NEIU to Rauner: Fund Our Degrees

Defending higher education in the face of a budget stalemate

The cheer “FUND OUR FUTURES” bellowed out from the building E auditorium last Thursday. Students, faculty and staff gathered for a rally to speak out against the budget crisis.

“It is time for us to stand up and speak out for our rights,” said Nicholas Martinez, president of the Student Government Association (SGA). “The right to higher education. The right to have our dreams come true, the right to a fair education and the right to graduate.

“We the students demand for a state budget.”

Nine public universities have been running without appropriations from the state of Illinois for eight months now. Gov. Bruce Rauner has refused to pass a state budget, leaving public higher education institutions to financially fend for themselves.

Additional speakers who attended the event included Darren Martin from the SGA of Chicago State University, Diane DiMaso from the Civil Service Council, Will Guzzardi an Illinois State Representative of the 39th district and Tracey Abman, Associate Director of the AFSCME Council 31.

Martinez described how an ongoing petition by students, faculty and staff already has 2,000 to 3,000 signatures.

“We can still get more. This is not over,” Martinez said. “This is just the beginning.”

SGA Vice President Ricky Gutierrez said, “We the students will not stop until Gov. Rauner funds our university and our futures.”

SGA Senator Roger Byrd illustrated the budget stalemate by comparing it to the iconic scene from Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist where the  titular orphan approaches his headmaster with an empty bowl to request more porridge.

The point of the comparison was that starving school budgets equate to starving four-year university students of their degrees. Soon enough the small bowl of “porridge” is not going to be enough to solve, albeit undertake, the debt crisis.

Byrd brought a small, blue ceramic bowl with a small Illinois flag taped to it as a visual for his analogy.

“I am a proud product of NEIU, a public institution,” Byrd said. “I felt inclined to bring my porridge bowl for the governor.

“I feel it’s unfortunate that we have a situation in which the discussion of education should even be a discussion. Education fosters the opportunity to be productive citizens.”

Provost Dr. Richard Helldobler spoke to the audience and stood with NEIU students as well as those affected by the crisis experienced at the eight additional institutions of public higher education like Chicago State University.

“The very fundamental notion of access to education is being denied,” Helldobler said. “That’s really what we’re fighting about, that’s really what we’re arguing about. This isn’t a problem that we’re going to solve overnight.”

“Illinois didn’t get into it overnight, they’re not going to get out of it overnight,” he continued. “There’s got to be a middle road and a sound plan that takes place over years to get us out. That doesn’t come at the expense of the future of Illinois, which are our students.”

Byrd addressed Rauner and the legislators and said, “This is not a game. You are playing with the lives of everyday citizens.”

He pretended he was giving his bowl to the governor and then smashed it on the ground, breaking it into pieces.

“Oops,” was all he said as walked away.