C-U Mayors, Business Leaders, Students Weigh In On Impasse

Members of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education meet at the U of I's Alice Campbell Alumni Center.

Members of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education (L to R:) Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, Parkland College Student Body President Kelly Cuevas, U of I Student Body President Mitch Dickey, and U of I Student Brandon Hudspeth.

Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Local elected officials and those behind research projects at the University of Illinois are weighing in on the nearly nine-month state budget impasse.  They're local members of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education. The group focused not only of the plight of students, but the potential economic loss to Champaign-Urbana should the stalemate continue to linger.

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen says the U of I has a $900 million annual payroll. She says each dollar paid to a university employee generates 90 cents in the local economy.

“What happens not if, but when, our leading faculty decide to leave?," she said.  "And what happens with recruitment of new faculty when this crisis continues?”

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says it’s ironic that Governor Bruce Rauner’s "Turnaround Agenda" of business reforms aims to "destroy the state in order to save it."

"So I think (Rauner and legislative leaders) have to sit down and figure out what can be done, and the governor cannot have a top to bottom revamping of all the 'old way' laws to suit what thinks is right." she said.

Terry McLennand of the U of I’s Prairie Research Institute says the hiring freeze resulting from the impasse will keep his facility from replacing retiring staff members, hampering research in areas like the spread of Zika Virus.

Laura Frerichs of the U of I's Research Park says the lack of state funds affects the growth of start-up companies.

Meanwhile, U of I senior Brandon Hudspeth questions whether he can find a private loan if his $4,000 Monetary Award Program - or MAP Grant, won’t be renewed for next fall.  He’s concerned about potentially having to take time off from school without that funding.

“That would be disastrous, because I’m not the kind of person that likes to sit down and just wait," he said. "I like to be always busy, and hands on with things. So I do have a lot of hope that this will get sorted out, but I cannot imagine what’s happening at Chicago State University, at Eastern Illinois University.”

EIU issued layoff notices to 177 employees last week, while Chicago State University may not be able to make payroll as soon as next month, forcing seniors to potentially transfer to another school.

U of I Student Body President Mitch Dickey says he questions how much the governor and legislative leaders respect higher education, with Illinois’ budget stalemate now nearly nine months old.

Story source: WILL