Thursday, February 18, 2010

State of Denial: Illinois is Going Bankrupt

If bankrupts sounds extreme, read this widely-read blog. Things are so bad, the director of Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) slammed the state for being "totally negligent."

Meanwhile, Chicago Tribune notes Illinois is dead last in funding its state pension system and "Illinois health care and other post-employment benefit programs are 0.19 percent funded. You read that right: 0.19 percent."

For those of us working at state universities, this means we also need to get out of our state of denial about how bad it is. Want to imagine how bad it is? Think of the final scene from Thelma and Louise

My own university needs to sound the alarm and announce possible steps of action that we can all take to make it through the crisis. The following steps are being taken elsewhere and merely suggesting them will be unpopular. If folks have other ideas, post 'em here.

FACULTY:

*Teach more courses:
tenured faculty have a long-term commitment to SIU and need to demonstrate that commitment by teaching a heavier load, thus reducing the reliance on lecturers and adjuncts.

*Hiring freeze: total and utter freeze. If people retire or leave, and a department believes their position "must" be filled . . . WAIT. Far too often in past crises people have pressured for special dispensations. It may be "necessary" but first it is necessary for the institution as a whole to survive.

*Salary freeze

*Online education: SIUC lags far behind its peers in offering online courses. Here again tenure-track faculty ought to be leading, not following. Offer discounted tuition for off-campus summer courses or overload courses (above 15 credit hours) taken online.

ADMINISTRATION (and Board of Trustees):

*Raise tuition:
the days of being the cheapskate college are over. The Truth in Tuition law should have raised the risk premium on tuition because it freezes incoming tuition for four years. The last tuition increase was laughably inadequate given the real risk of state neglect that we faced -- and are now enduring.

*Protect jobs: in return for teaching more credit hours, faculty ought to see it as a way of protecting their own jobs. Send the message that faculty cooperation will indeed result in greater job security.

STUDENTS:

In recent years, SIUC and state funding have left SIUC students with one of the lowest debt loads of any state university. This is unsustainable. The MAP grant crisis highlighted how much the state subsidizes higher education. You/we may not like higher tuition as an alternative but the State of Denial (Illinois) isn't a reliable partner.

That last point is something we all should have known. The level of denial -- even now -- is unbelievable. Let's do what it takes and hear leadership on what we all can do. The sooner we hear it from the administration and the unions, the sooner we leave Denial for good.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a faculty member, I'm not a fan of more teaching per se (except I'd agree we could do more on-line). I'd be more inclined to work on downsizing the institution. In all honesty, we continue adding programs (and administrative overhead) while our enrollment goes down. In the meantime, the quality of core programs suffers and that further hurts enrollment. We need to be a smaller institution with a core identity.

i-History said...

I agree with you on the need to downsize and change our core identity. I've long thought that SIUC's confused identity (research? teaching?) has led to a lesser commitment to teaching. Illinois State and SIUE are growing by leaps and bounds because they know who they are and what they want to do. SIUC wants to do everything. Reality: we can't do everything.

So, I favor your approach but good luck getting fellow faculty to go along. The arguments I get about changing our "research university" status to something else! In the long run, though, your approach is what we need.