Daily Egyptian

Concerned students, faculty members discuss effects of Illinois budget impasse

By Tierra Carpenter, @Tierramc_

About 40 faculty and community members and students met Saturday afternoon as a group they call “Speak for Illinois” to discuss the state’s longest budget impasse to date.

“We all came together out of a common need for a budget,” Johnathan Flowers, president of Graduate Assistants United, said of the meeting in the Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library. “This is something that I believe … the entire Southern Illinois University community should be involved with.”

For more than eight months, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature have been unable to pass a state budget, leaving public universities and colleges without funding since July 1. If the budget impasse continues until December, the university could be forced to cut nearly $23 million from faculty, staff and programs, which SIU President Randy Dunn has said would be like “lopping off chunks of the body.” 

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During the meeting Saturday, attendees expressed concern of the future for higher education in the southern Illinois region. 

Flowers said he teaches at the motorcycle rider program, which uses SIU facilities and is funded through the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“To lose that program for me would be tragic because the cycle rider program was founded to lower the number of motorcycle deaths in Illinois and without that program my assumption is that we’re going to start seeing a lot more related deaths,” he said.

Flowers also said the loss of the Center for Dewey Studies, which is one of the largest repositories of John Dewey’s work in the country, “would be a massive blow to the field of philosophy and to the intellectual traditions of American philosophy here in the United States.”

MORE: 5 programs, services that would drastically change or close without state funding | SIU is to blame for budget woes, Illinois Policy Institute says

Edith Koine, an alumna of John A. Logan and SIU, said her high school son is trying to decide whether to attend John A. Logan or SIU.

“He’s not sure if anyone’s even going to be there to educate him,” Koine said of her son’s thoughts about John A. Logan, which cut more than 50 positions earlier this month. 

She said her son hasn’t been looking at out-of-state universities, but that might not be the same for other students.

“If you have to pay back your [Monetary Award Program] grant, would you be able to afford to stay here?” Koine asked.

During the SIU Board of Trustees executive meeting on Wednesday, Dunn again suggested that the university may ask SIU students who received MAP grants this year to pay the university back.

Jennifer Jeter, one of the faculty members laid off at John A. Logan, said she attended the meeting because she is concerned about the future of higher education for her students and her own 2-year-old child.

“I’m really concerned with if the government keeps going along this budget impasse the way they do, by the time [my son’s] 18, there may not be any higher institutions in this state,” Jeter said. 

Below are some ideas to help combat the budget crisis that came from Saturday’s meeting

  • One idea was to post “I need a budget because…” flyers in Republican state Rep. Terri Bryant’s offices in Carbondale and Mount Vernon. “It’s one way of our indicating physically our need for a budget,” Flowers said.
  • Koine said they should create a commercial as a scare tactic to show what is happening and what will happen to the state without a budget. “This country thrives off fear,” she said. “Politicians thrive off fear. … Either you help us to keep our jobs and continue to let us be educated — to educate ourselves so we can better care for ourselves — or you’re going to have to take care of us. It’s simple.” 
  • Koine also said SIU should consider selling off student loan debt. “It’s a viable thing that can be done that would provide the university with cash now,” she said. “I think that would give them one way to stay afloat for some time while the state comes up with their budget of how they want.” 
  • Rich Whitney, a Carbondale community member, said the “LaSalle Street Tax,” also known as House Bill 106, is “the most important single” solution to the budget crisis. “Basically, taxing a really, really small tax on speculators, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and [Chicago] Board Options Exchange would raise billions of dollars for our state and help alleviate the budget crisis that we’re going through so that we would have a source of funding,” he said. “To me it’s not enough to just say, ‘let’s pass a budget,’ because what’s been proposed are really bad budgets.”

The group will meet once a week for the next few weeks to continue discussing and forming strategies. Their next meeting is at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Guyon Auditorium.

Learn more about the group at its Facebook page here

Do you think you have a solution to the state’s budget crisis? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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