Officials cite huge impact of returning funds

ROCKFORD - UI officials spelled out the exact cost of giving back money to the state this late in the fiscal year.
Administrators spoke at the UI Board of Trustees meeting Thursday about efforts to meet Gov. Rod Blagojevich's call for 8 percent of the operating budget to be held in reserve to help deal with the state's budget deficit. That would be $59 million for the UI.
The university came up with about 4.25 percent, but administrators said they can't come up with any more without seriously hurting the education of students.
?It's not that we're not trying to be helpful or do our part,? said UI President James Stukel. ?It's that taking twice that (4.25 percent) would cause very severe impacts on the students who are enrolled.?
The 4.25 percent would come from cuts in administrative units, using reserve funds for building maintenance, renovations and repair work, and cuts from each campus.
In Urbana, putting half of what Blagojevich called for in reserve would mean cutting half the Freshman Discovery courses, laying off at least 50 operations and maintenance workers, and deferring remodeling and maintenance projects. Those projects include addressing high priority safety issues and critical preventive maintenance, and upgrading labs.
If the UI had to put the full 8 percent in reserve, all 240 Discovery courses would be canceled, along with 75 to 80 General Education sections. About 50 business support office workers across campus would lose their jobs, and about 50 instructors and 200 teaching assistants would be eliminated.
Either way, the UI will have to give up some money it uses for seed grants or matching grants that enable it to receive federal research money. Giving up the matching funds could mean losing up to $20 million in research money and 232 positions, said Chancellor Nancy Cantor.
?It is absolutely critical for us to compete for external funds,? she said of the matching grant money.
The UI is now the leading public university in the nation in terms of the amount of National Science Foundation grant money it receives.
The discussion of the possible cuts turned to tuition when Trustee Ken Schmidt asked how much of a tuition increase it would take to avoid cutting academic programs.
?Enormously high,? replied Chester Gardner, vice president for academic affairs. ?It would be in the 20-plus (percent) range.?
Stukel emphasized the UI was focusing on cutting expenses, not raising tuition, and Schmidt said he asked about tuition simply to give some perspective to the severity of the cuts.
?We have to look at our budgeting and our expenditures,? Stukel said. ?Any discussion of tuition at this point is very, very premature.?

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