Daily Egyptian

Town hall talk addresses university budget woes

By Austin Miller, @AMiller_DE

Citizens smell something rotten in the state of Illinois and it smells a lot like money problems.

Several SIU administrators were part of a panel to answer questions from the near 50-person audience Monday in the Student Center, hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government.

SIU President Randy Dunn, interim Dean of Students Katie Sermersheim and Director of the Department of Public Safety Ben Newman were among the 11-person panel.

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Topics ranged from student health and diversity to parking, but the prominent issue was the school’s looming budget cuts.

Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed his first budget on Feb. 18, calling for a 31 percent decrease in state funding to public universities. Dunn said the proposal would erase $32 million from the Carbondale campus’ budget.

The Illinois General Assembly has to vote on the bill before the end of spring and Dunn said he does not expect the full 31 percent cut to be approved.

With these cuts coming in the next few months, university officials are preparing for the worst.

The state budget should be finalized by May 31, but the spring session could expand into June and July, hitting the university quickly.

Dunn said the school’s fiscal year begins on July 1, so the university may have to turn on a dime and implement cuts, even if the budget does not end up following Rauner’s proposal.

“If we don’t mitigate this $32 million cut to this campus, everything is going to get hit,” Dunn said. “If we don’t turn this around… we’re going to have a university that looks drastically different in a worse way.”

At the meeting, Dunn said officials are looking into the importance of all services offered by the university.

Dunn offered a three-layer model to explain how the administration may decide what to cut.

Similar to an onion, the center houses the most important services, those crucial to the success of the school. One ring outward is the academic support services, and community supports are in the outermost layer.

Outer layer services will be the first cut, moving inward if needed, Dunn said.

“It’s almost like being asked to pick among your kids, and we don’t want to go there,” he said.

The first casualty of these cuts is the Southern Illinois Musical Festival, which cut one week from the usual three-week event.

The university used to contribute $50,000 to the festival, but Dunn said they must evaluate whether they can afford those projects moving forward.

To help the voice of SIU be heard, Dunn said students and faculty should write to their representatives.

“The only way this is going to be lessened, is for our elected representatives and senators in the General Assembly to hear about the destruction caused by the magnitude of the cuts proposed,” Dunn said.

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected]

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