We’ve all had the experience.
We’re standing on the shore of a lake or river and a boat passes by in the distance. It takes a while for the wake to reach the shore, but the effects of the disturbance inevitably appear. And, the waves continue lapping at the shore long after the boat has passed.
The State of Illinois went without a budget for two years. While the state did its best to minimize the effects, it was just a matter of time before citizens and institutions felt the wash. There were ripples throughout the past two years, cuts in services and some reduction in staff, but the first waves hit the beach this week.
The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees meeting this week created some waves of its own, announcing cuts and consolidations in programs.
A case could be made that in light of the ongoing budget crisis, the cuts were overdue. Conversely, waiting until the state passed a budget put the university’s predicament into sharper focus, allowing a more surgical approach to cutbacks.
The Board of Trustees suggested the elimination of seven degree programs — bachelor’s degrees in mining engineering, business economics, physical education teacher education and Africana studies. Master’s programs in mining engineering and political science were also tagged for elimination as well as the doctorate program in historical studies.
First, it’s a shame that any academic programs have to be scuttled. College students are best served when the school of their choice provides the greatest diversity in programs and enrollment. If these programs are ultimately dropped, it will diminish the university.
On the other hand, there is the economic reality of 2017 and two years without a state budget.
The programs slated for elimination have historically not attracted a lot of students. In robust economic times, these programs could be considered a luxury. Given the reality of today — SIU will be receiving $91.4 million in state appropriations for FY 2018, down 10 percent from $101.6 million in FY 2015, the last year the state had a budget.
Clearly, reality dictates minimal luxuries.
Several other cost cutting moves were also announced. SIU will combine several programs into a new College of Media, Design and Fine and Performing Arts. Other areas of study will be rolled into the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Engineering.
The consolidation will make the university a bit leaner and result in administrative savings. As SIU Carbondale’s enrollment continues to drop, changes along these lines were just a matter of time. The financial crunch pushed them to the front burner.
Finally, plans to raze University Towers and begin construction of new student housing were put on hold. The plans for new student housing have been on the books for several years. Eventually, as the towers age, the plan will have to be implemented. But that is the cost of, in this instance, the state not doing business.
The cuts outlined by the Board of Trustees aren’t draconian. To those of us outside the board room, they seem reasonable, although not particularly appealing.
“No one cheers a 10 percent cut, but … we know where we are,” said SIU president Randy Dunn. “It unfreezes things. It’s something we can work with. It’s sustainable. It’s predictable. We can do planning and implementation from that and we’re appreciative of having it.”
As noted earlier, this is the first wave.
The deteriorating financial condition of the state has changed variables for students selecting a university. More cuts are likely to occur before the state turns around. But, as Dunn said, the university now has a clearer picture of at least the immediate future.