SIU president prepares for millions of dollars in potential cuts

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SIU President Randy Dunn will soon outline a range of severe cuts the Carbondale campus could be forced to adopt if the state allocates no funding in the foreseeable future.

Dunn said he plans to use the System Connection, the column he emails to faculty and staff, on March 29 to provide the university’s largest campus with a dollar amount it will need to cut if Illinois has no budget by July 1. His announcement will not say what needs to be cut, which is up to campus administration, but rather will lay out a plan for how SIUC can continue to operate without deficit spending.

While he did not know what that amount will be, Dunn said the cuts will be “well into the millions of dollars.”

Dunn said the Carbondale campus would bear the brunt of the next round of cuts, which would be based on a review of the university’s academic and non-instructional units. The School of Medicine and Edwardsville campus would also likely experience more reductions.

Since the state’s budget impasse began in July 2015, the Carbondale campus has reduced $20 million of its approximately $450 million operating budget, Dunn said. That money was saved by making small adjustments, such as reducing positions, not undertaking projects, closing grants and not filling vacancies, the system president said.

But the Carbondale campus can’t keep “undergoing death by a thousand cuts,” Dunn said.

If the university receives no state funding by the end of the legislative session, the Carbondale campus may have to cease operations of administrative units that Dunn said “just won’t be in existence anymore.”

Board involvement

The SIU Board of Trustees might soon intervene with the “pending financial crisis” at the Carbondale campus, Dunn said.

In his upcoming announcement, the president will suggest action for the board to consider regarding Carbondale’s money problems, which Dunn said is contributed to by the budget impasse and the decline in enrollment.

SIU’s Carbondale campus can be seen from above Sept. 17, 2016. (Luke Nozicka | @lukenozicka)

SIUC has had a structural budget deficit for years, Dunn said, because the university has not reduced the amount of state funding it receives to correspond with its drop in enrollment.

In the last decade, the Carbondale campus has seen a nearly steady decline in students, decreasing from 17,430 students in fall 2006 to 15,987 in fall 2016 — the lowest it has been in more than half a century.  Enrollment peaked in fall 1991, when it totaled 24,869, according to university data.

Dunn said the board’s involvement with SIUC’s financial troubles will be discussed during its April 6 meeting in Carbondale.

Potential cuts and possible mergers

After the Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” to solve the impasse was derailed in early March, representatives of the state’s nine universities were asked to testify in front of the Senate’s higher education committee.

During his testimony, Dunn laid out potential cuts to the university’s three campuses if the state does not pass a budget. If the university is forced to make more cuts, he said, it will use information outlined in the non-instructional program review committee report, which was made public earlier this semester, and a prioritization report on the academic units, which is expected to be sent to the chancellor in May.

In the non-instructional report, the committee identified opportunities for shared services, explored outsourcing and reviewed administrative organizational structures for cost-saving opportunities. It suggested identifying an “appropriate and consistent level of support” for the university’s athletics department and cutting state support from 15 centers or initiatives that the committee said could become self-supporting.

Some of these initiatives include the university’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, WSIU Public Broadcasting and Counseling and Psychological Services. Directors of a majority of these centers interviewed by the Daily Egyptian have said the cuts outlined in the report would significantly harm their units, and in some cases would lead to their closure.

WSIU Radio reporter Kevin Boucher, of Murphysboro, reads local and state news headlines Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, during the daily newscast for WSIU in the radio studio of the Communications Building. An SIU alumnus, Boucher said he has been around SIU’s radio department since 1976. “When a student graduates from SIU Carbondale with a bachelor’s in radio-television, they can put on their resume the real-world experience that they have worked with a nationally-recognized NPR station,” Boucher said. “Really these things you cannot learn by sitting in a classroom.” (Morgan Timms | @morgan_timms)

In his most recent column, Dunn said SIU is back where it was at this time last year when the university considered eliminating 180 faculty and staff members. That proposal would have cut programs and services by nearly $23 million — a measure Dunn described as a “doomsday” list.

In that proposal, officials suggested merging four academic colleges into two, Dunn said. Members of the recent non-instructional program review committee also discussed the possibility of reducing the number of colleges, including the graduate school and the university college.

The committee also recommended combining the admissions processes for undergraduate, graduate and international students.

Dunn has said if SIU is forced into another round of cuts, it will gouge the core of its programs, services, facilities and regional support projects. He said the university faced the same possibility in spring 2016.

But that year, the Legislature passed two stopgap measures that brought $83 million to the SIU system. Those funds, for the most part, were used to pay the bills from the 2016 fiscal year, Dunn has said.

At the university’s School of Medicine in Springfield, another round of cuts would mean examining its telehealth programs, rural healthcare outreach and possibly services provided at the Simmons Cancer Institute, Dunn said. SIUE would also go through another round of cuts.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, the School of Medicine and SIUE went through a comprehensive review process, Dunn said. From those, the School of Medicine reduced costs by $12.5 million and SIUE reduced its budget by 9 percent.

Dunn said the Carbondale campus got an extra year to identify what needed to be cut from its budget because Brad Colwell began as interim chancellor in October 2015. Because the campus was not in an immediate crisis, Dunn said, it made sense to give Colwell time to get acclimated to his new role before being asked to lead the budget review.

SIUC interim Chancellor Brad Colwell speaks about tuition increases at the SIU Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in the Meridian Ballroom at SIU-Edwardsville. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Since July 2015, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the state Legislature, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, have failed to come to an agreement on a state spending plan. In light of the budget impasse, public universities are considering ways to continue operations with the assumption some funding could be cut permanently.

While the Senate could still pass its deal, Dunn said he is not highly optimistic about it.

“To some degree, we’re throwing darts at a dartboard with a blindfold on because we don’t know what the state’s going to do,” he said.

Holding its own

None of the university’s three campuses is considering closing, Dunn said.

While the budget crisis has caused concern among faculty and staff, the university is still making payroll. Officials are not considering furlough days at this time, Dunn said.

Compared to public universities across Illinois — particularly smaller ones, such as Eastern, Western, Northeastern, Governors State and Chicago State — SIU benefits financially from being part of a university system, Dunn said.

“If they don’t see state funding come soon, it’s going to be a very, very challenging path ahead for those schools,” he said.

However, dealing with the budget impasse consumes a huge amount of time and takes up “all of the organizational oxygen that exists,” Dunn said.

“It’s very difficult to find capacity to work on other important things for the university when we’re in the middle of this mess,” he said.

Staff writer Luke Nozicka can be reached at 618-536-3325, lnozicka@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @lukenozicka.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

The post SIU president prepares for millions of dollars in potential cuts appeared first on Daily Egyptian.

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March 22, 2017 at 04:29AM

SIU president prepares for millions of dollars in potential cuts

Editorial: Higher ed leaders want, need state budget

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When it comes to the ongoing state budget stalemate, just about every group has a story to tell.

Social service agencies, local school districts, businesses that go unpaid for months on end, public employee unions — the list goes on.

Throw higher education onto the pile, too.

It is obvious that higher education, as an institution, is worried.

As was made clear at a recent Herald & Review Editorial Board meeting, it’s not so much that colleges and universities are going to shut their doors. They are not.

Rather, it is their very real inability to plan for the future that has university presidents such as Illinois State University’s Larry Dietz both concerned and deeply frustrated.

As Dietz told the board, “If the impasse continues, at some point a higher education disaster will occur.”

What does that mean? No one can really say — and that’s the issue.

As Dietz and other officials representing the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education — including Illinois Wesleyan University President Eric Jensen, Heartland Community College President Rob Widmer and Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn — all pointed out, the frustration is not having a budget.

Dietz said passage of a budget — even one with huge cuts — “would represent stability. … The worst thing is not knowing.”

Institutions of higher learning, they said, are willing to adjust to the changing financial environment, but they can’t determine that unless they know — year in and year out — the level of state support they’re going to get.

A good example that affects both public and private institutions is the Monetary Award Program (MAP grants), the financial aid that literally allows thousands of students to attend  college.

Lack of a state budget means not knowing how much funding will be available for MAP grants, but none of the presidents is open to the idea of suspending the program to save money.

That, they said, runs counter to one of their core principles — providing a quality education to as many students who want one.  

As Dunn put it, “We’re not going to do that to our students and region … We’re not going to play that card.”

Rather, they want to see Gov. Bruce Rauner — whom they clearly see as part of the problem — and the General Assembly to start seeing higher education as an investment.

They correctly point out that their institutions are economic engines in their own communities, but argue that higher education is not seen that way at the state level despite the fact that they are producing future employees and entrepreneurs that are vital if Illinois is to grow.

Without fair funding, said Widmer, students are not getting a full learning experience — class sizes rise, staffing shortages occur and schools cannot afford proper equipment.

Then there is the “brain drain” issue whereby search firms sweep into Illinois to lure away top faculty and staff with offers of better times in other states.

Higher education leaders are ready to make decisions — in many cases, very tough ones.

But they cannot because no one in Springfield is willing to do the same.

As we have stated many times before, that lack of leadership, that inability or unwillingness to make tough decisions is not only unfair. It is a travesty.

Don’t miss another special section.







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March 19, 2017 at 12:34AM

Editorial: Higher ed leaders want, need state budget

Illinois’ smaller universities toil through state budget standoff

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Illinois’ public university presidents went to Springfield to deliver a message: We are at the end of our rope.

It was political theater, orchestrated by the majority Democratic Senate higher education committee and aimed to embarrass Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner as the state slogs through its 20th month without a budget. But whatever the partisan motives for the hastily-planned March 7 hearing, nearly all university leaders seized the chance to be heard.

“We no longer have any tissue, any additional cuts that we can cut,” Chicago State University interim President Cecil B. Lucy said. “We are basically down to the bone. We have nothing more to give.”

That message resurfaced again Thursday, as Northeastern Illinois University prepares for a week-long furlough that will shut down campus and keep hundreds of student employees out of work. It’s the Chicago campus’ solution for saving money as there are no plans for any to come from Springfield this academic year.

Standing outside one of the North Side campus buildings, more than 100 students, faculty and staff pleaded for Rauner and legislators to end the stalemate. NEIU will shut down next week, during spring break, as about 1,100 employees take five required furlough days.

“Forcing professors to not work is essentially telling us students that we are not important, that we do not deserve to learn,” said senior Katharina Lassaco, 27. “Every day where a teacher is forced to not work is a day that we lose. This time is so valuable and every minute that is wasted is a minute that we will not get back.”

With no end in sight, Illinois’ unprecedented budget impasse has cut off critical state funding to the state’s public colleges and universities, which received only infrequent and unpredictable funding last year and no money this year as Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature have been unable to agree on a fiscal plan for the state.

At universities across the state, hundreds of employees have been laid off, dozens of academic and athletic programs cut, weeks worth of pay erased through furloughs, maintenance projects halted, vendor payments delayed, and reserves emptied.

And the hardships are growing, particularly at the state’s smaller regional universities that have long served as affordable, four-year options, attracting minorities, low-income students and those who are first in their families to attend college.

“That’s my big concern—that as we go into this next phase of the crisis, with no budget in sight, SIU and many other universities are going to be forced to dismantle and remove units of university operations,” said Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University with campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville. “If we don’t find a way forward, we have a lot of universities getting ready to walk off the cliff.”

Most Illinois regional colleges started as teaching training institutions, known as normal schools, between 1867 and 1895. Many became part of the state university system in the mid- to late 20th century, transforming into sprawling campuses with thousands of students, dozens of degrees and multiple colleges.

Illinois’ other regional universities include Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Western Illinois University in Macomb, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and Governors State University in University Park.

About 25 percent of students enrolled in Illinois universities attended public institutions in 2015, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Of that, about 48 percent chose one of the regional institutions.

“We are providing an entrance ramp to the middle class for those students who wouldn’t go to college at all,” said Elaine Maimon, president of Governors State University. “The regional universities are expanding the number of people who are going to college.”

But the past two years have been a grind financially.

NIU, for example, received about $26.4 million to cover a year of operations, compared to more than $91 million in 2015, the most recent year of full state funding. The university has cut 50 academic programs, President Doug Baker said at last week’s Senate hearing.

At Eastern Illinois University, nearly 200 employees were laid off last year and the number of furlough days required for other workers added up to nearly a one-month salary cut, President David Glassman told senators.

Nearly 300 jobs were cut at SIU’s campus in Carbondale, and dozens more in Edwardsville and at the medical school, Dunn said.

Western Illinois University laid off and furloughed hundreds of workers, and cut academic and athletic programs, President Jack Thomas said.

Without state support soon, university leaders say they may need to make more drastic cuts. Governors State would look at eliminating one of its five colleges, Maimon said. At SIU, tens of millions of dollars in staffing and programs would potentially have to be eliminated, Dunn said.

“There’s a whole bunch of incredible research opportunities for undergraduate students that draw a lot of students here,” said SIU student body president Jared Stern, a senior from Vernon Hills who is studying aviation. “If you start removing them, it degrades the integrity of the university and what it stands for.”

As state support has declined, enrollment also has suffered.

Total enrollment dropped between four and 13 percent at most schools this fall, and freshmen classes shrank by as much as 25 percent compared to the prior year. At Chicago State, which has lost more than half its enrollment in the past six years, there were only 86 first-time, full-time freshmen this fall, down from 200 the year prior.

“The confidence in public higher education has been shaken,” NEIU interim President Richard Helldobler said. “It takes a while to get that confidence back when your public institutions, which are there for the public good, have foundational harm with the taxpayers.”

The slumping enrollment comes as the number of high school graduates is declining and there is more competition for them.

Illinois is projected to graduate nearly 30,000 fewer high schoolers annually by 2032, a loss of almost 19 percent, according to a December study from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

At the same time, more local students are shunning Illinois schools. About 45 percent of high school graduates left Illinois to attend college in 2015 – or just over 18,000 students, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. That compares to 29 percent who left Illinois for collegein 2002.

And the regional universities will now face increasing competition from the flagship University of Illinois, which plans to boost student enrollment 15 percent over the next five years. To do so, U. of I. plans to recruit more downstate – which could draw students away from some of the regional university campuses.

While the budget woes have affected U. of I. and Illinois State University, the larger institutions can rely more on private giving and other sources of revenue. The U. of I. saw its highest-ever enrollment last fall while Illinois State drew its largest freshman class in three decades.

“Large research universities continue to be the only post-secondary institutions in the Midwest who are reporting enrollment increases, while small, private colleges, two-year community colleges, and comprehensive regional universities struggle to maintain enrollments,” Western Illinois University administrators wrote in a recent report.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

@rhodes_dawn

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March 16, 2017 at 06:45AM

Illinois’ smaller universities toil through state budget standoff

Illinois higher education is on path to permanent damage

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Each day without a budget in Illinois, our college communities move a bit closer toward permanent damage.

Last week, the Senate’s Higher Education Committee heard from top public university officials about how their institutions are doing 21 months into a budget standoff.

Nine universities have dealt with two years’ worth of 34 percent cuts. Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn told senators his institution cannot survive until the 2018 election “short of hollowing out” core programs, particularly at its Carbondale campus, according to the Daily Egyptian. The southern Illinois region already has been suffering as mining and manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz told committee members public universities in Illinois already have been “severely, perhaps irreparably damaged.”

OPINION


Governors State University officials just said they plan to cut 22 programs and increase tuition 15 percent after already cutting 35 degrees and certificate programs in the past two years, noted Moody’s Investors Service.

Northeastern Illinois University announced its campus would be closed over spring break and 300 student jobs would be cut, the Chicago Tribune reported, before announcing they would be brought back after those students and another 800 employees take five furlough days.

Adding official injury to 21 months of insult, Moody’s issued a report on Illinois universities and community colleges. “Illinois will fare worse than its regional and national peers with decreasing numbers of high school students over the next 15 years. … Illinois is already a net exporter of high school graduates with net out migration of nearly 17,000 students in fall 2014, the second highest of any state in the country,” a release said.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat who is vice chair of the higher education committee, saw it firsthand last year when his own daughter was deciding where to go to school. She’s pursuing nursing at ISU, he said in an interview, but many of her friends went out of state.

“You can enroll in any one of these state schools,” he said, “but the problem is the major you choose may not be offered in your junior or senior year, or an entire college could be gone.”

Thirty or forty years ago, fewer students left the state for college because in-state schools gave homegrown kids a tuition break. That gap is gone, Cunningham said.

Sen. Tom Rooney is a Rolling Meadows Republican freshman who has taught at West Leyden High School for 21 years. He said he is more concerned about the students from Ohio and Indiana who would have chosen the University of Illinois’ engineering school or ISU’s teaching program but won’t now after hearing about Illinois gridlock.

“When numbers start to drop,” he told me, “that feeds itself. These reputational things tend to grow.” The word spreads to faculty, making it harder to attract good professors. Then college town landlords have trouble renting and the corner pizza joint shuts down. Before we know it, entire communities created by the local college are withering.

We are choking the oxygen from our state’s future.

One possible solution sponsored by Cunningham is Senate Bill 222, pursued by the University of Illinois, which would create a compact between the university and the state. In return for a guaranteed level of state funding for several years, the university agrees to meet set goals for graduation rates, acceptance of in-state students, keeping tuition at or lower than the consumer price index, minority enrollment rates and more. Cunningham believes that’s an approach other colleges might want to pursue. He agrees with Gov. Bruce Rauner that Illinois’ universities could stand to cut some procurement, lobbying and other staff.

Rauner talks more often publicly about K-12 education, but was asked Friday about the college crisis on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s “Ask the Governor” program.

“I do believe there is an important role for state government to support a good state university system. I do support that,” Rauner said, adding he believes colleges suffer from bloat, “unfunded pensions, hugely expensive pensions, very expensive work rules and restrictions and labor structure. … Our money is not getting into the classroom with the students and the teachers.”

In fact, while some university pensions for administrators might be generous, the current average university pension is $51,115.

Decades ago, Cunningham noted, colleges had regional governing boards so that not every school needed its own purchasing and lobbying staff. It might be time to return to that model.

First and foremost, Rauner and Democrats need to breathe fresh oxygen into passing a budget.

“I hesitate to use the word permanent,” Cunningham said, “but I think we’re very close to causing permanent damage to a number of our public universities. There’s a real reputational damage being done to our universities and that takes years to fix.”

Lawmakers reconvene Tuesday. Here’s hoping they find a way to revive our colleges, and our future.

Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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March 13, 2017 at 10:03AM

Illinois higher education is on path to permanent damage

Illinois higher education is on path to permanent damage

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Each day without a budget in Illinois, our college communities move a bit closer toward permanent damage.

Last week, the Senate’s Higher Education Committee heard from top public university officials about how their institutions are doing 21 months into a budget standoff.

Nine universities have dealt with two years’ worth of 34 percent cuts. Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn told senators his institution cannot survive until the 2018 election “short of hollowing out” core programs, particularly at its Carbondale campus, according to the Daily Egyptian. The southern Illinois region already has been suffering as mining and manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz told committee members public universities in Illinois already have been “severely, perhaps irreparably damaged.”

OPINION


Governors State University officials just said they plan to cut 22 programs and increase tuition 15 percent after already cutting 35 degrees and certificate programs in the past two years, noted Moody’s Investors Service.

Northeastern Illinois University announced its campus would be closed over spring break and 300 student jobs would be cut, the Chicago Tribune reported, before announcing they would be brought back after those students and another 800 employees take five furlough days.

Adding official injury to 21 months of insult, Moody’s issued a report on Illinois universities and community colleges. “Illinois will fare worse than its regional and national peers with decreasing numbers of high school students over the next 15 years. … Illinois is already a net exporter of high school graduates with net out migration of nearly 17,000 students in fall 2014, the second highest of any state in the country,” a release said.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat who is vice chair of the higher education committee, saw it firsthand last year when his own daughter was deciding where to go to school. She’s pursuing nursing at ISU, he said in an interview, but many of her friends went out of state.

“You can enroll in any one of these state schools,” he said, “but the problem is the major you choose may not be offered in your junior or senior year, or an entire college could be gone.”

Thirty or forty years ago, fewer students left the state for college because in-state schools gave homegrown kids a tuition break. That gap is gone, Cunningham said.

Sen. Tom Rooney is a Rolling Meadows Republican freshman who has taught at West Leyden High School for 21 years. He said he is more concerned about the students from Ohio and Indiana who would have chosen the University of Illinois’ engineering school or ISU’s teaching program but won’t now after hearing about Illinois gridlock.

“When numbers start to drop,” he told me, “that feeds itself. These reputational things tend to grow.” The word spreads to faculty, making it harder to attract good professors. Then college town landlords have trouble renting and the corner pizza joint shuts down. Before we know it, entire communities created by the local college are withering.

We are choking the oxygen from our state’s future.

One possible solution sponsored by Cunningham is Senate Bill 222, pursued by the University of Illinois, which would create a compact between the university and the state. In return for a guaranteed level of state funding for several years, the university agrees to meet set goals for graduation rates, acceptance of in-state students, keeping tuition at or lower than the consumer price index, minority enrollment rates and more. Cunningham believes that’s an approach other colleges might want to pursue. He agrees with Gov. Bruce Rauner that Illinois’ universities could stand to cut some procurement, lobbying and other staff.

Rauner talks more often publicly about K-12 education, but was asked Friday about the college crisis on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s “Ask the Governor” program.

“I do believe there is an important role for state government to support a good state university system. I do support that,” Rauner said, adding he believes colleges suffer from bloat, “unfunded pensions, hugely expensive pensions, very expensive work rules and restrictions and labor structure. … Our money is not getting into the classroom with the students and the teachers.”

In fact, while some university pensions for administrators might be generous, the current average university pension is $51,115.

Decades ago, Cunningham noted, colleges had regional governing boards so that not every school needed its own purchasing and lobbying staff. It might be time to return to that model.

First and foremost, Rauner and Democrats need to breathe fresh oxygen into passing a budget.

“I hesitate to use the word permanent,” Cunningham said, “but I think we’re very close to causing permanent damage to a number of our public universities. There’s a real reputational damage being done to our universities and that takes years to fix.”

Lawmakers reconvene Tuesday. Here’s hoping they find a way to revive our colleges, and our future.

Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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March 13, 2017 at 10:03AM

Illinois higher education is on path to permanent damage

Tom Kacich: Public universities remain in dire straits

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The presidents of Illinois’ public universities last week gave an ominous assessment of the state’s high education system and how badly damaged it’s been by not only the ongoing budget impasse but by years of neglect.

And the future doesn’t look much better.

Most of the university presidents addressed a state Senate committee last week and recounted unprecedented steps they’ve made in recent months to economize: layoffs, furloughs, cutting programs and majors, internal fund sweeps, delaying payments to vendors and more.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz called the situation “the worst financial crisis in the history of higher education in the state of Illinois.”

Dietz, whose institution is in better financial shape than any outside the University of Illinois, said that the state’s university’s have been “severely, perhaps permanently damaged” by the two-year-long budget standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislators.

He said students and their families have lost confidence in Illinois and have left the state “for other educational opportunities” and that universities see “their best faculty” and staff “abandon Illinois for more stable and predictable opportunities.”

And Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said entire academic departments are at risk.

“Not must majors, minors and concentrations — something we’ve been doing and I would guess most campuses have done — but saying that we’re going to close down major departments, potentially a college at the Carbondale campus. Stopping wholesale units of operation that our area depends upon,” he said. “If you get away from the fiscal analysis, we have a public university system here in Illinois that in the higher education marketplace is just about to go to junk bond status.”

It’s not just the university presidents who are offering dire assessments.

“Material programming reductions and staffing cuts, while necessary to keep the state’s public universities operations in the short-term, will further impair the universities’ abilities to sustain their strategic competitiveness and attract students for the upcoming fall 2017 class,” said a report by Moody’s Investors Services last week. “While universities can pull a number of operational levers including academic program elimination, mandatory employee furloughs and reductions in force, these actions will further weaken the universities’ strategic positions.”

Coincidentally, the Moody’s report was released a day before Gov. Bruce Rauner did a call-in radio show on WBEZ in Chicago and showed little sympathy for the plight of the universities.

“We need to get a balanced budget now so that we can have the resources to put into our university system, as well as to many of our social services,” Rauner said. “Our university system has not been supported for years and years. It’s one of the reasons that we have some of the highest in-state tuition of any state in American for our resident students.”

He launched into a familiar homily about higher education’s “very bloated administration and bureaucracy” and how “the money is not getting into the classroom for the students and the teachers. It’s being consumed by layers and layers of bureaucracy.”

There was no recognition by Rauner of the cuts already made — 24 percent of the employee headcount at Eastern Illinois University, according to President David Glassman — or Moody’s assessment that the university’s have been placed at a competitive disadvantage.

That disadvantage comes at a critical time, Moody’s said, because “Illinois universities and community colleges remain exposed to demographic challenges that will suppress long-term demand for higher education in the state.”

Already a net exporters of high school students to universities and colleges in other state, Illinois institutions will be fighting over a shrinking pool of in-state graduates.

The recent peak of 154,138 high school graduates in the 2011-12 academic year will drop to a projected 124,559 by 2031-32, according to a report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. That’s a 14 percent drop, significantly more than other states either nationally or regionally.

Most Illinois universities are in a weakened position to compete aggressively for students from other states and countries.

Gill announcement

Bloomington Democrat David Gill said there was no particular reason he announced for the 13th Congressional District seat last Tuesday, a day after House Republicans unveiled their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it coincided well, but there was no particular reason,” said Gill, who hopes to defeat Republican Rodney Davis, just as he did in 2012. “We had reached a point where all of the infrastructure that needed to be in place was completed. So we decided to move forward.”

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-azette.com.

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March 12, 2017 at 12:07AM

Tom Kacich: Public universities remain in dire straits

John Charles: The voice of the SIU system

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As the budget impasse continues to weigh on the shoulders of University administrators, faculty, staff and students, the first step to expressing the worries of the Southern Illinois University System to local and state legislators includes choosing the right person to serve as the System’s voice.  

On this week’s episode of Segue, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s premier radio show discussing the lives and work of the SIUE community, Chancellor Randy Pembrook sits down with John Charles, executive director of government and public affairs. They will discuss Charles’ career in politics, what his role in the System entails, along with how he brings the University’s concerns to local and state legislators. 

Since his appointment by the SIU Board of Trustees in 2013, Charles has managed both state and federal government affairs for the University. He coordinates governmental activities and outreach among administration, faculty, staff and students and all elected officials in government agencies, and serves as the spokesperson for SIU President Randy Dunn and the board. Among his other responsibilities, he also coordinates public and media outreach through traditional and social media. 

“I find it quite interesting that your career in politics prior to joining SIU has given you the insights into what is going on with these legislators,” Pembrook says. “You’re the person that can help provide clarity as they think through whether or not they agree with a particular bill.” 

“One of the things that I have learned from the beginning of my career is that there are so many things that go on at a state level that SIUE is involved in or impacted by,” Charles says. “The ability to have such a broad array of topics to work on with legislators is very interesting, and I enjoy being able to inform them about the great things SIU accomplishes.”

As many know, the legislative process begins with over 3,500 bills being introduced by representatives from across the state. Along with his team at the SIU System, it is Charles’ job to review each and every proposed bill, monitor its changes along the process, and explore exactly how it will affect their institutions if and when it becomes law. 

From here, the team works closely with Dunn to communicate not only these activities with legislators, but with each of the system’s 10 universities, schools and centers.  

“We have a great working relationship and have many calls throughout the day, in the evenings and even on weekends,” Charles says of his relationship with Dunn. “I have enjoyed working with him and the collaborative environment that he has created for us to work in.” 

The state’s financial crisis has caused quite a bit of tension in not only those working for the SIU System, but also in the students who attend the universities. Charles has made it one of his key goals to bridge the gap between state legislators and the system’s students to create a flow of communication where their voices can be heard. With SIU Lobby Day, an event coordinated with Charles and Dunn, students from around the system head to the state capitol in Springfield to speak with local and other state legislators about their worries regarding the budget impasse and other important issues.

“The SIU Lobby Day has been successful, but one of the challenges you may experience, like any other experience at the capitol, is that a legislator’s time is quite limited,” Charles says. “Fortunately for me, I have been able to get our students to meet with key legislators. Our local delegation is always great to make time for our students and staff when we visit.

“We appreciate the working relationship we have with them.” 

Communicating the SIU System’s needs to legislators from outside districts can pose a difficult challenge. By showing these lawmakers the number of students that have attended its universities and the alumni who live in their communities, it is apparent that SIU has an impact in every district in the state. 

“I think of higher education as an investment,” Pembrook says. “As a system, you are not asking the legislators for money, you are trying to create a situation where the population can be educated. It is incredibly important to remind people of the role that the SIU System plays in a society.” 

As society shifts and evolves, the need for well-educated, driven young people wishing to make a difference in their communities is at an all-time high. Charles urges young people looking to begin careers in government to look into the Illinois Legislative Staff Internship Program, the same program where he got his start. 

“Service in government is an honorable profession,” he says. “You can do a lot of good, not just for the people from where you live or where you are working, but for the whole state of Illinois. It is fun, exciting and will challenge you each and every day.” 

With the decline in state support to SIU System in recent years, it seems that this dire financial situation has become the “new normal,” per Charles. 

“It is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep,” Charles admits. “There are so many legislators in Springfield who are deeply concerned and want to see this budget impasse go away. We are working every day to give these legislators the information and tools to make that happen.” 

Tune in to Segue at 9 a.m. this Sunday to WSIU 88.7 FM The Sound to hear the entire conversation between Chancellor Pembrook and John Charles.  

 

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March 10, 2017 at 02:54AM

John Charles: The voice of the SIU system