-being,” Rep. Kathleen Chandler, D-Kent said.

One aspect of the program representatives are looking forward to is the consolidation of programs.

“I, for one, am looking forward to receiving the report as a member of the general assembly. (I’m) looking forward to a more streamlined and more effective university system for the state of Ohio,” Rep. Brian Williams, D-Akron, said. “For years, there have been complaints and concerns expressed about, primarily, duplication. Why do you have eight or nine big universities that all cover the same programs? Why not consolidate some of those programs and not duplicate all over the state?”

With the arrival of Gov. Ted Stickland, higher education, overall, has become a higher priority.

The Ohio government is taking a more proactive interest in higher education which is an important move, Chandler said.

“I think it’s very optimistic that the state is putting higher education at such a high priority,” Chandler said. “I think it’s critically important. I don’t think they’ve done enough in the past years. I think it’s a very positive thing.”

Keith Dailey, press secretary to Strickland, said the budget for education is growing because education equals economic growth.

“If there was political dissent concerning educational programs, we would not have seen a historic increase in the educational budget,” Dailey said.

But the representatives said they don’t believe the plan will go over without any bumps.

“There may be glitches along the way of course,” Chandler said. “We have to make sure everyone is on board and going in the right direction. The ideas are good and, if implanted properly, it’s a win-win.”

Some representatives said they are not worried about dissent between Republicans and Democrats. They said they think that higher education is important to both, and they will work together to help.

“There is a real spirit of agreement between parties about higher education,” Rep. Stephen Dyer, D-Green said. “We agree that higher education is important. There’s a real bi-partisan agreement.”

Rep. Robert Otterman, D-Akron said he also thinks Democrats and Republicans will work together for higher education.

“Not seeing the plan itself and not having too much information on it, I feel that it’s something that could be workable,” Otterman said. “I think both parties, Democrats and Republicans, will probably be glad to work together on something of that nature because it’s an asset to everyone.”

Fingerhut’s 10 year plan will be submitted March 31, 2008 for approval.

Contact public affairs reporter Emily Andrews at [email protected].