EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of six stories in the JG-TC’s “State of the University” series focusing on Eastern Illinois University’s recent years of declining enrollment, and financial challenges related to the Illinois state budget impasse. This installment looks at efforts by EIU supporters to work with lawmakers for funding.
CHARLESTON — With the state of Illinois’ budget impasse approaching two years, some who support Eastern Illinois University say they’re ready, but mostly waiting, to do more.
Working on behalf of EIU to try to help with its lack of state funding and resulting budget cuts is worthy of the effort, but it’s mostly the same as with any organization that relies on money from the state, they say.
“It kind of comes down to waiting and seeing what we can do,” said Austin Mejdrich, an EIU student with the Fund EIU organization.
Fund EIU was a collaborative effort between students, faculty, community members and others that organized a large rally on Eastern’s campus last year in support of funding for the university.
At that point, it was beneficial to have a “good combination” of supporters to send the message that budget cuts were jeopardizing the institution, Mejdrich said.
“It was really helpful to really see another conversation of what was happening with the state,” he said.
Fund EIU members have also traveled to Springfield to meet with local lawmakers and speak before high education committees. Another trip is in the works, Mejdrich said.
Mejdrich also said efforts by Fund EIU and others helped lead to last year’s stop-gap budget, the temporary, six-month spending plan that “kept the doors open.” They’ve helped keep people aware of the ongoing budget situation and what it means, he said.
Fund EIU is still sending messages, mostly through social media, about any budget negotiations and other developments, but it’s difficult to take on something as large as last year’s rally, Mejdrich also said.
“Overall, I think Fund EIU has been hugely successful for what it can do,” he said.
The budget impasse also changed how Eastern works with state lawmakers, as the funding shortfall has to be the top issue, according to Katie Anselment, EIU’s legislative liaison.
“It’s much more about the lack of a budget than it is about education,” she said. “It didn’t used to be all-consuming.”
Anselment is an EIU graduate who’s been in the university’s legislative liaison for four years. Her position replaced that of a contracted lobbyist when former EIU President Bill Perry preferred a university employee to work with lawmakers.
Most of Anselment’s time is spent reviewing and monitoring proposed bills that might have an impact on EIU or higher education.
She then provides an overview and advice to university President David Glassman for a decision on whether to take a public position on a bill.
Anselment said she finds area lawmakers “very receptive” to EIU’s situation because of the budget impasse. Other representatives with universities in their districts see higher education as a priority but others perhaps “don’t feel the impact,” she said.
“I do think our legislators just want to get this worked out but it’s been going on so long,” she said.