Eastern Illinois community reflects on budget impasse’s effect on EIU

By Dawn Schabbing, Effingham Daily News

Gina Furlin enrolled at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston to play volleyball. She’s a setter on the team.

“I had some options to go other places, but I picked Eastern mainly because of its testing center,” said Furlin.

She suffers from dyslexia and “test anxiety.” The testing center at EIU helped her deal with those issues.


But the state’s budget impasse has closed the center — one of many cutbacks that have rocked the Charleston campus.

Local legislators and area mayors joined staff and students at Cougill Foyer in Old Main at EIU on Tuesday to describe how state lawmakers’ failure to agree on a budget has rippled across the region.

Afterward, students shared how the budget crunch and layoffs on campus has directly affected them.

“The (testing center) really helped me with academics at the beginning of the year, but then we get an email that said because of all of the funding issues, they can’t provide us help anymore,” said Furlin, 19, a freshman from Indiana.

Samantha Mackey, 19, of Libertyville, chose EIU to earn a teaching degree. But, she too, needs the testing center to help her overcome learning obstacles.

“I want to be a teacher,” said Mackey. “I just got here. This is such a good teaching college. I don’t really want to transfer.”

EIU President David Glassman said the university has 1,500 full- and part-time employees who want to maintain their school’s reputation as the top-ranked public regional university in Illinois. It is also home to retreats, music, academic and athletic camps for thousands of students during the summer.


“There is no question that Eastern Illinois University is a significant economic engine for this entire region,” said Glassman.

Scheduled to graduate in May, Andrew Donsbach of Effingham, said he will be the fourth member of his immediate family to graduate from EIU. He also works as a tour guide for new students coming to the university. He spoke about the Holiday Hustle and One Stop Community Christmas events that were held successfully without the financial help from the university. “

Regardless of what we are faced with here at EIU, whether it is students, faculty or staff, we just don’t give up,” Donsbach said. “We work harder.”

During the press conference, officials discussed the institution’s impact on East Central Illinois.

“Our greatest concern is — and always has been — our students and their education,” Glassman said. “The financial impact for over 8,000 students is viable every day in numerable ways. Area businesses eagerly welcome back students year after year.”

“I urge those who represent us to come together to find a compromise. This isn’t about who is right and who is wrong — or who is going to win,” said Charleston Mayor Brandon Combs.

Effingham Mayor Jeff Bloemker said hundreds of EIU alumni live in Effingham County.

“By far, over any other school in the country, our professional offices and businesses and schools and governments are stocked with people who were educated at EIU,” Bloemker, an alum himself, said. “To us and many other people from Effingham, Eastern Illinois University isn’t just a place to get a bachelor’s degree. It is our closest portal to the rest of the world.”

A political science major born and raised in Charleston, Austin Mejdrich, 20, said EIU is caught in a “perfect storm.” Mejdrich added that last semester’s layoffs are leaving holes in the political science department and he’s not sure if those positions will be filled or not.

“Last semester one of our political science professors was laid off and there are a couple positions in our department that are vacant right now,” said Mejdrich. “A couple of the scholarships I earned were caught up in the freeze and it was up in the air for awhile about whether or not I’d get the scholarships. Luckily, for me, those have been remedied.”

Even smaller things have their impact when they are missing.

“We are seeing even little things like having no soap in the bathroom dispensers for days,” Mejdrich said.

Kai “Bill” Hung, associate professor of biological sciences at EIU, joined the faculty in 2008. He cited some statistics about how the budget impasse is creating layoffs, including 177 civil service employees, effective March 11, if the matter isn’t resolved.

“This is more than one-in-four of the civil service staff that we have,” said Hung. “This is not just a number. These are the people interacting with our students every day. Many have served long years — decades — at EIU. This budget problem will continue to hamper our students, damage our schools and drag our community down.”

In August, 50 positions that were vacated were not filled, and 67 other administrative and professional and civil service employees were laid off.

In 2000, a study showed that EIU faculty and students accounted for 37.5 percent of retail sales in Charleston.  The university spent 8 percent of total expenditures on contractual services to local businesses.

“That is a huge economic footprint,” Hung said. “This doesn’t account for the rippling effect.”


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