WATCHDOGS: Struggling NEIU paid big for years for grad speakers

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The $30,000 fee Northeastern Illinois University was going to pay former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett was just the latest in a series of big fees the financially troubled state school has paid to snag prominent graduation speakers, records show.

Despite its money troubles — a Wall Street credit agency just dropped Northeastern deeper into “junk-bond” status — the state university has handed out five-figure fees to each of the speakers at its May commencement events the past four years.

That’s in sharp contrast to what’s done at other state schools, also facing tight-money times, including the three University of Illinois campuses, Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University. Administrators at those universities and others say they don’t pay graduation speakers beyond travel costs.

Jarrett — who was a top aide to former President Barack Obama — agreed earlier this month not to accept a speaking fee for the May 8 commencement after the Chicago Sun-Times reported she was being paid $30,000.

Jarrett said she was unaware of the extent of the financial problems facing the university, which serves about 10,000 students on five campuses, including the main campus on North St. Louis Avenue south of Bryn Mawr.

Northeastern has cut three days from the school year and ordered all 1,100 of its employees to take an unpaid week off during spring break to cut costs amid financial problems worsened by the state government’s continuing budget impasse. The employees also won’t be paid for the three canceled class days.

When Jarrett said she would abandon her speaker’s fee, she already had been paid in full, university records show — and Northeastern administrators agreed to let her keep $1,500 of the $30,000 after her representative told them Jarrett still expected the school to pick up the tab for her travel.

The public university has paid a total of nearly $46,000 to speakers for its May commencements since 2013, the records show, including:

• $15,000 to Democratic political operative Donna Brazile in 2013. Brazile ran Al Gore’s losing campaign for president in 2000 and twice was interim leader of the Democratic National Committee.

• $10,750 in May 2014 to Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who is an MSNBC and Telemundo contributor.

• $10,000 in 2015 to Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress Rita Moreno, who appeared in the movie musicals “West Side Story” and “The King and I.”

• $10,100 last year to Evan Wolfson, a New York civil right lawyer who founded Freedom to Marry, which pushed successfully to legalize gay marriage.

From left, Donna Brazile, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Rita Moreno and Evan Wolfson. | Getty Images, supplied photos

Northeastern Illinois officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the past, Illinois legislators have tried to bar public universities from paying commencement speakers, but those efforts haven’t gone anywhere. Some lawmakers say they plan to try again following the reports of how much Jarrett was to be paid.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, says he thinks the law should allow state schools to cover travel expenses only and provide no payment for speeches.

“It should be an honor,” Batinick says, to speak at a university commencement.

In response to public records requests covering the past five years, the University of Illinois system — which includes campuses in Chicago, Urbana and Springfield — and other Illinois state universities say they don’t pay commencement speakers beyond travel costs, though Southern Illinois University Carbondale has done so twice in that period.

Eastern Illinois University spent a total of $2,273.92 to cover lodging, airfare, rental car and fuel for graduation speakers from 2013 through 2016.

The biggest name among them was Mike Shanahan, an Eastern Illinois graduate who coached the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowl victories. He addressed the Class of 2015. It cost the university $155.40 — the price to put Shanahan up for a night at the Unique Suites Hotel in downstate Charleston, records show.

Governors State University in University Park has spent close to $3,500 to cover travel expenses of graduation speakers over the past four years and plans to continue the policy for its two speakers this year. Its top recent payment, in 2015, was more than $1,300 to bring poet Nikki Giovanni to its south suburban campus from Virginia.

Illinois State University’s College of Fine Arts has spent about $3,300 since 2013 to welcome back alumni who speak at its graduation events.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville also covers only travel costs — amounting to a total of $1,244.08 in state funds for this year’s and last year’s graduation speakers.

Western Illinois University doesn’t have to worry about such things. “Our president delivers the commencement address,” says Darcie Shinberger, spokeswoman for the campus in Macomb.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale now covers only travel costs. But it did pay $30,000 plus expenses to Frank Abagnale — the con man-turned-security consultant portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Catch Me If You Can” — to speak in 2013 and $40,000 plus expenses to actress Ali Wentworth in 2014.

Chicago State University said they needed more time to respond.

The City Colleges of Chicago covered nearly $6,000 in travel costs for rapper Common to be keynote speaker at a commencement ceremony in 2015, including first-class plane tickets from Los Angeles for Common and an assistant, two nights in a $589-a-night room at The Langham hotel downtown, meals from room service and airport limousines.

At Northeastern, the deal to bring in Jarrett next month grew out of discussions with Jim Oliver of Gotham Artists, a New York talent agency and speakers bureau, records show. Oliver previously had offered possible speakers to the university. On Jan. 24, Christie Miller, director of the school’s Office of Cultural Events and Community and Professional Education, asked for suggestions for a commencement speaker.

“We need someone with star power but also appropriate for a very diverse student body,” Miller wrote to Oliver, who declined to comment. “We had a LGBT activist last year so we don’t want that this year. But a diverse speaker to highlight leadership, motivation, etc. would be ideal.”

Oliver sent a list of speakers with biographies. Miller then asked for “further info on fee and availability for Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett and Erin Brockovich.”

She said Northeastern wanted a speaker for the May 8 commencement as well as for a May 6 lecture. But Oliver told her Jones, Jarrett and Brockovich couldn’t do anything more than the commencement because “all three are pretty busy here in early May.”

Jones, a CNN commentator, would have cost $55,000, according to Oliver. Brockovich, the environmental activist portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie that bears her name, would have charged $24,000.

Initially, Jarrett’s asking price to speak at the state school was $45,000, plus first-class travel, accommodations and local ground transportation, though Oliver added, “Might have some flexibility on fee, we can discuss.”

Miller replied: “I think Valerie Jarrett might be first choice right now. What kind of flexibility do you think there is on the fee?”

On Feb. 8, the university made Jarrett an offer: $10,000 plus first-class expenses. But Miller made clear the university was willing to pay more.

“Our president asked me to make this offer,” she wrote to Oliver. “I realize there may be a counteroffer if she is interested.”

Eight days later, the university signed a deal with Jarrett for $30,000 that said: “Fee is inclusive of all expenses.”

The school sent Jarrett’s agency a “non-refundable deposit” of $15,000 on March 13 and a second payment covering the balance owed on April 7.

Trustees for the university apparently didn’t know of the deal or its terms until their April 6 meeting. According to a recording of the meeting, one member of the board said it was “disturbing” to pay Jarrett so richly at a time the university is facing deep financial problems.

Another trustee asked whether Jarrett might donate the fee to a student scholarship in her honor but was told, “The contract has been negotiated and signed.”

The board also approved an honorary degree for Jarrett, with three members voting against the measure.

On April 10, hours after the Sun-Times requested records related to the contract, the university revealed that Jarrett’s contract was for $30,000. But schools officials said they found an unnamed donor to cover that.

The following day, a spokeswoman for Jarrett said she told the university “she will not be accepting a speaking fee.”

On April 13, Jarrett’s representative at Gotham Artists wrote to Northeastern officials again. “She would still of course need her travel covered from D.C.,” Oliver said. “Those expenses are coming out to $1,500.”

Miller replied two minutes later: “Yes, that is fine. Thanks!”

Oliver told Miller that Gotham Artists had mailed the school a check for $28,500 — the fee she’d been paid minus travel costs, which weren’t itemized.

Jarrett’s spokeswoman declined to comment.

Before going to work at the White House in 2009, Jarrett was a $300,000-a-year executive of The Habitat Company, a Chicago real estate development company. In January, in the last federal financial disclosure form she submitted as an Obama aide, Jarrett reported total assets of between $2.22 million and $7.86 million.

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April 21, 2017 at 06:29AM

WATCHDOGS: Struggling NEIU paid big for years for grad speakers

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

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The Illinois House Economic Opportunity Committee hosted a hearing discussing the impact universities have on the communities they surround on Thursday.

The event took place in Carbondale, where Southern Illinois University continues to struggle during the state budget impasse.

Business owners, local officials and university leaders gathered to discuss the local impact SIU has on the region with the House Economic Opportunity Committee.

Committee chair State Representative Christian Mitchell from Chicago says SIU and Southern Illinois is important to his district because of the number of Alumni and current students that attend SIU.

“Part of what I want to do is make the case for why higher education should be fully funded right.”

Mitchell says universities create an impact on both the student and the community.

“There’s the direct impact that college graduates make more money throughout their lifetime and that’s a really big deal, but it’s also that I think for example at SIU a student on average spends about $10,000 in disposable income here in the community just through out the coarse of the school year.”

Illinois Universities are struggling to keep student in state due to the budget impasse.

Fewer students means less money for the region.

SIU President Randy Dunn let the committee know how important SIU is the whole region.

“Here as the university goes the region goes, we want to keep doing what we need to do to keep this area strong.”

Without funding some universities may face closure, which Mitchell says no one wants to see.

“Any of our universities closing it would be a devastating impact.”

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April 20, 2017 at 10:04AM

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

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The Illinois House Economic Opportunity Committee hosted a hearing discussing the impact universities have on the communities they surround on Thursday.

The event took place in Carbondale, where Southern Illinois University continues to struggle during the state budget impasse.

Business owners, local officials and university leaders gathered to discuss the local impact SIU has on the region with the House Economic Opportunity Committee.

Committee chair State Representative Christian Mitchell from Chicago says SIU and Southern Illinois is important to his district because of the number of Alumni and current students that attend SIU.

“Part of what I want to do is make the case for why higher education should be fully funded right.”

Mitchell says universities create an impact on both the student and the community.

“There’s the direct impact that college graduates make more money throughout their lifetime and that’s a really big deal, but it’s also that I think for example at SIU a student on average spends about $10,000 in disposable income here in the community just through out the coarse of the school year.”

Illinois Universities are struggling to keep student in state due to the budget impasse.

Fewer students means less money for the region.

SIU President Randy Dunn let the committee know how important SIU is the whole region.

“Here as the university goes the region goes, we want to keep doing what we need to do to keep this area strong.”

Without funding some universities may face closure, which Mitchell says no one wants to see.

“Any of our universities closing it would be a devastating impact.”

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April 20, 2017 at 10:04AM

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

Illinois Public Universities Trying to Find Efficiencies During Budget Impasse

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It’s a mixed bag for Illinois’ public universities, which have gone two years without full appropriations from state taxpayers. Some say they’re managing, while others say they’re crumbling.

 

During a House Higher Education Committee hearing last week in Springfield, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said ISU will continue to find efficiencies and savings in lieu of state funding.

 

 

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“And to try and restore some of that lost confidence in the state, I will ask our board of trustees in May to not increase tuition, fee, room and board rates for the upcoming academic year,” Dietz said, adding that he’s not sure ISU can continue to hold the line in the future. H said he’s optimistic state lawmakers will pass a budget for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.

 

In the past 22 months, some state tax dollars have gone to public universities and tuition assistance through stopgap funding measures, but the most recent spending plan expired at the beginning of this year and lawmakers have since not acted on releasing funds by passing a budget on to the governor.

 

Moody’s Investors Service said Monday it’s placing the state’s public universities under review for downgrade because of the nearly 22-month-long budget impasse.

 

Northern Illinois University’s Douglas Baker said NIU is struggling to maintain core functions and long-deferred maintenance projects to “fix the roofs, fix the roads, become more energy efficient and replace critical issues like boilers.”

 

Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman said steps have been taken to maintain operations without putting pain on students on EIU’s campus and they continue “to look for additional efficiencies in facilities, additional efficiencies in marketing and enrollment management, student services, academic programs and so on to look at the entire university holistically.”

 

Glassman also said some staff have taken on additional responsibilities.

 

It’s a different story for Chicago State University, where President Cecil Lucy said the university has laid off staff and had freshman enrollment of just 86 students in 2016.

 

“What is happening in the state of Illinois is having a negative impact on accreditation and we must treat this as a crisis,” Lucy said.

 

During last week’s hearing, no university officials or lawmakers discussed the growing cost of pensions.

 

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, between the years of 2005 and 2015, funding from the state increased nearly 50 percent. When including money for higher education pensions, funding increased from $2.4 billion to $3.5 billion.

 

The National Center for Education Statistics puts the average total cost of Illinois’ public universities fourth highest of all 50 states.

 

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April 19, 2017 at 05:02PM

Illinois Public Universities Trying to Find Efficiencies During Budget Impasse

Voice of The Southern: Time’s up, get a budget done

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It’s the classic conundrum: What came first — the chicken or the egg?

That’s pretty much what’s happening right now in Springfield when it comes to the state budget. Everybody is pre-occupied pointing fingers and placing blame, yet nobody wants to get a deal done. What’s worse, it doesn’t even seem like a priority.

For example, the General Assembly is in the middle of a two-week spring break. No budget for nearly two years? No problem, go ahead and take a little vacation.

It’s always dangerous to compare government work to private enterprise, but it seems unlikely that in the private sector workers involved with a project two years behind schedule would be given vacation time.

To be fair, realistic and pessimistic all in the same breath — it’s not like a deal would’ve gotten done in the next 10 days.

Watching our legislators and the executive branch walk away from the state’s most pressing need is just what we’ve come to expect. And, quite frankly, that’s not acceptable on any level.

According to the state’s Constitution, the governor is supposed to prepare and submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly each fiscal year. The General Assembly then “shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State,” according to the Constitution.

Obviously, none of this happened in the past two years. Or, at least, none of it has led to an actual working document.

That’s where the chicken and the egg come in again. It seems as though nobody is even willing to get the process started. Constitutionally, that job that is supposed to be done by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In February, Rauner did present a plan to the General Assembly. At the time, it gave some hope that we were nearing an end to the budget impasse.

“I would expect that negotiations are going to continue and perhaps even ramp up a little bit,” said Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, in a story from February. There were others, too, that shared Schimpf’s optimism.

That was Feb. 15. It’s now April 19. And we’re still without a budget. The state has essentially gotten nowhere to end the now 658-day stalemate.

Think about that for a minute. Six-hundred and fifty-eight days. The state has gone 658 days without a budget — nearly two years.

We are running out of ways to say the situation is unacceptable – but is anybody surprised anymore? We’re not.

This has become a game of chicken between the Democrats and Republicans. It’s a strong-willed game of chicken between Rauner, our Republican governor, and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

We all know what usually happens in a game of chicken? Somebody gets hurt — and that somebody is the hard-working people of Illinois.

It’s our universities. It’s our social service agencies. It’s everyone affected by exercise in political futility. It’s the people who are leaving the state in record numbers because they’re sick of it.

Locally, the Women’s Center could close within three months without funding. And, the center’s clientele are lucky it has managed to remain operational.

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale is suffering. SIUC is looking to borrow millions from SIUE. And, on Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service said SIU may be in danger of a credit downgrade.

That’s a pretty sad self-inflicted state of affairs.

According the Associated Press, the state has a $5 billion deficit and $13 million more in unpaid bills. A balanced budget is not a magic wand that is going to clean up the mess that has been years in the making.

Climbing out of that kind of a hole will take years upon years of fiscal responsibility.

But, what a balanced budget does is start that climb. The state has to start somewhere, and the sooner the better. But, until the state has a budget, the hole is going to get deeper.

We realize any balanced budget will include cuts that will be difficult to swallow. There will have to be provisions for additional revenue. That’s just another reason to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

We readily admit the governor, our senators and representatives face a difficult task. But, it’s a job they asked for. This is not the time to kick the can down the road in the form of another stopgap budget out of mind. A temporary budget is not what Illinois needs.

Illinois needs a budget. It needs to start the recovery.

Our lawmakers say they need to work in a bipartisan way. We’ve heard it before. We’re tired of hearing it.

Show us. Get a balanced budget done.








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April 18, 2017 at 09:25PM

Voice of The Southern: Time’s up, get a budget done

Moody’s downgrades NEIU, warns of credit declines for 6 schools

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After nearly two years of state budget gridlock, Illinois’ public universities could soon face a tougher time borrowing money after a major credit agency downgraded the rating for one school and warned that six others could face the same fate.

In reports issued Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service announced that it had bumped Northeastern Illinois University down two levels, from a Ba2 to a B1 rating, citing “weakened cash flow” in part caused by the state budget impasse, now in its 22nd month. The downgrade puts Northeastern’s credit three steps below what is commonly known as “junk” status.

Credit ratings are a sign of how likely a borrower is to pay back bonds. A “B” rating in the Moody’s scale indicates “high credit risk.” Lower credit ratings often mean paying higher interest rates to borrow money.

“The downgrade is very disappointing but not surprising,” Northeastern’s interim President Richard J. Helldobler said in a statement. “The real tragedy here is that after a long history of fiscal responsibility and sound planning, the financial reputations of Northeastern Illinois University and other Illinois public universities are at stake, and this is really reflection of Springfield’s inaction regarding the state’s budget.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled state legislature have been unable to agree on a state spending plan since July 2015. The two sides agreed on stopgap bills last summer, providing most schools with about 80 to 90 percent of the funding they had received in recent years.

But no state money has been allocated to the universities in 2017, meaning they have had to stretch out less than one year’s worth of funding over 22 months.

Moody’s said Tuesday that within the next 90 days, it will review the state’s other public universities for potential downgrades, including the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and Governors State University. Moody’s also will examine Northeastern for another potential downgrade in addition to the one announced Tuesday, officials said.

The agency will review the universities’ current fiscal health, actions taken to cope with the state funding shortfall, and plans for the next fiscal year that starts in July.

“The reviews will focus on each university’s exposure to continuing state budget pressure given failure of the state to adopt a budget for the current fiscal year and the resulting use of each university’s own liquidity to bridge the funding shortfall,” the agency said.

The agency warned that after the reviews, the universities could face rating downgrades “depending on liquidity and ongoing ability to adjust.”

Moody’s includes all University of Illinois and Southern Illinois campuses in one rating, and does not review Western Illinois or Chicago State universities.

Northeastern Illinois University, on Chicago’s Northwest Side, has been particularly hard hit by the budget impasse in recent months.

The university shut down campus and furloughed all employees during its spring break, closing computer labs, the library and other academic services during that week. Students with state-funded campus jobs also were unable to report to work. The campus also closed for two days last week and will be closed again May 1.

Northeastern received about $30.2 million through the two emergency bills, compared to about $37 million in 2015, the most recent year of full funding.

“With continued pressure on enrollment and sustained state funding uncertainty, the university has limited avenues by which it can improve its liquidity position over the medium term,” Moody’s wrote about Northeastern.

In a report last month, Moody’s warned that prolonging state operations without a budget could result in the state defaulting on loans, cutting pension contributions, and long-term damage to public universities and social service providers. Analysts also said the timing for a budget agreement is critical with the end of the legislative session approaching, adding that state finances could begin to stabilize fairly quickly once Rauner and Democrats make a deal.

Moody’s downgraded Eastern Illinois and Governors State in June 2016, and pointed to the budget crisis as a major factor in those decisions.

Eastern’s rating fell several notches after the agency noted the Charleston-based school spent nearly all of its cash by the end of last fiscal year and still had no imminent guarantee of state funding. Governors State’s rating fell to “junk” status, with analysts pointing to its heavy dependence on state support as well as the ongoing challenges of transitioning from an upper-division school to a four-year institution.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

@rhodes_dawn

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April 18, 2017 at 06:36AM

Moody’s downgrades NEIU, warns of credit declines for 6 schools

University officials address financial situation with faculty

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University officials met with faculty members Thursday afternoon to answer questions about SIU’s financial situation and concerns about budget cuts amid a state budget crisis that is approaching the two-year mark.

Illinois public universities have received no appropriation outside of stop-gap funding during the Springfield stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and a Democratic-controlled assembly. The conversation focused on several of the university’s recent announcements that have the potential to affect the university’s faculty, staff and students — including possible layoffs, the discontinuation of academic programs and the appointment of a permanent chancellor to lead the Carbondale campus.

Special meeting

SIU President Randy Dunn said the SIU Board of Trustees will have a special meeting in May to approve a permanent chancellor hire, at which point the board will discuss declaring a financial emergency at Carbondale and allowing the cash-strapped university to borrow from SIU-Edwardsville to continue daily operations.

The university president said he expects the item will be approved, but it is still be possible to get the loan without the board’s go-ahead.

“I don’t think that’s the best way to approach, but there is that trap-door if we need it,” Dunn said.

Board of Trustees members at their April 6 meeting voted not to discuss the matter. One board member dissented and unanimous approval was required.

Analysis of the university’s finances indicates the Carbondale campus could fall into deficit spending within one or two months. When asked what would happen if the university did fall into deficit spending, Dunn said it would have little impact on day-to-day campus operations, but SIU would be “in the red” on paper.

The major effect would be from the university’s accrediting body. Dunn said if SIU started deficit spending, it would be a “trip-wire” that might cause Higher Learning Commission accreditors to more closely examine the university’s ability to remain operational.

Academic prioritization

Interim Provost Susan Ford gave an update on the academic program prioritization process, which uses metrics originally designed by a joint task force she appointed to evaluate the university’s degree programs.

Ford said it would be fairer for groups of faculty members to evaluate the responses because the data she received are so subjective.

“When I was a faculty member, I would never have trusted any provost to make these kinds of decisions,” Ford said. “I personally believe this will be more appropriate.”

Ford said even if a program is closed from the prioritization process, the Higher Learning Commission requires the university to teach any students that have been admitted until they receive the degrees they applied for.

“We close programs all the time, but those decisions are generally made at the faculty-level,” Ford said. “What we would be talking about is an accelerated rate of program closure, and some closure decisions that might be made at the higher level.”

Ford said once she gets faculty volunteers to do the evaluations, she hopes to release a report in mid-May.  

Student recruitment

Susan Davenport, associate dean for students and curricular affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, said the state budget impasse is affecting the university’s ability to recruit students.

Ford agreed, saying parents are telling their children not to come to Illinois for college right now.

“We are swimming against a tsunami of bad press from the state budget crisis,” Ford said. “It harmed us last year, and we know it’s harming us this year.”

Compared to the financial health of other state universities, Dunn said SIU falls in the middle of the pack. Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University and Chicago State University have all declared financial emergency, but Dunn said the University of Illinois system would likely be able to sustain operations indefinitely despite the budget impasse.

Ford said the university is watching student orientation registration closely to try to predict enrollment and the effectiveness of recruitment efforts.  

Legal action

Dunn addressed questions about the possibility of Illinois public universities taking legal action against the state for failing to pass a budget.

He said they had collectively researched whether they are able to sue the state, but since universities are viewed as state agencies, they can’t go after payments in court the same way vendors can.   

“Still, we’re doing what we can without crossing a partisan line,” Dunn said. “We stay in constant contact with legislators, we write editorial boards — at some point, it falls on the elected officials to champion higher education.”

Vacant positions

In Dunn’s March 29 System Connection — the column he emails to faculty and staff — the university president said the Carbondale campus should cut at least $30 million in spending with the assumption a state budget would not be forthcoming soon.

In response, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell’s office identified $19 million in immediate, permanent budget reductions. Of these cuts, Colwell said about 4 percent would come from the office of interim Provost Susan Ford, who coordinates and prioritizes academic programs.

Ford said none of that amount would include cuts to academic positions; reductions would instead come from student wages, equipment, travel services and non-academic positions.

The university will leave an estimated 158 vacant positions unfilled to “minimize the number of layoffs,” according to the chancellor’s message in March. Since the budget impasse began, the university has let 293 positions go unfilled. All vacant salary funds will be consolidated into a central account to provide “more flexibility in filling positions where the needs are greatest, regardless of a department’s ability to fund a position within its own budget.”

Because these teaching positions will remain vacant, Ford said her office told deans two weeks ago they needed to look at their class offerings for the fall semester and cancel electives where possible to “reinvest” remaining faculty to teach required courses.

“My priority is to staff classes that need to be staffed,” Ford said. “We will do that as quickly as we can so students don’t sign up for classes that don’t end up being offered.”

Physical plant operations

Colwell’s reduction plan also included saving $1.5 million in plant and service operations by outsourcing and reducing operational costs. A committee within plant and service operations is currently looking into outsourcing, Colwell said at Thursday’s meeting.  

Dunn said doing so would require careful cost calculations to figure out how much could really be saved, because he said every trade service needs to be considered differently.

He said painting services on campus could be addressed by outside firms more easily than electrical or plumbing issues, which often require immediate responses.

“As long as we’ve got firms we can call at three in the morning, we could do it, but you pay a premium for that,” Dunn said. “When you need plumbers, you need them now.”

Non-instructional cuts

Colwell said implementing the findings of non-instructional program prioritization committee is about one-third complete.

The non-instructional program review, which a chancellor-appointed committee released in January, was meant to identify long-term efficiencies like switching to direct deposit payments for vendors and cutting centers or initiatives “that should be self-supporting.”

Before the end of the semester, Colwell said he will send an update on the reductions to non-instructional units on campus.  

Administrative transparency

Dave Johnson, president of the Faculty Association, asked why the administration doesn’t communicate more with students about the financial crisis the university is facing.

“We’re talking to students,” Johnson said, referring to SIU faculty members. “If you’re not going to communicate with them, what should we tell them?”

Colwell said he has been waiting until he has more specific details to give them outside of numbers and percentages about budget cuts, but will be meeting with the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Council in the coming weeks to address the issue.

“Students want to know if their program will be here, if the Rec Center will have the same hours, will the library will be open,” Colwell said. “Those are things that, once we get a better hold on them, we can give answers.”

The chancellor said he often gets questions about why events and construction are still taking place on campus when the university is under such financial duress, but he said it is important to understand those things are often funded privately.

“Therein does lie a problem, because some of you have more non-state dollars than others,” Colwell said. “But we’re trying to be very careful not to send the wrong message.”

Staff writer Marnie Leonard can be reached at mleonard@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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April 13, 2017 at 03:47PM

University officials address financial situation with faculty