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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.

A Unified Voice Against the Way Things are being Handled in Springfield

Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas addresses the crowd while representatives from other schools and organizations look on.

Representatives from across the higher education spectrum gathered at Western Illinois University in Macomb to urge the state to provide funding for colleges and universities. But just hours afterward, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a measure (SB 2043) that would have funded MAP grantsand provided at least a bit of income for the schools.

Trent Gilbert, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Monmouth College, said the lack of money for MAP grants is affecting students from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of majors.

“Our elected officials made a promise to our students in terms of funding the MAP grant. They made a promise to build a better future for the state of Illinois.  They’ve gone back on that promise,” Gilbert said.

“These students deserve better.”

WIU employees, students, and community members gathered at the University Union to hear the speeches given during the 40 minute presentation.  The speakers came from public and private schools; they included administrators, teachers, and a student. It was a unified voice against the way things are being handled in Springfield.

Credit Rich Egger
Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas

WIU President Jack Thomas believes they were not simply preaching to the choir.

“It’s important that we advocate and that we do say what we are experiencing and (do so) collectively -- all of the colleges and universities in the area as well as the community and our students and faculty,” Dr. Thomas said.

He said they will continue to work collectively to advocate on behalf of higher education, and Thomas said he believes he will spend a lot time in the coming months traveling between Macomb and Springfield to lobby lawmakers and the governor.

Notable quotes from the event:

“The current budget impasse makes victims of our most vulnerable students, those who arguably have the most to gain from pursuing a college degree. Where is the justice in that situation?” -- Ann Behrens, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Quincy University.

“Despite living in Illinois, and paying taxes in Illinois, the state doesn’t have the students’ best interests in mind.  There’s simply little return on the enormous investment in the form of taxes.  A generation of students is being trained by the state government to look elsewhere and when they graduate to live, work, and build a family elsewhere.” -- Wil Gradle, junior, economics major and President of the Student Government Association at WIU.

“There comes a time when even dedicated faculty say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re on the verge of experiencing a mass exodus of faculty from Illinois universities.  Illinois is experiencing a rapidly increasing brain drain, and we’re also losing its future because it’s not just faculty, it’s students (who are leaving).” -- Christopher Pynes, Professor of Philosophy at WIU and Chair of the WIU Faculty Senate.

“Cuts in personnel and programs will occur (at WIU) should the state’s budgetary impasse continue. That will have a direct and long-lasting negative effect on the economy of our community. Businesses in Macomb and the region depend on the faculty and staff for their survival." -- Mayor Mike Inman, City of Macomb.

“State funding for higher education can make or break some of our smaller universities, and will have grave impacts on all, including Western Illinois University.  Our state universities serve our students but are also engines of local economies.” -- Susan Romano, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at WIU and a member of the leadership team for the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.

“We are as efficient as we can possibly be with only a 1.2% increase since 2007 in our operating expenditures.  Let me repeat that for you. Since 2007, we have only raised expenditures at Spoon River College by 1.2%.” -- Curt Oldfield, President, Spoon River College.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.