Opinion: For southern Illinois, WSIU is essential

In response to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget—which includes a nearly 32 percent cut to higher education—the university asked non-academic services to create a plan in preparation of these cuts. One of those programs is WSIU.

WSIU, which broadcasts River Region Evening Edition as well as WSIU radio, has been asked by the university to propose a plan in response to a hypothetical 50 percent cut in state funding. Greg Petrowich, executive director of WSIU Public Broadcasting, said that amounts to more than half a million dollars, a cut that would jeopardize the future of these media outlets.

Obviously there is no way to remove a half-million dollars from [the WSIU] budget and not have a serious impact on our mission,” Dafna Lemish, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, wrote in an email Tuesday. “It will impact student training in every area, programming for our audiences, engagement activities, hours of operation, multi-cast channels offered and staff positions.”


During last week’s SIU Board of Trustees meeting, President Randy Dunn—who does not want to make cuts across the board—discussed an outer ring of programs and services that he said would be the first to cut. 

WSIU, much like the Daily Egyptian, should not be viewed as an extracurricular activity. Journalism is not theoretical. Gutting WSIU’s funds would kill it and in part, drastically slash the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts’ enrollment. These out-of-the-classroom activities are a part of the educational mission and a reason students enroll here.

Unlike mathematics, sciences or theory-based disciplines, journalism cannot be learned in a classroom. While the radio and television curriculum is necessary for students to have a comprehensive understanding of ethics, law and history, hands-on experiences are vital for—and expected of—students who wish to pursue a career in media.

The DE recently experienced the same fear of going under. While the DE was funded solely through advertising revenue for more than 50 years, the economy also drove it to seek university funding. In order to convince the board of trustees the 99-year-old student-run newspaper was worth a student fee, alumni wrote in to a #SavetheDE edition, which also became a social media campaign. While doing so, many alumni said they would not have the jobs they have now—while representing SIU—if they did not have the out-of-the-classroom experience.

This is a similar near and dear value to the people at WSIU. You cannot learn journalism in college if you never actually do it.

Not only would this affect students negatively, the proposed cuts would impact the communities who depend on the services provided by WSIU. The television and radio programming offered on WSIU is broadcast to more than 3 million people across five states. These are people who rely on WSIU for their only PBS affiliation. Losing these services—or at the very least hindering their success—with drastic funding cuts hurts many more people than just student employees or faculty.

The university cannot have its cake and eat it too. Within a nationally known college of media that boasts more than 30 college television awards, and award-winning organizations such as the Daily Egyptian, viewing these outlets as “nonessential” is unfair.


However, we realize there is a version of “don’t shoot the messenger” in play here. The larger story lies within Rauner’s proposed budget and his general lack of support for higher education.

At a time when President Barack Obama has called on all states to reinvest in higher education, Rauner has turned a deaf ear. Obama’s plan to make community college free and the Student Aid Bill of Rights focus on the idea that an education leads to employment and economic stability.

Rauner’s actions in the past few weeks prove he has no intention of getting on the bandwagon. 

There is no doubt the university will have some challenging decisions to make, but if we really must look for the nonessential services that could afford to be cut, WSIU should not be one of them.