OUR VIEW: EIU can move ahead even as state sputters

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If the condition of Eastern Illinois University is to improve, in the short-term as well as the coming years, two things seem clear.

First, state legislators and the governor must craft a budget, something they have failed to do for almost 23 months. Yes, it is maddening. Second, EIU officials must find ways to bring back some of the thousands of students who in recent years have found other campuses on which to pursue their university educations.

For sure, a state budget that adequately funds all public universities in Illinois would help restore young people’s, and their parents’, confidence in EIU and the other 11 state-assisted universities of Illinois.

But EIU’s enrollment issues began even prior to state lawmakers fumbling their political football in the spring of 2015 and grasping ever since at a state budget as though it was a greased pig.

EIU enrollment hit a high-water mark of more than 11,000 students in the late 20th century. Ten years ago, on-campus enrollment was more than 10,000 students. The official 10th day enrollment in spring 2011 was 9,549. According to the JG-TC “State of the University” series this week, the current spring enrollment at EIU is 6,673 students.

That is a decline of almost 3,000 students since 2011, well before Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton began playing “chicken” with state funds.

According to the JG-TC series, EIU officials get it.

Josh Norman, fairly new as the associate vice president for enrollment, said EIU is hosting more events to build stronger relations with prospective and current students. Administrators and faculty need to drive home that personal connection that always has been a strength at EIU.

Paul McCann, interim vice president for business affairs, who has had to track the university’s lack of finances under the Rauner-Madigan-Cullerton funding fiasco, acknowledged that many of the challenges EIU faces could be eased by enrolling more students.

Lack of adequate state funding and less tuition/fee revenue from a declining enrollment have resulted in about 20 percent fewer employees at EIU. It is a challenge to maintain personal relations when there are fewer faculty/staff to assist students. Layoffs, early retirements and unfilled vacancies have contributed to the fewer number of employees.

Across campus this academic year, faculty, staff and administrators have been engaged in a “revitalization project” designed to focus on the best ways to move forward that will meet students’ needs and provide the best stewardship of funds.

Katie Anselment, EIU’s legislative liaison at the Capitol, summed up the “state of the university” very well in one installment of the series.

Area legislators, she said, are “very receptive” to working on adequate funding. Lawmakers from other state university regions also see higher education as a priority. But representatives and senators in other areas of the state? It seems they “don’t feel the impact,” Anselment says.

It’s a variation of the “Not in My Back Yard” dilemma. But higher education affects the back yard, the front lawn and the entire state of Illinois. Especially when thousands of students leave Illinois each year to enroll in other states’ universities.

EIU officials have much to work with. The university’s reputation, since the days of Livingston Lord, the first sitting president, has been excellent. U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 college rankings listed EIU as the best regional public university in Illinois and the sixth-best in the Midwest.

But, even the best regional public university needs public funds. State officials need to end this two-year-old budget stalemate and move Illinois forward again. But it’s up to officials, alumni and friends of one of the top public universities in the state and Midwest to show prospective students how EIU continues to be a wise enrollment opportunity.

— JG-TC Editorial Board

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April 21, 2017 at 06:28PM

OUR VIEW: EIU can move ahead even as state sputters

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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Chicago State University‘s new interim president started work this week, the third leadership shift for the Far South Side university in 18 months.

Rachel W. Lindsey, a longtime former dean of Chicago State’s College of Arts and Sciences, took over the presidency Monday, about a week after the board approved her hiring. Her contract, obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, promises a $240,000 salary and stipulates she will serve as interim president at least until April 16, 2018.

Lindsey’s contract requires that she provide trustees with a list of goals within three weeks, detailing her plans and recommendations for academic programs, university finances, strategic planning and community relations. She will receive a performance review every six months, evaluating her progress in improving Chicago State’s financial status, graduation rate, enrollment, educational programs, relationships with faculty, fundraising, media relations and public image — with the concession that she may not have time to make gains in all those areas as a temporary leader.

“Your appointment comes at a critical time in the university’s history, and the board is confident that you will make an important contribution to the future development and success of the university,” the contract states.

Lindsey and her assistant did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Lindsey’s salary would seem to indicate the cash-strapped school will shoulder considerably more in administrative costs to pay her and ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas as the Far South Side university attempts a comprehensive leadership shift.

Vallas, who was appointed to the Chicago State board in January, was tapped for a newly created position as the university’s chief administrative officer. When he will begin work remains unclear. A spokesman said Vallas is eager to get going but contract negotiations were ongoing.

“The board has issued what appears to be a final draft of the contract so we’re all hopeful he can start soon,” spokesman Sam Hamer said Thursday.

The former interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, will return to his previous position as interim vice president of finance and administration. It is not known what his salary will be, but documents show he was making $140,000 as finance chief before moving to the $260,000 interim president post.

Lindsey’s move into the top administrative seat came at the heels of months of tumult and politicized wrangling over the direction of the 150-year-old school.

Thomas J. Calhoun was hired in late 2015 amid much fanfare to replace Wayne Watson, whose six-year tenure was riddled with controversy. Calhoun took over in January 2016, with a five-year contract paying him $300,000 a year.

But he unexpectedly resigned in September after nine months, taking a $600,000 severance. His departure proved controversial, as he was well liked among students and faculty who accused other school leaders of undermining Calhoun’s authority. Many of his supporters routinely have appealed the board to reinstate Calhoun.

Lucy immediately was appointed interim president.

The leadership shuffle began anew early this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner brought in four new board members — Vallas, Nicholas Gowen, Tiffany Harper and Kam Buckner — and created an eight-member advisory group in January. Rauner said he expected the group to spark a dramatic reversal for a university struggling with strained finances, falling enrollment, failing infrastructure and sluggish academic performance. At the time, Rauner signaled he wanted the board to install Vallas as the chairman.

But the board already had impaneled its newest officers, putting the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. in charge and Horace Smith as vice chair. In the first meeting with the new board in March, the group chose Vallas as its secretary.

Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few weeks, saying they weren’t moving fast enough to initiate the kinds of ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis then helped orchestrate a plan that would put Vallas at the head of the administration in some sort of crisis management role.

The move struck a nerve and divided opinions. Chicago State’s faculty union and even former Senate President Emil Jones publicly backed Vallas, while several Chicago and Cook County politicians supported Lucy and blasted Rauner for attempting to put a white man in charge of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

Board members, pushing back against the appearance that Rauner was pulling the strings, opted for a different course. After nearly six hours of closed-session discussions March 27, trustees announced they would pick a new interim president and hire someone for a new position of chief administrative officer in April. Lucy would step down and return to his old job as finance chief.

Vallas was not promised either position at the time and trustees demanded he resign from the board to be considered for either job. Vallas did quit the board in advance of the April 7 meeting, where trustees tapped him and Lindsey for the open posts.

Lindsey began teaching educational psychology and child development at Chicago State in 1976, according to her university bio. She served as the arts and sciences dean for almost 20 years before retiring in 2011. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan and her masters and doctorate in educational psychology from University of Chicago, according to her bio.

Despite the topsy turvy path, several vocal critics of university leaders said they were pleased to have Lindsey in charge.

“I think she’s really level-headed and she’ll do very well,” faculty union president Robert Bionaz said. “I think she knows the university really well. She understands academics. She’s gotten tenure. You’ve actually done the job, you’ve gone up through the ranks. I think the qualifications are there.”

Board members have said they plan to hire a search firm to do a nationwide recruitment for a permanent president, something likely to take several months. Gowen and Harper will lead that committee.

Trustees will inform Lindsey by March 16, 2018 if they want to extend her contract.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

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April 21, 2017 at 02:06AM

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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Chicago State University‘s new interim president started work this week, the third leadership shift for the Far South Side university in 18 months.

Rachel W. Lindsey, a longtime former dean of Chicago State’s College of Arts and Sciences, took over the presidency Monday, about a week after the board approved her hiring. Her contract, obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, promises a $240,000 salary and stipulates she will serve as interim president at least until April 16, 2018.

Lindsey’s contract requires that she provide trustees with a list of goals within three weeks, detailing her plans and recommendations for academic programs, university finances, strategic planning and community relations. She will receive a performance review every six months, evaluating her progress in improving Chicago State’s financial status, graduation rate, enrollment, educational programs, relationships with faculty, fundraising, media relations and public image — with the concession that she may not have time to make gains in all those areas as a temporary leader.

“Your appointment comes at a critical time in the university’s history, and the board is confident that you will make an important contribution to the future development and success of the university,” the contract states.

Lindsey and her assistant did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Lindsey’s salary would seem to indicate the cash-strapped school will shoulder considerably more in administrative costs to pay her and ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas as the Far South Side university attempts a comprehensive leadership shift.

Vallas, who was appointed to the Chicago State board in January, was tapped for a newly created position as the university’s chief administrative officer. When he will begin work remains unclear. A spokesman said Vallas is eager to get going but contract negotiations were ongoing.

“The board has issued what appears to be a final draft of the contract so we’re all hopeful he can start soon,” spokesman Sam Hamer said Thursday.

The former interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, will return to his previous position as interim vice president of finance and administration. It is not known what his salary will be, but documents show he was making $140,000 as finance chief before moving to the $260,000 interim president post.

Lindsey’s move into the top administrative seat came at the heels of months of tumult and politicized wrangling over the direction of the 150-year-old school.

Thomas J. Calhoun was hired in late 2015 amid much fanfare to replace Wayne Watson, whose six-year tenure was riddled with controversy. Calhoun took over in January 2016, with a five-year contract paying him $300,000 a year.

But he unexpectedly resigned in September after nine months, taking a $600,000 severance. His departure proved controversial, as he was well liked among students and faculty who accused other school leaders of undermining Calhoun’s authority. Many of his supporters routinely have appealed the board to reinstate Calhoun.

Lucy immediately was appointed interim president.

The leadership shuffle began anew early this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner brought in four new board members — Vallas, Nicholas Gowen, Tiffany Harper and Kam Buckner — and created an eight-member advisory group in January. Rauner said he expected the group to spark a dramatic reversal for a university struggling with strained finances, falling enrollment, failing infrastructure and sluggish academic performance. At the time, Rauner signaled he wanted the board to install Vallas as the chairman.

But the board already had impaneled its newest officers, putting the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. in charge and Horace Smith as vice chair. In the first meeting with the new board in March, the group chose Vallas as its secretary.

Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few weeks, saying they weren’t moving fast enough to initiate the kinds of ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis then helped orchestrate a plan that would put Vallas at the head of the administration in some sort of crisis management role.

The move struck a nerve and divided opinions. Chicago State’s faculty union and even former Senate President Emil Jones publicly backed Vallas, while several Chicago and Cook County politicians supported Lucy and blasted Rauner for attempting to put a white man in charge of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

Board members, pushing back against the appearance that Rauner was pulling the strings, opted for a different course. After nearly six hours of closed-session discussions March 27, trustees announced they would pick a new interim president and hire someone for a new position of chief administrative officer in April. Lucy would step down and return to his old job as finance chief.

Vallas was not promised either position at the time and trustees demanded he resign from the board to be considered for either job. Vallas did quit the board in advance of the April 7 meeting, where trustees tapped him and Lindsey for the open posts.

Lindsey began teaching educational psychology and child development at Chicago State in 1976, according to her university bio. She served as the arts and sciences dean for almost 20 years before retiring in 2011. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan and her masters and doctorate in educational psychology from University of Chicago, according to her bio.

Despite the topsy turvy path, several vocal critics of university leaders said they were pleased to have Lindsey in charge.

“I think she’s really level-headed and she’ll do very well,” faculty union president Robert Bionaz said. “I think she knows the university really well. She understands academics. She’s gotten tenure. You’ve actually done the job, you’ve gone up through the ranks. I think the qualifications are there.”

Board members have said they plan to hire a search firm to do a nationwide recruitment for a permanent president, something likely to take several months. Gowen and Harper will lead that committee.

Trustees will inform Lindsey by March 16, 2018 if they want to extend her contract.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

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April 21, 2017 at 02:06AM

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

S&P Downgrades University Credit Ratings

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Just days after Moody’s warned of a potential credit downgrade for Illinois’ public universities, Standard & Poor’s took action to lower the credit of a couple – and placed three on a negative watch list.

Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois saw credit downgrades. Illinois State University joins them on the watch list with a negative outlook.

SIU President Randy Dunn says it’s not surprising – he says the way back has to include an end to the state budget impasse, along with other reforms.
 
“Getting state support coming back to us, in a predictable fashion, and adjusting to that – and becoming even more sustainable, and then also, continuing to tackle the enrollment problem we have at Carbondale.”

Dunn says the three-notch slip in ratings from “BB” to “BBB” is a direct result of the state’s budget impasse – and could affect efforts the university is hoping to use to attract new students.
 
“We’re looking at a public-private partnership, for instance, for construction of new student housing to replace The Towers over on the east side of the SIUC campus. This could make that deal tougher to do.”
 
Dunn says bonding and other borrowing will cost more as a result of the downgrade – but he points out the university was not planning to do that for a couple of years.

S&P says it dropped SIU’s rating because of the risk to its cash flow because of the state’s nearly two-year long budget impasse. Illinois State University and the University of Illinois also received downgrades or were placed in a watch category with a negative outlook.

 

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April 20, 2017 at 09:57AM

S&P Downgrades University Credit Ratings

Letter-writer, EIU professor has questions for Rauner

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MONTICELLO — After 30 years in a profession about which she is passionate, Parley Ann Boswell is counting the days until her May 31 retirement.

Unlike many in her shoes, however, the 63-year-old Monticello woman is not gleeful. She felt she had to leave her position as an English professor at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston because of the broken financial condition that Illinois is in.

She made her break in a “Dear John” letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner about a month ago that’s been published in at least three newspapers, including The News-Gazette on March 12.

“I’m breaking up with you. Because ours has been a committed relationship, you deserve to know why I’m breaking up with you,” began the open letter.

In it, she spelled out her three main reasons: a lack of mutual respect, a lack of communication and a difference in values.

The daughter of a state circuit judge, Boswell articulated plainly how she felt disrespected and alarmed when the governor called state workers “overpaid” and said “there’s a bunch of baloney going on.”

She wrote that she didn’t understand what he means by his oft-repeated phrases such as “structural reforms,” “layers of bureaucracy,” “collectivist economy” and “opportunity zones.”

“Because I’m a scholar, I’m too little and I don’t have any power, but I know how to study and began to study other governors who talk like he does,” she said.

What she realized was that she had more questions than answers for Rauner.

“What do you mean when you say ‘business-friendly?’ Is my work at a public university ‘business friendly?’ Who are ‘job creators?’ Am I a ‘job creator?'” she wrote.

Jim Thompson was governor when Boswell joined the EIU faculty in 1987. She said what she knows for certain is that previous administrations “did not portray state workers as villains” and “did not blame us when things went wrong.”

“I love my work and I love my students. I’m coming to terms with this. I think I made the right decision,” said Boswell, who is ready to pursue other work.

Although she’s heard nothing from Rauner or his office, Boswell said she’s had “almost all positive feedback” from folks thanking her for saying what they felt.

“I was angry,” she said of the thought process that brought her to publicly challenge the governor in her letter, first published online March 8 on Reboot Illinois.

A year earlier, a number of her junior and senior students had traveled to Springfield to participate in rallies to get legislators’ attention about the painful effects of not having a budget.

When they brought it up in class, “they were very worried and frustrated and angry. They didn’t understand and I certainly didn’t. A couple of them burst into tears and within 10 minutes we were all crying,” she said.

“This is unacceptable for the people who employ me to behave in such a way that this is happening to a public state university,” she said. “It horrified me.”

Worse, she feared that the uncertainty of continued funding for her and hundreds of other EIU employees would start to take a toll on her health.

“I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I couldn’t concentrate on my students. It was just too hard,” said Boswell, who’s grateful to be in a position to retire.

“Last year at Eastern was such a difficult year for us. We’ve had no funding in a year-and-a-half. They laid off 300 employees, some of them instructors,” she said. “We don’t even have garbage pickup in our offices or classrooms. We have communal places in the hall where they pick up every couple of days and the people doing it are working really hard. People are so good-natured about it.”

A prolific publisher of academic articles and books on film and American literature from colonial America through the early 19th century, Boswell said she had never written a letter to the editor before her “Dear Bruce” missive.

“My friends are all stunned because I love a low profile. I don’t want people to know what I’m thinking. But it was almost like auto-pilot,” she said of her cathartic letter. “I thought about it for months. I had written it in my head.”

Boswell said she fantasizes about sitting down over a sandwich with Rauner in her office in Coleman Hall.

“I will be happy to provide lunch, no baloney,” she wrote.

“I want to ask him questions about his approach, his strategies for being governor and the ideas behind what he said,” she said, adding, “I am a doctor of language. If I don’t understand, who does?”

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April 17, 2017 at 12:11AM

Letter-writer, EIU professor has questions for Rauner

College presidents ask for ‘stability, predictability’

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SPRINGFIELD — As much as universities would like more money from the state, at this point what they want most is just to see a budget, the presidents of Illinois State and Eastern Illinois universities said in testimony before a House committee Thursday.

“The most important thing a budget represents is stability and predictability,” ISU President Larry Dietz told the House Appropriations–Higher Education Committee.

Likewise, EIU President David Glassman said, “Stability and predictability is our greatest need at this time.”

The state has not has a full-year budget since fiscal 2015.

Dietz testified that ISU has been fortunate to have high enrollment, which — combined with “responsible planning and conservative fiscal management” — has enabled it to retain the confidence of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Still, the impact has been profound,” he said, noting that more than 120 non-faculty jobs have been eliminated or left vacant.

Greg Alt, retiring vice president for finance and planning, said there most likely will be more reductions as the impasse continues. Dietz said there is not a hiring “freeze” in effect, but each time there is an opening, it goes through a review process that ultimately reaches his desk.

ISU has not needed to furlough or lay off employees and Dietz said “as of this day, we don’t plan to do so.”

However, EIU has not been as fortunate.

Glassman said that as the university has protected its academic core, layoffs and furloughs have left nonacademic areas “below a minimum acceptable level” and “individuals who were doing one job are now doing three jobs.”

Although the first set of layoffs were made to adjust to a decline in enrollment, the nearly 200 people laid off or furloughed in March all were related to the budget impasse, he said.

The university’s reserves have dropped from $27 million in June 2015, when Glassman became president, to $3 million today, he told the committee.

Northeastern Illinois University canceled classes for two days this week and plans another day off in May to save money. Neither ISU nor Eastern plans to take such action.

“The bottom line is we are going to be open,” said Dietz.

Glassman said, “EIU will come through this storm stronger, bolder … not because of the impasse, but in spite of it.”

Noting that the state of Illinois had a net loss of 16,000 students last fall who went out of state to college, Dietz said schools could have been helped by a concerted effort to keep at least half of them from leaving — through better funding of the Monetary Award Program, for example.

“Think what 8,000 students would have done for all the schools in the state,” said Dietz.

At an average of about $10,000 a year for tuition and fees, those 16,000 students represent about $160 million in lost revenue, he said.

More important than the money, said Dietz, is “the loss of human capital and intellectual capacity.”

Students recruited by out-of-state schools are often the best and brightest, and once they leave the state for college, they are less likely to return, according to Dietz.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, a member of the committee, expressed a commitment to “getting this impasse resolved.”





Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota



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April 13, 2017 at 09:45AM

College presidents ask for ‘stability, predictability’

Editorial: Work toward free tuition

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Today, more than ever, continuing education beyond high school — either through traditional academic paths or training in specific job skills — stands as the most important step someone can take to help find and keep a good-paying job.

Also today, more than ever, the cost of that post-high school training is moving beyond the reach of many families. Those who can cobble together grants, scholarships and loans often graduate with so much debt they face years of monthly payments.

Lawmakers in New York — and at least one Illinois representative — want to do something about that. New York’s lawmakers decided to do what they could to help their state’s students compete in today’s global marketplace. For families who make up to $100,000 — the cap moves to $125,000 in three years.

Students still would have to pay for room and board, and lawmakers even are investing $8 million toward electronic books to help hold costs down.

Three other states — Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota — now offer free tuition to community colleges, but New York is the first to waive tuition to public four-year schools as well.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, wants Illinois to do the same thing. He knows the proposal doesn’t have a chance this year — Illinois has operated without a state budget for almost two years as bills and unfunded pension debt continue to accrue — but he wants to at least start the conversation.

“Today, college is what high school was — it should always bean option even if you can’t afford it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, according to NBC News.

He’s right. Today’s competition in the marketplace is about brain power, not muscle power. Jobs disappear every day due to automation and more efficient processes. Science, health care, engineering and other technical areas will need the best and brightest brains if the United States expects to continue to compete. No one knows how many great ideas have been lost because someone could not afford college or technical school.

Illinois lawmakers should look at subsidies and tax breaks still being handed out for yesterday’s ideas and think about investing in tomorrow’s success by finding a way to make tuition disappear.








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April 11, 2017 at 12:19AM

Editorial: Work toward free tuition