UPDATED: EIU backers plan rally in face of 200 layoffs
CHARLESTON — Upset about the state budget impasse that threatens the future operation of Eastern Illinois University, Kate Klipp invited a group of people to her Charleston home to see what they could do.
"This was all born last Thursday night. I contacted a group of faculty members, community members and students and we formed the whole thing. A Facebook page went up Friday morning and it just took off," said Klipp, an EIU alumnus who said she has friends and family members who work at Eastern although she does not.
The result is an "EIU Support Rally," scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday on the university's library Quad.
"I'm just concerned about everything that is happening to the town as well as all the students at Eastern," Klipp said. "Our students have this inhuman energy that only 20-year-olds can maintain. They're doing a phenomenal job of getting the students mobilized."
The rally will feature some music but mostly students "talking about why EIU is important to them," she said.
"We're calling for a clean, bipartisan appropriations bill" to fund Eastern in the current fiscal year, Klipp said.
EIU, like the rest of public higher education in Illinois, has been operating since July 1 without a state appropriation. Democrats in the Legislature last spring sent Gov. Bruce Rauner an unbalanced state budget — most of which he vetoed — and there has been no action on funding for higher education since.
Catie Witte of Carlinville, a junior at EIU and the executive vice president of the student body, said "if we don't get an appropriation, who knows if we're going to be open in the fall? And being a junior, that's really scary.
"I love Eastern and it scares me that I might not be able to graduate as an EIU Panther."
Witte said she and other students have posted signs around campus and used electronic message boards to spread the word about the rally.
"I think a lot of students that I usually don't see getting involved with this kind of stuff have been posting on social media and expressing their concerns," she said. "I think a lot of students share my concern about the fall (semester). They've been hearing the rumors that we might not open in the fall."
On Jan. 25, EIU President David Glassman, in a letter to the campus community, said that state government "is literally starving its public universities."
And he announced a number of budget-trimming efforts at the university, where 7,876 students are enrolled this spring.
"Beginning immediately, we will implement the actions of halting all non-instructional capital equipment purchases; delaying all deferred maintenance and repairs that are either unrelated to safety and security or already paid for; delaying all non-instructional capital projects; halting all non-instructional supply purchases without vice presidential approval; freezing employee-reimbursed travel with minimal exception such as for required federal or governmental purposes; and freezing all hiring that involves FY16 funding," Glassman said in the letter to the campus.
"If an appropriation continues to be delayed further into the semester, we will need to temporarily and/or permanently lay off hundreds of non-instructional employees and mandate unpaid furlough days to others beginning in March."
Jonathan Blitz, president of the University Professionals of Illinois at Eastern, said that 30-day layoff notices are going out to some 200 civil service employes this week.
"EIU is a very important member of our community. A lot of people are directly dependent and indirectly dependent on the health of EIU to sustain the Coles County and regional counties economy," Blitz said. "And so this is an effort to try to get the community and the university community together to support higher ed funding so that EIU can, frankly, survive."
Without state money, Blitz said, "it's only a matter of time until universities start shutting down. Chicago State is talking about shutting down March 1st and other universities can't be far behind. The only university that can sustain this for any reasonable period of time is UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)."
EIU spokeswoman Liz Edwards said it's unlikely that Glassman would attend Friday's rally, but state Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, who represents EIU in the Illinois House, said he would be there.
"I'm sick of all the partisan stuff in Springfield. It's not what I went up there for," Phillips said. "We could sit here all day and point fingers. We could say to the universities, 'You've been blowing money and your administration is too high.' But for me in my district, if you look at Eastern Illinois University and you look at their numbers, they're the best of all the universities.
"So don't throw them in with the rest of them when they've been trying to live within their means and Glassman has been cutting back. Why punish them? They should be rewarded."