Protestors Go to Springfield to Take on the Budget Impasse

Photo by Alec Thorsen
The rally was spearheaded by the students of Chicago State University, who face the most immediate effects of the legislature’s failure to fund higher education.

Angela Weisgal, Melissa Johnson, Erika Rios and Steven Villa contributed to this story

Several hundred college students, faculty and staff from Illinois public universities made their way to Springfield to protest the state’s failure to fund higher-ed on Feb. 17.

Charles Preston, an African American Studies major who served as the spokesman for Chicago State University (CSU) at the rally, expressed his frustration at the legislature’s handling of the situation.

“I’m just really mad because our school is facing closure and I don’t think people feel the urgency of that,” he said. “My mother works at this school, so if this school closes, she has no job, I have no academic career.”

He said that CSU will be the first school to face closure, but other public universities might be next.

Though CSU was hit hardest by the budget impasse, more than just students will be affected. Many professors and staff could be made redundant. Over 100 staff members have beenlaid off at Eastern Illinois University. On Friday, Feb. 26  CSU sent layoff notices to all of its 900 employees in the wake of last month’s declaration of financial emergency.

Sarah is an elementary education major in her sophomore year who spoke for NEIU at the rally. She is a first generation college student and a Golden Apple Scholar, a grant program for those who want to teach in high-need schools.

“I want to teach in CPS. This is where I want to be. I grew up in the suburbs, but I want to help the kids that need it the most,” she said about her goals after graduation.

“None of us who are in Northeastern’s education school are going to be able to make that difference in this community without a school to graduate from.” She also said that public universities are affordable options.  “Without Northeastern, I wouldn’t be in school.”

Chicago State and Northeastern are not alone. All of Illinois public universities have been put in jeopardy by the budget cuts and impasse.

Universities are funded via tuition and state appropriations that amount to tens of millions of dollars. The loss of the state appropriation knocks out more than a third of a university’s total operating budget. According to NEIU Communications, Media, and Theater (CMT) Professor Cyndi Moran, over two thousand NEIU students depend on MAP grants.

“The university has fronted the money (for MAP grants),” said NEIU Communications Media and Theater Professor Moran. “But without that money, we’re gonna not be able to keep moving pretty soon. We are going to run out of the ability to keep the lights on and pay the faculty and do all the things we do.”

“What’s going on in Illinois right now is a fight between the Democratic and Republican leadership and the Republican governor,” Moran continued. “Bruce Rauner does not want to agree to any budget that isn’t pro-business and doesn’t fit his agenda.”

Moran emphasized that public universities are important in Illinois because if students can’t get an affordable education in the state and therefore not find a job, they will end up leaving.

“I am an optimist,” she said. “I think at some point at some point in time people will put their own best interests, re-election, aside and do what they’re paid to do.”

But the attitude of the capitol legislators, who largely ignored the protest, left some of the protestors feeling disillusioned.

“I’m kind of disappointed,” Preston said.  “We came all the way here from Chicago to hear legislators stand in solidarity with us and fight for our causes and even when I lifted up the concern of the Democrats having a supermajority and who’s not voting in line with the supermajority, they couldn’t answer that question on camera.They had to talk to me off side the camera as if my issue wasn’t important…”

Students from private universities also joined in with students from public universities. McKendree University student Hailee Lilly held up a list of state legislators who voted ‘nay’ against the budget, which she got from State Representative Eddie Jackson, whom she and a group of students from her university spoke to.

She told the Independent that 67 people voted yea and 42 voted nay on passing a budget.

“The majority that said nay is Republican,” Lilly said. “There was two Democrats that said no. So what they need is they need four more people to be persuaded to say say yes to override the veto.” She said people “need to see this list and go and talk to these people and tell them why it’s so important because they’re blindsided, they don’t see it because they’re not in our shoes.”

She said that it is possible for students to make a difference, “We do have power. We do have the ability to change. We have the ability to persuade.”

She expressed concerns about how the budget impasse would affect the future generations of students.

“What if I don’t get an actual job? Instead if I can’t go to school, I’m going to have to settle for a minimum wage job.”

She emphasised that without a proper education, many young people will have to go on welfare and not be self-sufficient.

“I want to be a US Marshal. Someone that protects lives,” Lilly said. “I’m supposed to do that, but how am I supposed to do that if I don’t even have the opportunity…”