Daily Egyptian

University announces massive potential program cuts, layoffs due to budget issues

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

The university could be forced to cut nearly $23 million from faculty, staff and programs should the Illinois budget impasse continue until December, according to a university report released Wednesday.

SIU President Randy Dunn unveiled a proposal drawn by budget staffers in response to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suggested cuts to higher education during fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1. There are 180 faculty and staff positions and 300 student employees that could be eliminated if the state does not resolve the higher education funding crisis in the coming months.

“Obviously, we still are working collectively with the other public institutions for a solution that will allow us to avoid implementing these reductions,” Dunn wrote in an email sent to university faculty and staff.

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University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said Dunn’s message is not a concrete plan, rather “an exercise to show the potential damage that could happen if we don’t get state funding.”

“We’re not closing,” Goldsmith said. “We are trying to figure out how to manage through this budget crisis to ensure that we are fulfilling our primary mission, which is education.”

MORE: Here is the report of programs at risk of elimination without fiscal year 2017 budget

The 180 university faculty positions on the chopping block include a mixed bag of 80 vacant administrative, faculty and civil service jobs that make up $5.5 million in spending. As many as 400 classes would be lost as a result and some academic programs could be eliminated.

Losing 100 of the university’s more than 5,000 faculty and staff members would bring overall employment to its lowest point in a decade. 

“It just worries me that measures are being considered that could really change what’s so great about SIU,” said Rachel Stocking, president of the university’s tenure and tenure-track faculty union. “To be in the situation to reinvent the place under a big, huge gun, doesn’t bode well for the way the reinvention is going to happen.”

Stocking noted the deep cuts to research and resources for underrepresented students, saying the proposal could potentially change dramatically how the university looks.

“I hope very much that the administration will work with the unions to deal with this in a way that doesn’t destroy the mission — to figure out how to meet the challenge without ruining people’s lives or ruining what SIU has to give,” Stocking said.

But Peggy Wilkins, president of the university’s non-tenure track faculty union, said she has faith the administration is doing all that can be done under the present circumstances, and “sounding the alarm” would be a premature reaction by university professors.

“We need to be concerned, but I don’t think people need to be so concerned to lose sleep at night,” Wilkins said.

Reorganization of academic structure is also being considered to save slightly more than $1 million. Four separate colleges would merge into two, eliminating dean positions and associated office support. The university did not disclose which colleges are being considered for a merge.

Goldsmith said the proposal has raised concerns from both prospective and current students, but the consolidation of colleges would not necessarily result in the discontinuation of academic programs in whichever colleges are merged.

The university is also bound by its accreditation standards to finish teaching students currently enrolled in any program.

“If we enroll a student in a program, we have to teach you out,” she said.

Under the proposed cuts, about 7 percent of student jobs, including undergraduate and graduate assistantships, would be discontinued to save $3.8 million.

Johnathan Flowers, president of the graduate assistants union on campus, said the implications of the message are disconcerting and hopes student government and union leadership will be involved in a “larger campus discussion.”

“I’m a little bit concerned as to what will happen with the graduate education should some departments merge into other departments and the resources that graduate students use for their research are no longer available,” Flowers said.

The university would also cut a range of non-academic services and research-oriented institutions to balance disinvestment from the state.

State support for the Center for Dewey Studies, Touch of Nature, university press and university museum would be eliminated to save about $1.1 million. All research support would receive an across-the-board cut of almost $900,000.

The university’s law school, the SIU Foundation and SIUC Alumni Association would forgo all state support to save about $5.7 million. System-wide cuts would include $14 million to SIU-Edwardsville and $8.8 million to the School of Medicine.

Public universities and community colleges have received no funds from the state since July 1, 2015. The eight-month stalemate between Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature has caused several public universities to implement contingency plans for continued operations.

Dunn said the cuts would put SIU in a similar position as Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Northeastern University and Western Illinois University.

“If nothing changes on the political front anytime soon — and we don’t plan for reduction actions today to stem our own tide of red ink — SIU will find itself poised on its own fiscal cliff in not that many more months down the line,” Dunn said.

Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 536-3329. 

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