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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

WIU Community Rallies for State Funding

Rich Egger

Roughly 200 people marched through the Western Illinois University campus Tuesday afternoon.  They wanted to make a public statement about their dissatisfaction with decision-makers in Springfield.

"It’s time to stop using us as some kind of political football," said Dr. Brian Powell, Associate Professor of Philosophy, who helped organize the demonstration.

"We need funding for MAP (Monetary Award Program). This is need-based money for motivated students."

The bill (SB 2043) to provide MAP grant funding was sent to Governor Bruce Rauner on Tuesday, though he has vowed to veto it. 

Credit Rich Egger
Demonstrators marched through campus before ending their rally in the free speech area behind the University Union.

The state has not provided funding for the grants this fiscal year, which started in July.  In fact, the state has provided no funding at all to WIU or any of its other public colleges and universities this fiscal year.

Demonstrator Martha Klems, who is a retired Instructor of Computer Science, urged members of the crowd to call the governor and state lawmakers each day this week to put pressure on them.

“We’ve been too patient and too passive for too long,” Klems said.

One of the students directly impacted by the budget stalemate is Tiffany Geer, who said she is scheduled to graduate in December but won’t be able to afford to finish her studies if she does not receive MAP grant assistance.

“I’m so close to being done and I feel like my future is being ripped away from me,” said Geer.

Credit Rich Egger
“I receive the MAP grant and I have a son, and so without the MAP grant I won’t be able to go to school. And without being able to go to school I can’t show him how important education truly is beyond high school,” said Political Science major Tiffany Geer

Geer said she participated in a lobbying effort last fall in Springfield.  She said state lawmakers told her they understood her concerns but that she shouldn’t get her hopes up because there was no changing the governor’s mind.  She said that made her feel like everything she’s worked toward the last few years has been worthless.

As for Tuesday’s rally in Macomb, Geer said, “I think that they (the governor and lawmakers) will hear us but I don’t think that they’ll listen. They’re just ignoring us because they want to play their little games with each other.  We voted them in. I think we should vote them out.”

Throughout the rally, Geer carried a sign that read, “Our Future Depends on Education.”

Women’s Studies major Kathryn Nettleton told the crowd she served in the military before coming to WIU. She felt Western’s diverse curriculum would provide her with a quality education.  But Nettleton fears the Women’s Studies program is on the chopping and she now feels she no longer has a future in Illinois.

“I can say that I feel Illinois has let me down,” Nettleton said. “I cannot tell my friends and colleagues to waste their G.I. bills in a state that no longer supports or funds their education.”

Rally organizers urged demonstrators to take action on Wednesday by video or audio recording a 20-second moment of silence, breaking the silence with everyone shouting “Fund our future!” and then posting the recording to social media.

They also told demonstrators to call the governor’s offices in Springfield and Chicago on Thursday and tell him to sign the bill to fund MAP grants.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.