Imposed furloughs affect faculty

NEIU faculty and staff went to Springfield to protest the first round of furloughs and are now experiencing the same thing again.

Bisma Zafar

NEIU faculty and staff went to Springfield to protest the first round of furloughs and are now experiencing the same thing again.

Bisma Zafar, Arts and Life Editor

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Since fiscal year 2015 NEIU has had a 47 percent reduction in state funding according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The university is now in its second year without a budget and legislators have not been able to come to compromise in order to fund higher education.

After the influx of federal tuition dollars ran out last spring, faculty members went on furlough, which meant taking one unpaid day of work each week, to help keep the university open throughout the spring and summer semesters. Once the state approved stopgap funding – a temporary budget – the furloughs ended.

Now once again, since there has not been an approval of  a second stopgap budget,  the school in the same scenario without appropriations.

In an email sent out on March 3, Interim President Richard Helldobler surprised bargaining units by announcing that furloughs would begin again this year during Spring Break.

UPI 4100, the union on campus which represents professors, instructors and advisers were still in  the process of “good faith” negotiating, according to Sophia Mihic, president of the NEIU chapter and professor in the philosophy department.

According to Mehic, UPI’s contract with the university prohibits an action such as imposing furloughs without an agreement in place, leaving faculty and staff without many options.

Since last spring the NEIU Ronald Williams Library has had three tenure-track faculty, out of a total of 14, leave and take positions elsewhere.

“Many people have mentioned that they are thinking about new careers, which doesn’t mean that they’re going to leave next year, but they are making preparations for the long haul, to maybe move out of higher education, or they are actively applying to other institutions,” said Mary Thill, the Humanities Librarian.

At the same time, attracting new applicants to fill those vacant positions is difficult with a job ad that includes the following notice: “Northeastern Illinois University positions are contingent upon the University’s receipt of its State of Illinois appropriation.”

“If anyone reads that closely, it’s taking a big risk for anyone who applies here, because they could apply, get the position, and then maybe we’d say ‘oops we don’t have the money.’ That’s a lot to go through, the interview process, and to know that that is a real possibility,” said Laura Wallis, treasurer of NEIU’s UPI 4100 chapter and also a librarian at the Ronald Williams Library.

Last year before the furloughs began AFSCME, one of the collective bargaining units at NEIU, sent out a survey to hear what their members were thinking. AFSCME members responded that they were worried about paying their bills and affording food.

Ellen Larrimore, the president of NEIU’s AFSCME chapter and a senior library specialist started a food pantry. At a set time each week, members could come and take what they needed. It was funded by donations from faculty.

Larrimore said that depending on what the furloughs will look like this time, if the situation calls for it they will restart the food pantry.

However, through this crisis there is a different type of hunger that is keeping faculty going.

“People at Northeastern are hungry to be educated and understand that it is something special and sacred. To be around students that feel that way and also to be someplace that is one of the most diverse schools in the county, you just feel like you are doing the democratic project. That is what a university is supposed to be, about educating everybody” Mihic said.