Metro-East News

SIUE chancellor: ‘We cannot afford to fiddle while Springfield burns’

SIUE state of the university

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville interim chancellor Stephen Hansen gives his "state of the university" address Tuesday
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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville interim chancellor Stephen Hansen gives his "state of the university" address Tuesday

Employees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will be offered incentives for early retirement and a university-wide “congress” will be convened to cope with more expected cuts in state funding, as SIUE officials attempt to move forward without a state budget.

Interim chancellor Stephen Hansen gave the annual “state of the university” address at SIUE on Tuesday, summarizing the university’s accomplishments briefly before turning to the challenges created by the lack of a state budget.

Hansen said SIUE is going to proceed with a 9-percent “realignment” of the university’s budget, as well as beginning long-term plans for finding alternative funding to state support. In 2002, state funding provided 72 percent of the university’s budget; it is now 40 percent, with a loss of one-sixth of its funding just since 2010.

“That loss of state money has not been replaced by other revenues,” Hansen said. “We simply cannot raise tuition and fees enough, nor can we solve the problem by simply packing more students into the classroom. That would impact the quality of the education we are providing.”

The ongoing stalemate between the legislature and the executive branch over the state budget compounds SIUE’s problem, Hansen said. In the meantime, the university has accumulated a number of obligations — mostly to academic program expansions and scholarship programs — that are not budgeted.

“Our financial challenges are so dire that they threaten the core of the university and our ability to perform our mission,” Hansen said.

Therefore, Hansen said they will implement a 9-percent “realignment” — not precisely a dollar-for-dollar cut, but shifting money from some programs to set aside in anticipation of whatever cuts come from the eventual budget.

“We cannot afford to fiddle while Springfield burns,” Hansen said. “It’s going to pinch, it’s going to hurt, but it’s better to implement it now than to wait until the state acts. Once we make these decisions, then we are safe, and won’t have to worry about what Springfield does for the rest of this fiscal year.”

A 9-percent reduction is closer to the legislature’s budget, which called for 8.75 percent reduction in university funding, than Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget, which called for a 31 percent reduction. Coping with the latter reduction would have required a tuition increase of 112 percent, Hansen said.

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, who attended the speech, said he will advocate for cuts closer to 9 percent. “These are tremendous assets to the state — the future of the state is in our universities and to cut them to the extent proposed by the governor is not wise,” he said. “It’s not in the best interest of my district, or the state as a whole.”

Haine said he is “at a loss” on the stalled budget negotiations. “I am willing to turn any stone to work on a compromise on these issues,” he said. “There are many of us who want to compromise.”

Catherine Kelly, spokeswoman for Rauner, said the fiscal crisis has been years in the making and the responsibility lies with Democrats in the legislature.

“The governor has tried to negotiate on critical reforms to free up resources to help the most vulnerable and pass a balanced budget, but unfortunately, the majority continues to block those reforms as the expense of the most vulnerable and the middle class,” Kelly said. “Any member of the legislature that would like to work with the governor, including Sen. Haine, will find him a willing partner.”

The stalled programs at SIUE include renovation of the old Science Building, which was stopped mid-summer because it is managed by the state Capital Development Board.

One auditorium was completed, but the rest of the building is “completely gutted,” according to Rich Walker, assistant vice chancellor for administration. The building has no working bathrooms or water fountains, and temporary heat and air is pumped in to the building through plastic tubes from equipment outside.

“The response will be, ‘Give us the Turnaround Agenda, all of it,’ and all of it ain’t going to happen,” Haine said. “Some of it can be negotiated.”

Hansen s+aid they will create a university-wide “congress” that will examine all areas of the university and find ways to grow their programs with fewer resources and increase revenue to replace state dollars.

“We cannot allow the budget to define who we are,” Hansen said. “We are facing a rapidly changing world. We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, to solve problems we haven’t yet invented or thought of.”

University employees also will be offered incentives for retirement in advance of changes in the state university retirement system scheduled to take place Jan. 1. Hansen said he hopes people taking advantage of retirement incentives will lessen the impact on any potential job cuts.

Another challenge in the rapidly changing world is demographics. There are fewer high school graduates anticipated through 2025, Hansen said, which means a decline in enrollments in public universities and thus increased competition among universities, trade schools and for-profit institutions.

“We want and we need a diverse student body that reflects American society, and likewise a faculty and staff that reflects society,” Hansen said.

Hansen also spoke of SIUE’s successes, including new bachelor’s degree programs in subjects like international studies and engineering, masters programs in pharmacy and criminal justice, more online degree programs redesigning of teacher education, public health and instructional technology programs, among others.

SIUE received $43 million in grants and contracts this year and raised its retention rate to nearly 75 percent, he said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald