Higher-ed leaders: More state cuts would be devastating

Higher-ed leaders: More state cuts would be devastating

SPRINGFIELD — Leaders of Illinois' public colleges and universities said Tuesday that their institutions can't withstand further budget cuts and painted a picture of a system already badly damaged.

One president said the state's higher-education system is approaching the equivalent of "junk-bond status."

In a two-hour session, the university officials said they had eliminated thousands of positions, instituted furlough days, cut programs and now were assessing whether to undertake extraordinary measures, including eliminating instructional days and perhaps an entire college.

Democrats, who control the state Senate, asked the executives to testify about Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget after the governor last week threw cold water on the so-called "grand bargain" being negotiated by the chambers' Republican and Democratic leaders.

The late change in the committee's schedule, made Monday morning, required the president of Western Illinois University to drive from Sioux Falls, S.D., for the hearing.

Democrats noted a $4.6 billion gap between revenue and spending in the budget proposal Rauner presented last month.

"In plain English," said Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Crest Hill, "we want to know what can you cut and still fulfill your mission."

In most cases, the answer from higher education officials was that there was nothing or very little left to cut.

Illinois State President Larry Dietz said his university could operate "indefinitely," even though it and the other public colleges and universities currently are receiving no state funding.

"But if you finish the question with how long can you go before Illinois public universities are severely, perhaps permanently damaged, I'm afraid the answer is that already happened," he said.

He said Illinois high school students are leaving for colleges and universities in other states, and faculty members are abandoning Illinois as well.

"Higher education search firms and consultants use Illinois as a hunting ground to poach our best and our brightest, and all of this is traceable to our lack of a state budget and the lack of a state vision for public higher education," Dietz said.

Eastern Illinois President David Glassman said that the Charleston-based university had eliminated low-enrollment programs, trimmed 413 positions (24 percent of its employee headcount), mandated last year that all administrative and professional personnel take 18 furlough days, extended vendor payments and undertook internal fund sweeps.

"There is very little more that I can do that hasn't already been instituted in my list of options for achieving significant financial savings," Glassman said. "There is very little more that I have in my tool chest in order to reduce the expenses at EIU to reduce the deficit for the state."

Western Illinois President Jack Thomas said that faculty members at the Macomb campus took a 3.1 percent pay cut after earlier giving up a 1 percent pay increase they had expected.

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen was unable to make the session Tuesday, so Mike Bass, the UI's senior associate vice president for business and finance, stood in.

Bass said the UI has reduced non-instructional staff by about 500 positions and saved about $20 million in reduced utility costs and debt refinancing.

And rather than talk of cuts in Rauner's budget, Bass said the UI could bring more revenue into the state and help its economic development.

"We would work on the economic development side and see what we could do to help (Rauner) and the state — not him himself but all of — be more successful," Bass said. "And we will continue to do the due diligence as we have for the last two or three years to right-size us as best we can without sacrificing where we stand in the rankings of the universities."

Officials at Northeastern Illinois in Chicago said the campus would shut down entirely for spring break and might have to eliminate some instructional days this spring.

Northern Illinois President Douglas Baker thanked senators for working on the stalled grand bargain.

He said NIU "had cut to the bone, and it would be difficult for us to cut any further."

Southern Illinois President Randy Dunn said the university is reviewing whether to eliminate academic departments and possibly an entire college.

"If we have to go there, it will be significant and send a tectonic shock through southern Illinois," 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."

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vcponsardin wrote on March 08, 2017 at 9:03 am

Thank goodness I'm off to a better paying faculty position at a higher quality peer institution at the end of this year.  Should have left years ago.  But now is as good a time as any.  The U of I has one major drawback, besides a terrible state government (both political parties are responsible for killing higher ed in Illinois, by the way), it's located in the middle of nowhere.  Move this campus 90 miles to the north, closer to Chicago, and you'd have a much better environment for attracting top-level faculty.  And then the U of I could really compete more directly with Northwestern, NYU, UC Berkeleky, UCLA, etc.  Instead, it seems the state is determined to reduce its flagship university to the status of a regional teachers college with NCAA basketball & football teams--like the U of Nebraska.  The only way to fight the U of I's awful location is to pay the faculty top salaries across the board to compensate for living in Champaign-Urbana.  Instead, over the years, brain-dead administrators perpetually believed they could get away with morale-destroying 2% annual cost of living raises (if that!) and "competative" salary offers while still keeping good faculty.  Guess what?  You can't!  Buh-bye!

BigTenFan wrote on March 08, 2017 at 10:03 am

vcponsardin,

 

Buh-bye!  Don't let the door hit ya where the almighty split ya.  

 

vcponsardin wrote on March 08, 2017 at 3:03 pm

BigTenFan,

Oh, don't worry.  I won't.  When I leave, I'll be running full sprint with delight.