Wrap-up on the State Budget and Higher Ed in Illinois Panel/Discussion

Thanks to those of you who came out! We had a small, but very engaged crowd at our panel Wednesday evening. For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights:

Kristi Barnwell, VP of UIS UF announced the formation of a coalition of U of I faculty and graduate students from across all three campuses. Member units include UICUF, NTFC at UIUC, the GEOs from Chicago and Urbana-Champaign, and UIS UF and the AGE at UIS! As a group, the coalition is committed to working together to share information across campuses. Our first actions are to announce ourselves and our EDUCATION FIRST! campaign aimed at the Board of Trustees demanding that The University: 1) prioritize direct instruction costs, 2) eliminate student debt, 3) respect faculty and staff and the work we do, 4) protect academic freedom, and 5) practice efficient and effective bargaining.

To that end, we are throwing our support behind UIUC’s NTFC, which has been actively bargaining for over a year now with little progress from the administration’s side. Keep an eye out in the week’s to come to find out what you can do to support the coalition and the non-tenure track faculty at UIUC.

Brian Mackey, WUIS statehouse reporter gave an overview of the budget crisis. This included an overview of the Illinois legislature’s tax policies from 2010 through 2014, when the tax hike expired. He highlighted the ways in which Rauner has been surgically selecting state spending in the post-budget era to minimize damage to his own political capital. According to Mackey, 90% of the state budget has been spent without a budget being passed, but the remaining 10% is social/human services funding and higher education funding. Rauner is using this as an opportunity to create a “wedge issue” that will force the Democrats to make unpopular decisions.

Nick Yelverton, Legislative Director for Higher Education at the Illinois Federation of Teachers, spoke next. Yelverton pointed out that Rauner has been careful to choose and fund programs that are politically attractive to give money to, but that higher education is one area where it is seen to be politically unnecessary– in part because of the stories across the nation and the state about high salaries for administrators, golden parachutes, etc., which feed into the idea that Universities are “big money bags”.

John Miller, president of UPI 4100 and scholar of political rhetoric, picked up where Yelverton left off to talk about the extent to which public universities across the state are hurting as a consequence of the state government’s failure to fund higher education and pass a budget. Faculty at EIU fave up pay raises this year to help keep adjuncts working through the fall semester; Chicago State currently has no contract; NEIU’s president has threatened to declare financial exigence in order to try to lay off faculty and cut programs; and WIU administration is trying to take similar measures. He went on to point out that the state legislature has failed to fund higher education sufficiently since the 1990s: the budget has been flat, and given inflation a flat budget amounts to a significant cut in higher education funding (about 30%). To make up for that, state schools have been increasing tuition– and Illinois currently has the 5th highest tuition and fees rates in the country. This is leading to a mass exodus of students to surrounding states, amounting to 28-29,000 each year. The increased tuition is contributing to the 19% decrease in enrollment across the state of Illinois.This is having significant impacts on our students– the state of Illinois is part of the national student-debt trend. Illinois has the 11th highest debt rating for students completing the Bachelor’s degree (~$28,700).

Miller went on to say that this crisis in higher education can create an opportunity for higher education to work together to push for better policies, and demonstrate that higher education is not a place where legislators can and should make cuts. Telling students about the impact of the state budget will have on them: losing MAP grants, the role Universities play in driving the economy of Illinois and in improving the quality of life is one way to make a difference.

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