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Faculty leaders brace for staff reductions as budget impasse nears two years

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

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

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

As Illinois universities face uncertain levels of state funding, some professors have elected to leave for employment elsewhere.

“More and more people are considering [leaving] and it’s definitely a rational thing to do,” said Dave Johnson, president of the Faculty Association. “I don’t think you can blame someone.”

The number of faculty has dropped proportional to enrollment, Johnson said, predicting there will be fewer than 500 faculty come fall. But, he said, there are still many good faculty staying, and though there might be fewer opportunities, students can still get a good education at SIU.

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Enrollment at the campus peaked in fall 1991 when it totaled 24,869. But during the last two decades, SIUC has seen a generally consistent decline in students. In fall 2016, enrollment fell to 15,987, its lowest point since 1965. Overall, there are 15,987 students enrolled, a drop of 1,305 from 2015.

The number of employees at the university has fallen by roughly 14 percent since September 2015, from 3,719 people to 3,138 in January 2017, according to university data. The positions recorded during that time reflect faculty, staff and administrative jobs.

On Monday, the university issued letters to its non-tenure track professors that indicate whether the positions they hold will be refilled in the fall.

Shannon Lindsay, president of the non-tenure track faculty union, said those letters can definitively answer whether a teacher is rehired — with a “yes” or a “no” — or simply give them a “maybe.”

“We had a meeting in April and warned the constituency that these letters were coming,” Lindsay said. “They come every year, but this year we were expecting more noes and maybes because of the budget impasse.”

University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said in an email Tuesday that there was not yet an official count of non-tenure track positions that would be offered in the coming months. The associate provost’s office is still processing the letters, which originate from individual campus units, Goldsmith said.

SIU President Randy Dunn in March announced the Carbondale campus would have to cut $30 million from its operating budget. Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell responded with a message to the campus community, saying $10 million of those cuts would come from unfilled positions and would likely result in layoffs.

The message also indicated that all vacant salary lines would be swept to a central account at the beginning of the fiscal year to allow flexibility with filling positions based on necessity. The chancellor’s office said an estimated 158 vacant positions would remain unfilled in addition to the 293 cut since the beginning of the state budget impasse, now in its 22nd month.

But when tenured professors like Stacey Sloboda leave, there’s no guarantee their jobs will be filled.

An associate professor in the university’s School of Art and Design, Sloboda began her career in academia at SIU 12 years ago. When she arrived, there were eight art historians in her department. Now there are two.

“I don’t blame the university at all — it’s just declining enrollment and declining revenue,” she said of the cuts to her department.

Had it not been for the gridlock in Springfield, Sloboda said it is unlikely she would have looked for another job. But in March, she will move with her husband and their 7-year-old son to take a position at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“Honestly we’re excited … but it’s a huge disruption as well,” she said. “I definitely think that there’s a lot of people like me who wanted to stay here but don’t really feel like it’s a good career move.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the state Legislature, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, have yet to agree on a state spending plan. Public universities in the state have instead been funded by stop-gap budgets that provided a portion of expected funding.

When Rauner announced plans to scale back state spending on higher education, Dunn described the impending cuts as affecting the outer layers of the university. He likened the university system to an onion, with academics at the center.

Sloboda said she stopped hearing that metaphor a year ago. For her, it signaled that the university’s priority of keeping academics intact had changed.

“I don’t know what happened to the onion,” she said.

For Douglas Sanders, an SIU instructor in kinesiology, leaving Carbondale was always the plan once his spouse earned a Ph.D from the university. He recently took a job as a program director of sports management at William Woods University, a private institution of roughly 3,800 students in Fulton, Missouri, and plans to move there after teaching this summer at SIU.

After 14 years at SIU, Sanders said the move is not directly influenced by the budget impasse. But the timing is less than perfect thanks to a tough real estate market in Carbondale, he said.

“Our house may be on the market forever,” he said. “If it would’ve been five years ago, it might have been different. Because of the [university] not hiring people, there’s nobody buying houses.”

Sanders is set to relocate by the fall, but his spouse is considering teaching at SIU while their home is up for sale. However, it’s unclear if that position will be refilled. As non-tenure track professors, the two could be let go from the university within 30 days notice.

That, Sanders said, is where the anxiety sets in — particularly for non-tenure track faculty.

Johnson, president of the Faculty Association, which represents 500 employees on campus, said the union backed the strategy of keeping academics first, but across-the-board cuts are being proposed instead.

“In recent months, I don’t think there’s been a clear message from the administration as to what vision is guiding this campus through these really difficult conditions,” he said.

Johnson, who has worked at the university since 1998, said a sense of passivity has made morale among faculty worse.

“We’ve had an interim chancellor for a year and a half now and I find it difficult to identify any major steps that his administration has taken to put us in a better position to deal with a crisis,” he said.

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at 618-536-3326, [email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

Staff writer Luke Nozicka can be reached at 618-536-3325, [email protected] or on Twitter @lukenozicka.

Editor-in-Chief Anna Spoerre can be reached at 618-536-3397, [email protected] or on Twitter @annaspoerre.

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

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Faculty leaders brace for staff reductions as budget impasse nears two years”

  1. Andrew Bucke on May 3rd, 2017 7:21 am

    So sad. I arrived on campus in 1991, we were wait-listed to get into Evergreen Terrace and were thrilled and lucky to get an apartment. Campus was bustling, the town was lively. I received a truly wonderful education earning a BS and MA from fantastic dedicated professors. I recently visited my old school and saw a new football stadium and admin building and a spruced up library. But I also saw Southern Hills abandoned, heard talk of removing two towers, departments shrinking, “downtown” is clinging to life, tennis is no more and the DE isn’t printed here anymore…. and I learned that my dear school now has 10,000 fewer students than when I showed up in 1991. I sensed a much different vibe and tone on campus. SIU is leaking students—there must be a reason. Now great professors are questioning if SIU is an appropriate “career move.” The needle is in the red and time is drawing short to right the S.S. Saluki. There is much more going on here than simply a “Springfield thing.”

    [Reply]

  2. Joseph Young on May 22nd, 2017 7:07 am

    Times are changing and the Illinois system is at the forefront. The fundamental business model of higher ed must and will change. Colleges need to consider efficiency and value as they go forward. Under-enrolled programs must be shut down, tenure needs to be completely revamped, the administrative bloat needs to be contained. Illinois is the tip of the iceberg.

    [Reply]

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