Illinois Universities Watch Budget Talks

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Randy DunnIllinois’ state universities could get new salt in their wounds. The Higher Learning Commission warns lawmakers that a continued lack of funding could lead to public colleges and universities being stripped of their accreditation.

Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn talks about the consequences.

Click here for Dunn’s comments

The commission is concerned because the lack of a budget has sparked increased tuition, delays in state grants, layoffs and canceled capital projects.

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June 30, 2017 at 12:04AM

Illinois Universities Watch Budget Talks

Illinois is starving its public colleges and universities

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Illinois could become America's first 'junk' state

Illinois could become America’s first ‘junk’ state

State funding for public colleges and universities in Illinois has slowed to a dribble.

The schools are laying off staff and mandating furlough days. Library hours have been reduced. Campus buildings are closed over spring breaks and summer weekends. Maintenance work has been put off. Low-income students are worried their state funded scholarships will be pulled out from under them.

Illinois is starving its public colleges and universities

Pinched by state budget, City Colleges plans layoffs

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City Colleges of Chicago is laying off 120 employees, part of larger cuts planned in response to the prolonged state budget crisis.

Chancellor Juan Salgado announced the cuts Wednesday to outline priorities for his spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Reductions also will include 10 percent pay cuts for senior leadership. City Colleges also plans to sell the district headquarters at 226 W. Jackson Blvd. and move administrative staff to the Kennedy-King College in Englewood and Dawson Technical Institute in Bronzeville.

Most of the layoffs are staffers in the central office, Salgado said.

“This was by far the hardest decision, recognizing the impact it has on people’s lives and families,” Salgado wrote in a campus announcement. “This decision comes with consequences that I feel deeply and yet know they are necessary for our students’ and institution’s success over the long term.”

City Colleges also will be eliminating 100 percent pension contributions and full medical reimbursements for district officers, Salgado said. Other planned savings will come from slashed travel expenses, reduced spending on materials, contracts and supplies, and adjusted class scheduling to match demand, Salgado said.

Salgado added he felt the cuts would shift resources toward students and colleges, and help retain full-time faculty, advisors and admissions staff.

“We have all heard stories of tough times at colleges across Illinois, but I want you to know that City Colleges of Chicago will remain open and classes will start on time this fall,” Salgado wrote. “By making strategic decisions, we will continue to make strides in student outcomes and to invest in our colleges and communities.”

Tony Johnston, City Colleges faculty union president, said the layoffs don’t affect any members of his union and declined to comment further on the administration’s action.

The layoffs come at a time where City Colleges has experienced a significant decline in enrollment and what administration officials have called an unprecedented state budget shortfall of $70 million in the last two years alone. The system has about 90,000 students at seven colleges and five satellite locations.

But district leaders are hopeful for a one-time cash windfall in selling the 14-story headquarters that sits across the street from the Willis Tower. The building currently is about one-third occupied.

Salgado announced the district’s intention to sell the facility earlier this week. Leaders plan to hire a broker within the next month, he said.

Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Pratt and Ryan Ori contributed

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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June 29, 2017 at 04:33PM

Pinched by state budget, City Colleges plans layoffs

Eastern imposes temporary spending freeze

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Eastern imposes temporary spending freeze

Staff Report

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Eastern President David Glassman issued a temporary spending freeze effective immediately.

In an email sent to all account Managers, P-Card holders, and Office Max users, Glassman said the reason for the freeze is a result of the uncertainty that the State will pass a budget.

This includes P-Card charges and OfficeMax spending.

Any exceptions will need approval from the Office of Procurement, Disbursements and Contract Services or Paul McCann, the interim vice president for Business Affairs, according to the email.

Other questions should be addressed to Paul McCann at pmccann@eiu.edu.

More information will be added to the story as soon as it becomes available.

The News Staff can be reached at 581-2812 or dennewsdesk@gmail.com.

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June 29, 2017 at 12:11PM

Eastern imposes temporary spending freeze

Impasse could harm university accreditation; ISU sees no ‘imminent risk’

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NORMAL — The agency that accredits colleges and universities in Illinois has warned the governor and legislative leaders that the continued budget impasse could have “accreditation consequences,” but officials at Illinois State University don’t see an “imminent risk” for ISU.

In a letter dated June 22, Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission, wrote, “As the accrediting agency tasked with assuring quality, I must warn you about the accreditation consequences of the failure to provide sustainable funding for Illinois higher education.”

The letter was reported in Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax blog.

ISU spokesman Eric Jome said Wednesday, “At this point, we don’t have major concerns that our accreditation is at imminent risk.”

He noted that “our enrollment’s been consistent and pretty strong” and, financially, “we’re still in solid enough shape.”

Not all schools in Illinois have weathered the storm as well, however, with declining enrollments resulting in declining tuition revenue at the same time the state hasn’t provided full funding since fiscal 2015.

Jome said he does not want to downplay the risks for higher education in Illinois overall.

He expressed hope the accrediting agency’s letter will carry “some weight to think about for the governor and legislators.”

In the letter, Gellman-Danley wrote: “Sixteen months after my initial memo there remains no sustainable funding for higher education in Illinois. The continued lack of such funding places the higher education system of Illinois at considerable risk and is injurious to the very students the system purports to serve.”

To be eligible for federal financial aid, students must attend an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the federal government. The HLC is the recognized regional accrediting agency in the Midwest.

Among the “increasingly dire effects of this budget crisis” outlined in the HLC letter are loss of state Monetary Award Program grants for needy students, significantly declining enrollments, loss of faculty and staff, canceled capital projects and diminished cash reserves.

The letter states, “Institutions exhibiting these problems, regardless of cause, are still subject to HLC standards that require the availability of appropriate financial, physical, and human resources.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota

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June 29, 2017 at 09:19AM

Impasse could harm university accreditation; ISU sees no ‘imminent risk’

Cash-strapped state college paid big for speakers despite ‘optics’

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Cash-strapped Northeastern Illinois University — which came under fire for agreeing to pay former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett a fat fee to speak at graduation last month — has paid nearly $270,000 to 28 other speakers since 2005, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Most of that’s come out of taxpayer funds that support the state university on Chicago’s North Side, which cut short its school year and recently announced it would lay off 180 employees because of the state budget crunch.

The university’s interim president had agreed to pay Jarrett $30,000 to speak at commencement. After the Sun-Times reported that, the longtime top aide to former President Barack Obama agreed to forego most of the fee — keeping $1,500 she said was to cover her expenses.

The university had paid a total of $46,000 to other commencement speakers in the past five years, even as other state universities declined to pay fees to graduation speakers, the Sun-Times reported in April.

The newly obtained records show Northeastern has spent far more than that to lure high-profile speakers to speak at other times during the school year since 2005 — a total of $268,001.36.

Political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin. | AP

The highest-paid? The married political consultants Mary Matalin and James Carville, who together got $82,000 to speak at Northeastern’s main campus on North St. Louis Avenue in February.

That event was paid for out of a fund created with a donation to the university in 2014 by a wealthy alumnus. The expenses to bring other speakers to the university, though, were charged to NEIU or the university’s foundation, the records show.

Northeastern is grappling with financial problems that prompted Moody’s Investors Service, the Wall Street bond-rating agency, to downgrade the state school’s bond rating on June 9 two notches deeper in “junk” status — making it costlier to borrow money. Northeastern now has the second-lowest credit rating of any state university in Illinois, behind only Eastern Illinois.

Northeastern decided to lay staff off this summer after taking other cost-cutting measures that included cancelling three days of classes and ordering a weeklong, unpaid furlough during spring break for its employees.

Announcing the layoffs last month, Richard Helldobler, Northeastern’s interim president, blamed the cutbacks on “financial starvation from Springfield.”

In internal emails obtained by the Sun-Times, Helldobler and one Northeastern trustee acknowledged the Jarrett revelation wouldn’t help.

Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett originally was to be paid $30,000 to speak at Northeastern Illinois University. She gave back all but $1,500 after a Sun-Times report on the fee the cash-strapped school was paying her. | Sun-Times files

“I am sensitive that some of you were concerned about the optics of the cost of Ms. Jarrett’s speaking fee given the state’s budget crisis,” Helldobler wrote to the university’s trustees on April 10. “While I remain committed to giving our students a quality commencement experience befitting their special day, I wanted you to know I heard your concerns.”

Helldobler had hired Jarrett and agreed to her fee without notifying trustees, records show.

One Northeastern trustee, George Vukotich, responded to Helldobler’s email two hours later, saying the deal with Jarrett hurt his chances for getting the “interim” tag removed from his title. Helldobler began serving last July as interim president, and his contract expires next March 31.

Amid the controversy over Jarrett’s contract, Northeastern board agreed to spend nearly $100,000 for an executive search firm to seek a new president.

George Vukotich says Valerie Jarrett is wealthy enough that she “did not need to charge” to speak at the cash-strapped state university. | LinkedIn

“I know it was in your rights to make the decision without consulting the board, but I think the challenge was that one of the reasons individuals were asking for your regular appointment and to skip the search was to save money,” Vukotich wrote April 10 to Helldobler and fellow trustees. “When it came out what Mrs. Jarrett was being paid it did not go over well and weakened that argument.”

Asked about the emails after a board meeting earlier this month, Helldobler declined to comment.

Vukotich says he felt that Jarrett — a lawyer who formerly was a Daley administration official and CEO of the real estate and development company the Habitat Company — is wealthy enough that she “did not need to charge.

“Some individuals thought we should get whatever speakers we could,” Vukotich says. “Others thought we should save money, given the situation” with the university’s finances.

Before Jarrett agreed to forego most but not all of her fee, university officials said they had found an unidentified private donor who would cover the payment to Jarrett.

Daniel L. Goodwin. | The Inland Real Estate Group

According to emails written by Helldobler, Daniel L. Goodwin, a Northeastern alum who’s an Oak Brook real estate executive, agreed to let Jarrett’s speaker’s fee come out of a $300,000 fund that he established in 2014 for speakers to be brought to the school. The payments to Carville and Matalin earlier this year are the only expenditures to date from that fund.

Records show Goodwin agreed to allow his earlier donation to also be used to pay Jarrett after Helldobler directed an aide to approach him with that request.

“Tell them it will be better for Ms. Jarrett from a public relations standpoint,” Helldobler wrote in an email. “The media is all over the price given the state budget crisis. If we can say we pay it with private funds will be best.”

Goodwin wasn’t available to comment, according to a spokeswoman for his company.

NEIU records show another 26 speakers were paid a total of more than $185,000 over the past 12 years. In 18 cases, the money came from university funds, the school’s foundation paid four speakers, and Northeastern officials say they could not find records of funding sources for speaker fees prior to 2007.

Asked about the money spent on speakers, Michael Hines, a Northeastern spokesman, says, “These public speaking engagements allow the university to fulfill its mission and demonstrate its commitment to its communities.”

They frequently were presented as being part of Northeastern’s “Presidential Lecture Series.”

One speaker, Chicago journalist Bill Kurtis, who appeared at Northeastern in 2014, had the university donate his $500 fee to a charity, the Children’s Hunger Fund.

Under most of the contracts, the university also agreed to pay for airfare, ground transportation in Chicago and hotel accommodations.

In a couple of cases, Northeastern agreed to cover first-class airfare, including for author Michael Cunningham, who also received a $12,500 speaker’s fee to come from New York to Northeastern in 2006. University officials say they could not locate records to show how much taxpayers had to pay to cover travel expenses in those cases.

WHAT SCHOOL PAID SPEAKERS

Teresa Woodruff, Northwestern University Women’s Health Research Institute director — $4,000, April 5, 2017

Falguni Sheth, Emory University professor — $500, Feb. 9, 2017

• James Carville, Mary Matalin, political consultants / TV analysts — $82,500, Feb. 2, 2017

Kunal Mehta, entrepreneur/author — $3,500, Feb. 4, 2016

Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president — $1,000, Jan. 21, 2016

Omar Yamini, author   $1,500, Oct. 24, 2014

Will Allen, urban farmer/author — $10,000, Oct. 21, 2014

• Bill Kurtis, journalist — $500 (to charity), Oct. 17, 2014

Carlos Alberto Torres, UCLA professor — $5,151.36, Oct. 14, 2014

Mary Gaitskill, novelist — $3,500, March 27, 2014

Rebecca Skloot, author — $15,000, Oct. 29, 2013

Jose Hernandez, former astronaut — $15,000, Oct. 24, 2013

Kwame Dawes, poet/actor — $2,500, April 11, 2013

Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, authors — $4,500 each, Oct. 25, 2012

George Everly Jr., co-founder, International Critical Incident Stress Foundation  — $5,000, Nov. 3, 2011

Jane McGonigal, game designer — $10,000, Oct. 27, 2011

Reza Deghati, photojournalist — $5,000, March 10, 2011

Ken Auletta, media critic, The New Yorker — $13,500, Oct. 28, 2010

Dolores Huerta, labor leader/activist — $6,000, April 23, 2009

Ana Castillo, novelist — $10,000, Oct. 7, 2008

Claire Messud, novelist — $7,850, Sept. 27, 2007

Charles Rosen, pianist— $7,000, April 12, 2007

Michael Cunningham, novelist — $12,500, Oct. 11, 2006

Suzan Lori-Parks, playwright — $15,000, Sept. 14, 2006

Khaled Hosseini, novelist — $5,000, Oct. 25, 2005

Jane Goodall, primatologist/author — $17,500, Sept. 9, 2005

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June 29, 2017 at 11:01AM

Cash-strapped state college paid big for speakers despite ‘optics’