Former Illinois legislator appointed to education board

By Christine Won

The Illinois Board of Higher Education unanimously voted on Oct. 18, to appoint former state legislator Judy Erwin as the next executive director.

She will succeed the current interim executive director, Thomas Lamont, on Nov. 12.

“I want to help make sure that as the board, we are making public policy decisions based on good research and good data,” Erwin said.

She said she did everything there was to do except write a dissertation. She served as chair on the Illinois House Higher Education Committee for eight years, and served for ten years on the state legislature. She also did graduate work in public policy analysis.

Her peers described her as tireless, personable and dedicated.

“Judy has a long, distinguished career in public service with a major in higher education that will allow her to advance whatever agenda the board of education asks her to lead,” said Thomas Hardy, executive director for University relations.

She is a very experienced and accomplished public servant and earned her reputation as a hard-working member of the Democratic caucus, he said. She has strong alliances with members of both parties, especially Democrats, which is always helpful.

Don Sevener, director of external relations for the board, hailed Erwin for her valuable credentials in serving as executive director, particularly her long years in the general assembly.

However, despite her wide spectrum of experience, Hardy said Erwin’s chief interests always lied in higher education funding and academic programming.

“I’m really interested in connecting the dots between all the sectors of education,” Erwin said.

She plans to reduce barriers between sectors of education by helping students gain greater access to better primary schools.

“Improving education in earlier grades is increasing educational quality everywhere,” Erwin said. “Get higher educational institutions to work more with k through 12. We should raise the bar everywhere, no matter where they live.”

She is very knowledgeable about higher educational issues, Sevener said. She expressed a strong interest creating a seamless system of education from pre-school to college, he said.

“She will bring a very strong perspective to the Board of Higher Education,” Sevener said. “Perspective that is well-formed and thought-out on issues such as affordability, access to college and need for increased cooperation among various agencies.”

The board was concerned with issues such as access to education and affordability.

The state’s primary responsibility is to help increase all citizens’ access to learning, Erwin said. It doesn’t matter where someone lives or what circumstance he or she is in, access to learning is important.

The Monetary Award Program, which is a need-based state grant, is vital to maintaining that access, Erwin said. She took pride that Illinois provided one of the best need-based scholarships in the country.

Erwin noted the delivery systems for education are changing with more and more distance learning.

“There are iPod lecture notes and videos,” Erwin said. “I expect delivery mechanisms for education to be changing – not everyone can attend four-year universities and live in a dorm.”

Erwin doesn’t want to see public education priced out of the market, but understands why public institutions have to raise tuition.

“I can’t defend the fact that the state doesn’t have money,” she said. “It seems as though the state has the greatest need when the economy is least likely to give us more dollars.”

Education is counter cyclical to the economy, she said.

“I’m really excited about all the opportunities that I’ll have as the new executive director,” Erwin said. “It’s about what I can do to help this state become a better place to live and work.”