Despite money impasse, SIUE chancellor says his campus won't shut down | St. Louis Public Radio

Despite money impasse, SIUE chancellor says his campus won't shut down

Jan 20, 2016

The interim chancellor of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville insists that his campus is financially strong and will not close because of the state’s budget stalemate.

But Stephen Hansen wrote to his colleagues at SIUE that he expects the political rhetoric between Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers to escalate as the spending standoff moves toward a critical point.

Citing a recent memo from Rauner's office, Hansen wrote:

“Illinois public higher education is quickly reaching a fiscal breaking point. There are some who interpret the timing and the tone of the governor’s memo as a signal that he intends to bring the system to a breaking point so that he can force the General Assembly to accept his resolution to the budget.”

Regardless of the governor’s motives or how they can be interpreted, Hansen added, “First and foremost, SIUE will not close. We will meet our obligations to our students and to our employees. Because of our 9% budget realignment, SIUE is in sound fiscal shape.”

Deer visit the SIU-Edwardsville campus.
Credit Pete Burzynski | Flickr | 2007

But, he added, “unless there is some fiscal relief, there is the possibility that some of the other Illinois public universities may exhaust their cash reserves by the end of this fiscal year. The consequences for Illinois higher education, students, and communities will be devastating.”

Hansen attached to his message excerpts from a memo sent by Rauner to Illinois lawmakers on Jan. 13, on the topic of spending for Illinois public higher education.

In it, governor's office noted:

  • From 2004 to 2011, administrative staff at the state’s public universities increased 31.1 percent while enrollment increased 2.3 percent.
  • More than 1,500 university employees make more than the salary of the governor.
  • Over the past two years, SIU administrators spent more than $180,000 on in-house chartered airplane flights.
  • In fiscal year 2014, graduate tuition and fee waivers for public universities totaled $341.1 million, near the amount of savings proposed in Rauner’s budget for the current fiscal year.

The message from Hansen comes at a time that the heads of other public campuses in Illinois are sounding a similar theme. The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday that Chicago State University may not be able to pay its employees starting in March without money from the state, and Northeastern Illinois University’s president said the school could shut down without state appropriations coming soon.

And a newly formed Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education, made up of business, labor and campus organizations, held a news conference in Springfield on Wednesday to call for money to begin flowing from the state to public colleges and universities.

“The ongoing higher education funding crisis in Illinois is a real threat to our state because its impact is much deeper than the classrooms and productive people who fill them,” said Chris Harbourt, co-founder and CEO of Agrible, located in the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign.

“It not only hurts the thousands of students, faculty and workers on campus, but also it sends the message to business that the higher education system you depend on for your talent and support is not a priority here. We urge a quick resolution so we can refocus on creating a more dynamic, competitive workforce and business environment in Illinois.”

State colleges and universities had had no money coming from Springfield since last July as Rauner and lawmakers battle over the budget. Campus officials have said the standoff could result in public higher education in the state being “damaged without repair.”

In his memo, Hansen noted that he and Randy Dunn, president of the SIU system, along with the heads of other public campuses in the state, will work with lawmakers and Rauner to bring an end to the budget standoff.

“In the meantime,” he concluded, “please remember that SIUE is not in jeopardy of closing. We remain fiscally strong.”

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger