Where’s the outrage?
As budget impasse closes centers on campus and jeopardizes the future of college students, Saluki students seem apathetic
Illinois’ eight-month budget impasse has handicapped programs, under-funded community services and put all public universities in a proverbial chokehold while state legislatures wait to see who will blink first. It’s a game of politics between the governor and Democratic-led Legislature that has nothing to do with people or policy.
As university administrators gasp for air, student financial aid is just one pawn in a chess game no one is winning.
And students at SIU could not be more uninterested.
Aside from a handful of dedicated and vocal students and faculty, some of whom traveled to Springfield to watch Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s fiscal year 2017 budget address, Salukis seem to be collectively shrugging as the university chugs along without the tens of millions of dollars it needs in state aid.
The campus’ students and staff appear defeated. After years of budget cuts and the dissolution of services, the Saluki community seems too depressed to fight back.
However, Holly Hulburt, a history professor, said that is not the case. She is a part of a faculty group organizing a gathering for SIU personnel and community members to voice concerns.
“I am a child of the 20th century. The way I get involved is I hold a sign and I yell and I shake my fist,” Hulburt said. “I think 21st century students do things a little bit differently.”
She said some students care. Instead of missing class to go to the state capitol to protest, a handful of chancellor’s scholars created the #INeedABudgetBecause social media campaign.
#INeedABudgetBecause, which allows students to explain why funding higher ed is so important, is a nice addition, but we can do more. We, the young adults who will deal with these legislators as we look for post-graduation jobs and build families, must do more.
Students at Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University have pounded the pavement demanding action. They showed up to the Illinois Capitol in droves and have been demonstrating up north for weeks.
In Chicago, CSU students marched across Interstate 90/94 to bring awareness to the possibility that their university could close this year without a state budget. In Charleston, the EIU community met this week to talk about what they love about the university. Layoffs have started at Eastern, and the university’s president warns that more could come.
Stephanie Markham, editor-in-chief of EIU’s student newspaper, said students been vocal on campus about getting a state budget passed and expressed support for the school’s president, David Glassman.
Glassman, like SIU President Randy Dunn, will ultimately have to deal with the near-guaranteed higher-education cuts the governor is levying.
“A few weeks ago, our student senate passed a resolution that would work to inform students about the budget crisis,” said Markham, a senior from Chicago. “A good portion of students are doing things to inform people and reach out to the Legislature.”
While these two universities are facing more immediate peril than SIU, we are not fine. Not even close.
As Dunn has stated, because SIU has multiple campuses, our reserve pool is a bit deeper than a non-system university.
But the lack of state money has already began to pare off programs that are essential to a research university — especially one in an impoverished area such as southern Illinois.
Grant-funded research has grinded to a screeching halt, community services have been diminished and graduate assistantships are being cut across campus.
For example, local children with autism have less access to therapy. Their therapists are students and the treatment times serve as learning labs. Research on coal — which is a contributor of the area’s economy — has slowed. SIU’s Small Business Center has not received essential funding and could close this month.
More than 600 businesses have been aided by the center, including ones students love, such as El Greco and Saluki Screen Repair. A service like this has a profound effect on not only the university but Carbondale and the region in general.
There is no other entity that can provide these necessities to people and industries in the area.
These may not sound like important issues to the average 19-year-old on campus. If you spend most of your time and money on campus, you may not be empathetic to these problems. But soon, students will be forced to experience the problems this budget impasse is causing.
Slashed staffs mean bigger class sizes and fewer courses. Reduced maintenance staff means fewer people to clean up messes by other students and a slowed response to on-campus housing issues.
It will take more than our coverage of these pressing issues to get our university the money needed to give us the college experiences we expected when we enrolled. It will take more than picket signs and tweets — but those are a great start.
“If you use all the resources at your disposal — use social media, if you use traditional ways of rallying and protesting, if we keep writing letters and making phone calls to our legislators, if we do all of those things — then I think we stand a chance,” Hulburt said.
We need hundreds, preferably thousands, of young, informed voters to let our state’s leaders know that we cannot accept this purposeful negligence of higher education.
We have the power to elect capable, active leaders who reflect our interests, and right now those are not the people in Springfield. We have the power to let our governor and our legislators know they will not have our vote if this is not resolved — soon.
We have the power, so let’s act like it.