Saturday, March 19, 2016

Illinois higher ed on NPR, and via a think tank

The NPR program Marketplace aired a story on Illinois' abandonment of public universities  on Friday, 3/18. The story does a nice job of providing the background to the crisis, and highlighting its impact on minority students (particularly but not only at Chicago State). Not much news for those of us living through it, but perhaps a good survey if you want to bring others up to speed. The story notes that's CSU's President, Thomas Calhoun, has been critical of Rauner, and that Rauner wasn't willing to be interviewed for the story despite multiple requests. (Madigan at least provided a spokesperson to talk to the show.)

The Center for American Progress, a liberal thank tank, on Thursday (3/17) released a story on the long-term decline of state support in Illinois for higher education. The story has more detail and statistics than most, including: MAP grants covered the full cost of tuition and fees as recently as 2002, but now cover only 1/3; lllinois now has the fourth-highest public tuition in the country. The "CAP" is calling for a federal intervention to reinvigorate public higher education across the country. Their proposal would increase federal aid and require states to match increases in federal spending; they would also add elements of performance based funding, but they seem to tie such measures more to low-income students than most such proposals (which end up rewarding universities with students more likely to graduate in the first place).

Federal intervention sounds welcome in Illinois, at least given the proposals from both Sanders and Clinton. On the other hand, federal intervention could mean . . .

Administrative bloat and union passivity?

On Monday (3/14) the Southern ran a fairly lengthy article with the thesis that folks at SIU blame Springfield, not the administration, for looming cuts. In it SIUC spokesperson Rae Goldsmith is quoted as saying that SIU already has a low ratio of administrators to students, so doesn't anticipate many cuts there. There is a similar conversation in this Carbondale Times story from Friday 3/11.

The last time I checked SIUC was not top-heavy at the highest administrative levels, compared to peers. We were however a bit heavy in administrative staff below the top grade. If there is bloat compared to peers, then, it resides at the level of all those administrators with words like 'vice', 'associate' or 'assistant' (or some absurd combination of such terms) before their titles, or in the broader ranks of AP and "Executive Civil Service" employees. (There certainly isn't bloat in rank and file CS positions, which have been cut back massively over recent years.)

Goldsmith's answer also begs the question of whether higher education in general is top-heavy. I remember a time some years ago—a rosier fiscal time, in fact—when the SIU administration was making a big point of limiting administrative costs, rather than defending them. At a very minimum, the current defensive stance strikes me as bad for morale (why not stress that we are all in this together and looking for cuts everywhere?) and bad PR (given that there's a bipartisan agreement, whether well-based or not, that universities have too much bureaucracy).

Supposed passivity by the unions after the break.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Another bill to fund universities

The Illinois Senate has passed a bill (SB 2059) that would fund public colleges and universities, among other things. Here's a Chicago Tribune story on the bill. (Note that the Tribune has a conservative slant, something clear from the headline to this story and also reflected in the comments.)

The Governor's reaction is that the state doesn't have the money to pay for this; a Democratic response is that this would at least allow universities and other unfunded parts of the Illinois government to "join the queue" with the 90% of the government that is being funded (thanks to court orders) and get some money.

The Governor has attacked the Democratic legislature for adjourning until April; but compromise on these issues will only occur through meetings of legislative leaders with the governor, something that hasn't happened for quite some time, as Rich Miller notes at Capitol Fax.

The bill passed on a party line vote and will presumably be vetoed by the Governor. Unless something changes in the House, I assume that the Democrats won't manage to override the veto.

Local partisan takes on this issue:
  • Rep. Teri Bryant (R), who represents the western side of Carbondale (and points west), joins Sen. Leuchtefeld (R) in calling  'compromise', in this story from her website. (Compromise here means not funding universities et al. until a funding stream is required, which means taxes, which means, for Governor Rauner, the "Turnaround Agenda").
  • Sen. Gary Forby (D), who represents from the center of Carbondale east, supports the bill.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Something to do

One thing we can all do--it may have a minor impact but is no great burden--is to write comments on articles like those below on widely read websites. Comments on the Capitol Fax site are particularly likely to catch the eye of those in Springfield, I've been told; they also tend to be of a somewhat higher caliber than those on newspaper sites.

Capitol Fax story on the governor's predictable reaction to a Senate bill which would fund higher ed. Rich Miller (master of Capital Fax) appends democratic comments of Sen. Gary Forby (D) in support of SIU, together with another supportive democrat.

Chicago Tribune column contrasting our current governor, with his contempt for public higher education, with the Governor Altgeld who is honored by Altgeld Hall. [Hat-tip to Angela Glaros at the EIU-UPI facebook site.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

EIU faculty voting on pay deferral

Faculty at Eastern Illinois (who are unionized under the UPI--AFT) have voted to rejected one plan to reduce their pay but are now considering a 'pay deferral' which would be paid back our of any FY 2017 funds allocated to EIU.

Late last week EIU faculty narrowly voted down a somewhat different administration proposal. The new proposal has higher paid faculty defer a higher percentage of their pay, and sets out clearer and more realistic terms to require the university to pay back the deferred salary. The new proposal would actually save EIU more money in the short term, though it clarifies that the savings are temporary, and would be paid back if EIU gets state funding for MAP grants or general appropriations for FY 2016 or FY 2017. 50% of any such payment would go to repaying faculty salaries. Under the old plan faculty would only have been compensated had FY 2016 funding come through from the state. Both plans would also extend the current EIU faculty contract by a year.

Deferred pay will amount to 5-7.5% of annual salary. That doesn't sound terribly severe, but as it has to be taken out of the last few paychecks of the year those paychecks will be much smaller (at least 20% smaller). The EIU administration has said that it would be $2 million short of making payroll through the end of this fiscal year (i.e., June 30); the deferred payment plan would save a bit more than this. 

Rauner fares badly on primary night

I'm no expert on Illinois politics, but the chatter I pick up suggests that Rauner did poorly on primary night.

Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan certainly claims that this is the case, and though Rauner's office has already issued a rebuttal, it isn't very convincing.

Rauner funded a challenger to Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, Jason Gonzales. Gonzalez lost handily.

Rauner funded an incumbent democrat, Rep. Ken Dunkin, who had broken ranks with the democratic leadership and lost to his democratic opponent, Juliana Stratton.

Rauner funded Bryce Banton, an opponent to an incumbent Republican, Sen. Bruce McCann, who has broken ranks with Rauner to support a bill that would require binding arbitration in the event state employee unions can't reach agreements with management. McCann won.

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Rauner didn't lose everywhere. In an open House district, Rauner's favored candidate, Brad Halbrook, defeated Jim Acklin, who had been backed by former Republican Governor (and  Rauner critic), Jim Edgar.

Informed comments adding to this report (or subtracting) are particularly welcome . . . 

Goals and groundrules

I frankly don't know what to do about this crisis. That's one reason I'm blogging again: to feel like I'm doing something, and to seek, together with readers, for ways that we can all help. Here are some goals for the blog this time around.
  • Sharing information about the crisis at other Illinois public colleges and universities. I'm thinking in particular of our peers who are facing steeper cuts sooner than we are (including CSU, Western, Eastern, and Northeastern): there are things we can learn from their experience. For starters, check out the "Illinois Links" on the upper left.
  • Providing an outlet to talk about this crisis. I'm not sure this is the ideal case for a talking cure, but I do think that many of us have been too scared to openly discuss the threat we face. Even a blog may be a better response than silent dread. 
  • Figuring out what to do about this crisis. I don't have the answers, but will go looking. And I hope to pick up ideas from others, in comments and elsewhere. 
  • Promoting shared governance. Local decisions will affect how SIUC weathers this storm. Both the substance of those decisions and the way in which they are made need to be subject to scrutiny, and a blog can help. To the best of my knowledge, for example, the proposed cuts President Dunn just released were not subject to any sort of formal shared governance. That could be justified in special circumstances, but isn't a good sign. So I'll blog about local decisions, and welcome comments on them. 
Ah, speaking of comments, another goal after the break: Providing a venue for discussion of campus issues.
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Coming back to life

The crisis in funding for public higher education has led me to start this blog up again.

Last time around, the crisis was local. We faced a lawless, reckless administration intent on using a moderate cut in state funding as an excuse to dismantle collective bargaining and undermine faculty tenure.

That was the easy crisis.