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President Dietz responds to apprehension on budget

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz sent the following message to all faculty and staff on Thursday, February 4, 2016, related to the state budget situation.

Dear Colleagues,

During the past two weeks, several Illinois public universities have made budget-related announcements that have caused apprehension beyond the boundaries of their campuses to the entirety of the state’s public higher education system.

Several colleges and universities announced they would no longer be able to cover student’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for the spring 2016 semester and beyond.  Others signaled the layoffs of faculty and staff members.  One university said it would run out of funds in March and may be forced to close its doors.  Another announced just yesterday plans to lay off more than 200 employees and furlough all administrative-professional staff members just to make it through the school year.

As faculty and staff members at Illinois State, you are likely asking the obvious question—could it happen here?  The most honest and most simple answer is yes, it could—but not now.

It is no secret that for many years, universities have depended on student tuition dollars for financial viability.  During these years, universities have also made significant cutbacks, some in response to criticism that public universities carry too much “fat,” and some due to a lack of resources caused by shrinking enrollments and lower state funding levels.  At Illinois State, we are fortunate that enrollment numbers remain strong and diverse.  Our University debt is low—in fact, ISU has a better credit rating than the state of Illinois, and a better rating than all of our fellow public universities but one.  In addition, Illinois State has made cutbacks—cutting FY2016 spending beyond the 10 percent figure authorized by our Board of Trustees, eliminating or leaving vacant more than 75 non-faculty positions, and further pushing back the timelines of non-safety related construction and maintenance projects.

It is for these reasons, combined with the commitment of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, that I evaluated ISU as “strong and stable” during my October 2015 State of the University Address. However, I did not think that almost four months after the address we would still be without a FY2016 appropriation or a MAP disbursement for our 4,000 students in financial need.

Students are at the core of our mission, vision and values, and for the remainder of this semester and through the summer session, we will continue to put them first by keeping professors in the classroom and covering student MAP grant costs.  We will also do our best to continue to convince prospective students and their families that the state of Illinois has not turned its back on higher education and that Illinois State University remains prepared to provide a high-quality education at an affordable investment.

While I also do not currently envision laying off or furloughing support staff members through these next few months, I cannot forecast what will happen beyond that without a state budget.   It is my hope that our legislative leaders will discuss, and reach a compromise, on pending higher education bills and bring an end to this long impasse.  In a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders last week, all nine public university presidents reaffirmed our willingness to be responsible partners in solving the state’s budget crisis.

Thank you for your service to Illinois State University, and please accept my best wishes for a healthy and productive remainder of the semester.

Sincerely,

Larry H. Dietz
President