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Campus voices take on the state Budget Impasse

The state budget impasse has been a burden on the shoulders of Illinois’ higher education for too long. In response, the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) at the U o I has organized for student, staff, and faculty from public colleges and universities to speak about how the impasse continues to negatively affect their campuses, communities, and personal lives at the Alma Mater Statue on Friday, March 11th at their event “Keeping the Public in Public Higher Education: Voices From Across Illinois.”

An official media advisory sent out by the Campus Faculty Association cites the state’s inability to pass a budget for FY 2015-2016 as having already hurt other campuses by forcing them to layoff hundreds of employees at several schools. Chicago State University might even have to close altogether, while other schools are being threatened with similar ends. The advisory also notes Governor Bruce Rauner’s recent blocking of MAP grants which support the public educations of thousands of IL students. Rauner has stated that he plans to cut the state support of public universities by 25% or more.

While these pieces of large news are hard hitting, a much deeper sentiment is being highlighted at the event, namely the stories of individual members of public universities and colleges. The various speakers hope to explain the value of state-funded higher education and the vast consequences that will continue to ensue with the the ongoing budget conflict. The consequences hurt not only university members, but also the surrounding communities that host them.

Voices From Across Illinois will provide a platform for multiple students and faculty from other public universities to explain their situations regarding accessing higher education. This gathering will exemplify the power of the public in the face of indecisive lawmakers. The focus will be on the public and how solutions and awareness of major issues can arise organically from communities working together. According to Susan Davis, the press contact for the CFA, a public event like this has not been held at U of I yet this year regarding the impasse. A traditional place of demonstration, hosting the event at the Alma Mater Statue hopes to deliver the broadest public awareness of the impact of the impasse. The gathering of multiple representatives from various schools will demonstrate that the lack of funding hurts the state of Illinois as a whole.

“Education is what makes the state,” said Davis. She explained the the event will showcase the broad range of opportunities offered by other schools that are currently under threat.

“Faculty are getting told to expect large cuts and frozen salaries,” Davis said when asked about the specific struggles UIUC has faced regarding the impasse. She explained that planning without a budget also means planning for extensive cuts at a departmental level, saying that “[e]ach department is being asked to think about these scenarios.” She also cited that monetary assistance grants are being hurt, and that many are worried about a potential size increase of the classrooms as the budget becomes smaller. This fear of the future has created a tense atmosphere on campus regarding the issue, while at other schools the threats have already manifested into physical consequences.

While students as a whole are facing heavy tuition and cancelled classes due to the cuts and layoffs, the media advisory states that those hit especially hard by these circumstances are first generation students and students of color. The advisory cites Bruce Rauner specifically for “cancelling the mobility and opportunity for a whole generation.”

When the stakes are this high, it is hard not be roused to action, or at least awareness regarding the matter. When asked how the general public can take action in the wake of the impasse, Davis stressed that the most important thing a person can do is to call their local State Representative.

“If they’re a Republican, tell them that you want adequate funding for Illinois; tax cuts are not the way to do it. If they’re a Democrat, tell them to stand up for adequate funding in Illinois. Tell them to get some grit.”

According to the CFA at UIUC’s mission statement on its website, it “…aims to create an open and democratic university by balancing the power of the administration with a strong faculty voice through an open process of collective bargaining.” It also stresses the importance of community action in dealing with issues such as the impasse: “We will work closely with our students, other campus workers, and the broader public to ensure the future of accessible public higher education, the vital foundation for a healthy democratic society, while also promoting the economic and general welfare of the faculty at the University of Illinois.”

Keeping the Public in Public Higher Education: Voices From Across Illinois will take place Friday, March 11 at 11 a.m. at the Alma Mater Statue located on the corner of Wright and Green Streets, Urbana. The event is organized by the Campus Faculty Association (UIUC).

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