Daily Egyptian

President Dunn speaks out at town hall meeting

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

At Wednesday’s town hall meeting, President Randy Dunn spoke of the potential budget crisis, running through scenarios that may become reality if Gov. Bruce Rauner gets his way. 

The town hall meetings and talk of funding woes are a result of the governor’s cuts to higher education, proposed in his Feb. 18 budget address, which he said will balance the state’s finances.

If passed, Rauner’s budget would take $62 million of state appropriated money from the SIU system — equating to a $44 million cut to the Carbondale campus.

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Two more town hall meetings are scheduled for 2 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday in the Student Center Auditorium. 

The town hall meetings offer community members an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns on the proposed cuts, which could devastate the university and Carbondale, Dunn said.

He speculated on SIU’s financial future, as nothing is certain and the revised state budget will not be passed until later this summer. In planning for potential future cuts, the university is constructing possible courses of action.

However, Dunn said the university is combating the proposed cuts, which would set state funding for SIU back to a mid-1980s level. 

“If the state budget cut is only 3 percent, you won’t feel it,” Dunn said. “If it’s a [$44 million] cut, you will not recognize this place.”

He said the potential cuts will not be easily mitigated. 

“Every campus — and we are no different — always has a couple of million sloshing around,” Dunn said. “We don’t have [$44] million sloshing around, or even half that, or even a fourth of that.”

If the university only made up the funds by raising the cost of attendance, tuition would go up 90 percent, Dunn said. However, he assured the audience that will not happen. 

However, the Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent tuition increase in April, amounting to an increase of $163.38 per semester for incoming students. 

Dunn said there is discussion in Springfield that would delegate state funding of universities based on the school’s performance. 

“This is not new money,” Dunn said. “This is taking a piece of the money that we’ve had appropriated to us over the years, pulling that off and saying to all the institutions: “Oh, by the way, we’ll let you access this if grades improve, if your graduation rate improves, if this, if that.”

He said this, in conjunction with the cuts in state support, would put Illinois state schools in a vice. 

He said the university can be imagined as a core surrounded by rings — with the outermost rings being the least critical to the university’s mission.

If cuts need to be made, the outermost rings will be first to receive cuts, as they are least central to the university. 

However, even if every state dollar was cut from both rings that surround the core, such as non-academic services or research opportunities, that would amount to $9 million and the university would still need to cut $35 million. 

The outermost ring includes, among other things, hands-on learning programs like Touch of Nature, WSIU and others that compliment the classroom by providing experience for students in that course study. 

“You can’t be a research university without research centers, by definition of what we do” Dunn said. 

Dunn said there is only so much the university can do to prepare for cuts like this. However, he urged political involvement and events similar to Wednesday’s rally against budget cuts.

“We need your help in building political action — we must have a drum beat going,” he said. “You have this opportunity to assist us, and this is the time to be doing that.”

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected]

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