Colwell to Higher Learning Commission: ‘We do not plan to close’

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

Interim Chancellor William Bradley Colwell informed the university’s accrediting agency by letter last week that officials do not plan to close SIUC in the coming months.

The Higher Learning Commission asked all 12 public universities and community colleges last month to submit detailed plans if they expect to close or suspend operations in spring 2016 because of the on-going state budget impasse. Colwell shared his response with university employees via email Thursday.

“No public university can operate entirely without state support, but SIUC can do so for the rest of the fiscal year,” Colwell wrote. “We do not plan to close.”

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The letter lists measures taken to reduce spending last year. The university has largely avoided layoffs thus far by cutting $13.5 million — 6.4 percent — by not filling vacant positions.

MORE: SIU provost: Budget impasse ‘will bleed Illinois of its future’

But the budget impasse has depleted a large portion of the university’s liquid reserves, Colwell said. He said as of Jan. 31, the Carbondale campus had about 43 percent less cash on hand than it did during that time last year.

“The university has incurred more than $92 million in salary expenses that will be paid using appropriated funds in the event of a state budget resolution,” Colwell said.

SIU President Randy Dunn informed employees via email Wednesday that he is asking budget staff to draft plans in response to the governor’s proposed $40 million spending reduction in fiscal year 2017. The Carbondale campus would lose $25.4 million under that plan.

Dunn asked budget staffers last week to draft additional cut lists that would ensure basic operations through Dec. 31. Those cuts indicate SIU is in “fiscal triage mode,” Dunn said.

A call to Dunn’s office requesting additional details on the cuts and what could happen if a state budget is not approved by Dec. 31 was not returned as of Friday afternoon.

John Charles, SIU’s executive director of governmental affairs, said Thursday university officials are still hopeful an appropriation for fiscal year 2016 will come through.

Charles and Dunn will appear before an Illinois Senate committee for higher education appropriation on March 10 to detail the financial state of the SIU system.

Bill Lukitsch can be contacted at [email protected] or 618-536-3329.

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