Financial crunch, likely job losses echo earlier troubles for SIU

By Gus Bode

As university officials work to avoid what some have called inevitable layoffs, SIU President Glenn Poshard said the economic crisis echoes one the university has faced before.

The university faced similar circumstances in 2003, he said, when an 8 percent decrease in its budget forced administrators to issue 82 layoff notices to employees. But by bumping employees to other positions or offering laid-off workers other vacant jobs within the university, the university salvaged nearly half of those jobs.

Cathy Lilly, president of the Association of Civil Service Employees at SIUC, called the situation a nightmare.


‘It wasn’t just the 80 or so people that were affected,’ she said. ‘It was bumped people, it was new employees that lost a new job they just took. As far as employees’ mentality, it was very, very difficult.’

But Poshard said the economic climate is exponentially worse than it was in 2003 and avoiding layoffs would be nearly impossible now.

Poshard announced at the SIU Board of Trustees’ Feb. 12 meeting that the state’s unprecedented financial slump would likely force administrators to turn to layoffs to keep the university afloat.

He ordered chancellors from SIUC and SIUE to create a plan that would review all open positions, explore possible furloughs and look into elimination of vacant positions.

Poshard said each plan was to be on his desk by early March, when the university is to make its case in front of the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate.

‘The Legislature and governor have made it clear that they will not accept any pleas for assistance to higher education until we have a plan in place to minimize our own budget necessities,’ he said.

Former Chancellor Walter Wendler, who headed the university during the 2003 layoffs, said administrators found ways to shift people to other jobs that required similar skills. That measure, he said, minimized layoffs.


Similar efforts by the current administration, he said, could help ease the university’s situation.

Wendler said his administration faced equally tough times, although on a much more local level.

‘The economic problems we have now are more widespread,’ he said. ‘(The administration) just needs to exercise care and caution in a very difficult time. There is no easy way to do it.’

Lilly said she would like to work with the university as much as possible to avoid layoffs this year.

It is easier to lay off civil service employees because their contracts require only 30 days of notice before termination, while faculty and other university positions require more notice and paperwork, she said.

‘When it comes to desperate times and it comes to layoffs, we are the people they go to,’ she said.

Lilly said the university has already eliminated more than 200 civil service positions in the last five to seven years. She said any more reductions would be critical to the university’s day-to-day operations.

‘We have already picked up the slack,’ Lilly said. ‘People in the other three unions and other departments that are out there in the trenches with us see how much we do and how much depends on us.

‘If we are stretched any thinner, we just wouldn’t get things done.’

But some are optimistic that Poshard can operate around a tricky budget.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Larry Dietz said the university has made adjustments in the past to account for a lack of funding, and it will continue to do the same in these tough times.

Because Poshard, a former politician, knows the ins and outs of the legislative process, Dietz said there was more reason to hope the university could avoid layoffs.

‘They sky is not going to fall,’ he said. ‘We’ve been around since 1869 and we are going to be around in 2069. The institution will be alive and well.’