Daily Egyptian

Colwell asks vice chancellors to make 12% reduction plan, says ‘we are in uncharted territory’

By Luke Nozicka, @lukenozicka

Interim Chancellor William Bradley Colwell is asking the campus’ vice chancellors to create a 12 percent “what if” reduction plan for fiscal year 2017, the most recent sign of financial uncertainty for Illinois’ higher education institutions during the state’s longest budget impasse to date. 

This is just one of at least six ways Colwell thinks the campus can preserve money in these “difficult times.” In an email to employees on Tuesday, he said the university will review incomplete, active and already approved hiring searches, freeze all state-funded travel unless it is funded by external grants and ask vice chancellors to review expenses of more than $5,000.   

“We are in uncharted territory,” he said. “Be assured that while we are absolutely not at risk of closure, the lack of a state appropriation is placing significant pressure on our budget.”

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For more than eight months, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature have been unable to negotiate a state budget, leaving universities and colleges without funding since July 1. Hundreds of employees at these institutions have received layoff notices, including all 900 people who work at Chicago State University. Programs have been cut. Concerned students, mostly at Eastern Illinois, have rallied at the State Capitol. 

“We are all in this together, and we need everyone to do what you can to conserve funds,” Colwell said. “As painful as this process will be, it is an important step that will help us communicate with our legislators and others about the value of higher education and the importance of state support as an investment in the future of Illinois.”

The chancellor’s announcement comes after SIU President Randy Dunn called on administrators last week to draft plans to fill a $100 million hole that would be created by Rauner’s 2016 and 2017 budget proposals. 

MORE: Rauner tries to pin blame on Madigan for university funding crisisSIU provost: Budget impasse ‘will bleed Illinois of its future’

The budget stalemate, which Colwell in his email called a “significant issue and distraction,” has already affected services on campus. Programs, such as the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Illinois Small Business Center, may close in the coming months if the governor and legislature are not able to compromise on finances.

The university has largely avoided layoffs by cutting $13.5 million — 6.4 percent of its budget — by not filling vacant positions. Colwell in his email said the university will make a “one-time sweep,” asking vice chancellors to identify any available money held for vacant positions.

SIU has left more than 100 vacant positions unfilled and fronted the money for about 4,700 students’ MAP grants last fall and this spring.

“I know that there is a great deal of concern across campus about the future, but I remain optimistic that SIU Carbondale will come through these challenges as a strong institution prepared to celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2019,” Colwell said. “We may look somewhat different, but we are here to stay.”

Colwell encouraged community members to ask questions and share ideas concerning the financial crisis with him at [email protected] 

Luke Nozicka can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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