Frustrated, Furloughed Employees Vent at Forum

Frustrated%2C+Furloughed+Employees+Vent+at+Forum

Photo by Luis Badillo

As the state budget crisis continues to loom over NEIU, many of the school’s staff are feeling the consequences. At a March 17, budget forum, university employees used the event’s open question period to voice anxieties amid massive salary cuts.

As of March 14, large groups of university staff were subject to a weekly furlough day, a required day of absence to serve as a cost saving measure. Other measures include spending freezes and hiring freezes for open positions. As demonstrated at the budget forum, many of the employees subject to furlough days see the measure as a 20 percent cut in pay.

Linda Loew of enrollment services presented questions to a top university administrator at the forum. “No matter what someone earns any kind of cutback in expected income hurts,” she said in a room packed with students and employees.

She addressed the issue of her colleagues with lower incomes.

“Not all, but some, are facing the questions of ‘Will I make a mortgage payment? Will I pay the rent? Will I have what I need to repair my car to get to work?’” Loew said. “And even in a small, but important number of cases, ‘Will I be homeless?'”

The comments followed a presentation given by President Sharon Hahs.

“Our tuition and reserves are almost gone,” she said early in the forum. “There is a tremendous need for cost-savings. It’s a very steep need for cost savings.” In a previous forum, Hahs said that there would be “significant sacrifice” without state appropriations.

Michael Pierick, Vice President of Finance and Administration spoke for the majority of the presentation.

“I said at the (previous) forum that we have a cash flow problem,” he said. “Well, we’re now approaching the point where we’re going to have a budgetary problem.”

According to Pierick’s presentation, even with an estimated $4.8 million cut through furloughs, the university will still need to cut $1.8 million before Sept. 15, when fall 2016 tuition revenue becomes available.

Pierick outlined several financial outcomes, many of them assuming a state budget is passed by the fall 2016 semester. However, each scenario accounts for some percentage of cuts ranging from an expected 10 to 15 percent.

“We’ll continue to monitor our savings and our cash flow. We’ll end the furloughs as soon as possible,” Pierick said.

Many of those with questions in the audience had issues with how the furloughs are being implemented.

Dwan “Dee” Buetow, office manager in the Physics department, expressed what challenges she’ll face with furloughs.

“I will only speak for me, but those of us who may be at my salary level, I will not survive a 20 percent pay cut,” Buetow said.

At several points during the question period, administrators explained why furlough days were implemented equally amongst employees at all pay levels.

Dr. April Nauman, professor of literacy education, asked why NEIU did not implement tiers of furlough scales.

“So that people at the highest pay scale have more furlough days and then it goes down,” she said. “And people at the bottom of the pay scale have fewer furlough days.”

Dr. Brett Stockdill, sociology professor, challenged the administration to consider progressive furlough scales. “I think it’s very problematic for someone like me who makes $118,000 to have the same days of furloughs as someone that makes $35,000. I know I’m lucky.”

Provost Dr. Richard Helldobler admitted the decisions made by administration were difficult.

“It’s painful. We get it,” he said. “I’ve heard stories in the hall when this came out; a mother came up and said ‘I don’t think my daughter can go to college in the fall.’

“Another single mother came up and said ‘how do I afford daycare for the other four days of the week that I have to be here?'”

Helldobler said that without state funding, the university will continue to meet challenges.

“This is really, really, hard. It’s intellectually hard, it’s politically hard, it’s financially hard, it’s emotionally hard and none of us have really done this before.”

Helldobler reiterated that the administration’s goal was to keep the school open through Sept. 15, when fall 2016 tuition revenue becomes available.

More information from NEIU regarding furloughs, including more financial details discussed at the forum are available through NEIUport, under “Open Budget Forum.”