University cutbacks spark protest
Bruce Rauner’s budget crisis is threatening long-term damage to our state’s public higher education system. Members of AFSCME Local 1989 at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) joined with the faculty union, UPI, and student groups on April 11 at an informational picket and news conference to protest the university’s dire fiscal situation.
Stacy Alikakos, an AFSCME member for almost three years, works as an academic advisor at NEIU while also pursuing her master’s degree at the university. She says she’s experiencing negative impacts from Rauner’s budget crisis as both a student and an employee at the university.
She finds the forced furlough days to be a strain on her budget as she’s sustained a substantial effective pay cut as a result. She also worries these furlough days and cutbacks will cause her professors to seek positions outside of Illinois’ university system.
“I can’t say enough about NEIU, I love it here,” Alikakos told the crowd of protesters. “I’m proud to be a student and an employee—I’m happy to give back to a university that’s given me so much.”
Rauner’s budget mess
The FY 18 budget plan that Rauner put forth is radically out of balance—and makes cuts to many vital services, including state universities—thus failing to fulfill the governor’s constitutional duty to present a balanced budget.
Rauner’s plan would cut funding to individual state universities by $60 million, then put this into a $60 million performance-based funding pool. This would leave funding for each university at the FY 17 level. The $60 million would be allocated according to performance metrics established by the Board of Higher Education. Some universities might win and others might lose funding under this scheme.
It’s also important to note that the FY 17 budget level represented a cut in funds from previous years, so comparison to FY 17 does not adequately convey the impact of the Governor’s proposed FY 18 budget. The FY 18 proposed funding level actually represents a 42% cut in state university funding levels since FY 2015.
“Apparently the message hasn’t reached Gov. Rauner that public education is really important to all of us,” Alikakos said as protesters chanted. “Enough is enough. We need to get our message out by being vocal and showing up physically to the doorstep of the governor.”
And, of course, if the budget standoff continues—and there is not another stop gap budget—the situation will get much worse for state universities which are already strained to the breaking point. It is all too likely that there could be another round of layoffs and/or furlough days.