Daily Egyptian

University officials urge legislators to fund higher education

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

Members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and public university presidents from across the state convened in Springfield on Thursday, pleading with legislators to find a way to fund higher education.

Public universities and community colleges have received no state money since the eight-month stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly halted cash flow last July.

SIU President Randy Dunn presented a $40 million “doomsday” cut list of faculty, staff and programs to the Illinois Senate appropriations committee detailing the potential consequences of inaction by the Legislature. SIUC would take the brunt of those cuts — $23 million — while the Edwardsville campus and Springfield-based School of Medicine would take the rest of the hit.

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“We cannot do what we do without a consistent and predictable level of state support as we come from this crisis,” Dunn said.

There are 180 faculty and staff positions and 300 student jobs on the chopping block at SIUC if the state budget impasse continues until December. Eighty of the faculty and staff are vacant positions that would go unfilled and the remaining 100 would be laid off to save about $5.5 million.

The contingency was drafted in response to Rauner’s budget proposal for higher education spending in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, which would drop $100 million of state support to the university system.

Senate Republicans discussed multiple bills for higher education funding that could include pension and procurement reform or giving the governor the special authority to unilaterally cut spending and sweep funds.

Editorial: If SIU jobs are at risk, representatives should be, too

But the procurement reform and pension reforms would not satisfy the immediate cash needs some institutions in the state have, said James Applegate, executive director of the board that oversees Illinois public universities and community colleges

“Not one dime of that money [from pension reform] helps one student get a degree,” Applegate said.

Sitting in on the committee was Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, who said after SIU’s hearing that procurement reform alone cannot solve larger problems facing Illinois universities, and he does not understand how Rauner plans to move the state forward during his term without negotiating a budget.

“The problem is, I don’t think [procurement reform] saves them that much money,” Forby said. “I know things need to be cut, but that doesn’t get to the budget.”

More of this story to come.

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

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