Around 150 people took to the streets late Thursday afternoon to demonstrate their support for Western Illinois University and the city of Macomb.
Demonstrators gathered in front of Sherman Hall on the WIU campus before marching along West Adams Street, then down Lafayette Street to Chandler Park in the city’s downtown area. The route was chosen to symbolize the ties between the university and the city.
“So goes the university, so goes the community,” said Linda Cox of New Copperfield’s Book Service on the courthouse square.
University and community members are worried about the damage done to WIU by more than a decade of declining state financial support for higher education and by the ongoing state budget impasse. WIU and other public universities have yet to receive a single dime from the state for the fiscal year that began nine months ago.
Western ordered some employees to take furlough days during the final quarter of this fiscal year. And university leaders intend to cut $20 million through the course of the next two years, leading to lay-offs and the possible elimination of some programs.
Some of those at the rally are frustrated with politicians.
“I think we need to tell Norine Hammond (state representative from Macomb) that she can stand with (Governor Bruce) Rauner or she can stand with WIU. But she can’t do both,” said Brian Powell, Associate Professor of Philosophy at WIU.
“It’s not believable to say that you are supporting this district and this community when you refuse to support the bills that would fund this university and that would fund our students.”
Hammond recently opposed an override attempt of the governor’s veto of SB 2043. An override would have released state support to fund MAP grants, community colleges, and four-year universities.
Hammond said every House Republican voted against the proposal and ultimately blocked the override attempt because there was not any funding tied to the bill. She called the bill, which was promoted by Democrats, “a false promise.”
Others spoke of their concern for Macomb’s future. Dustin Perrine, age 35, of Canton, is a non-traditional student at Western. He’s worried Macomb might face the same type of challenges Canton did after International Harvester closed its plant in that Fulton County community several decades ago.
“That put Canton in a tunnel that it’s barely digging out of now. That cannot happen here,” Perrine said.