News Local/State

Students Lead Rally At WIU

Students demonstrate for higher education funding on the campus of Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Students demonstrate for state funding of higher education in the "Class Walk Out" on the campus of Western Illinois University in Macomb. Rich Egger / TriStates Public Radio

About three dozen Western Illinois University students and staff members marched across campus in Macomb Tuesday to advocate for state funding of higher education.  The demonstration was put on by students and was done in support of faculty and staff who face furloughs and layoffs.

The event was called "Class Walk Out."  Senior Ryan Mills said he organized the rally for a project in his Sociology class.

“We know today may not change things overnight, nothing changes overnight, but sitting in the classroom doing what you’re told doesn’t change things either,” Mills said.

Mills said the state – not the WIU administration – is responsible for causing financial problems for public universities.  He did not know what it might take to get the attention of state politicians but he said higher education needs to be funded.

Senior Danielle Barnes concurred. She said the budget crisis is hitting close to home.

“My mom’s a building service worker out here.  And she’s getting cut,” Barnes told the crowd as her voice quivered. “This is impacting families. This is impacting my community.  I was born and raised in this town and it’s breaking my heart to see it fall apart.”

Barnes is worried that faculty and staff who received layoff notices will leave town, hurting Macomb’s economy.

Illinois’ public colleges and universities have gone more than nine months without any state funding due to a standoff between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders.

Colleges and universities – public and private – have not even received the funding owed from the state’s MAP grant program, which helps students from low income families pay for college.  Many schools have covered the cost of the grants while waiting for a resolution to the budget standoff.  The state owes Western $11 million for the program.

The MAP grant uncertainty is a concern for junior Bianca Brooks, who said, “I’m working almost 40 hours a week and rely on MAP grants and loans and exhausting all options just to pay for college, so it’s a big deal to me.”

Brooks hopes that next year she will become the first person in her family to graduate from college. But if no MAP grant funding is available next year, she might have to sit out a semester and delay completion of her degree.

The Class Walk Out demonstration was criticized in some quarters. Those critics questioned the effectiveness of rallies and marches.  Some also wondered about the symbolism of walking away from the educational setting that demonstrators said they’re supporting.

The rally ended on the steps of Sherman Hall, which is WIU’s main administration building.  No administrators came out but a few people were seen looking out windows to watch the rally.