Panel discusses Illinois budget


John Kurecki, Features Reporter

In an attempt to inform the campus community of issues facing higher education in Illinois, the UIS United Faculty and the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), Local 4100 co-sponsored an informational panel about the state budget.

Vice President of the UIS United Faculty Dr. Kristi Barnwell, an assistant professor of history at UIS, began the night by announcing a new “education first” campaign that, according to the UIS United Faculty website, states that the university should eliminate student debt, respect faculty and staff, and protect academic freedom, among other demands.

The panel featured journalist Brian Mackey, who covers Illinois state government for WUIS, among other radio stations; Nick Yelverton, a legislative director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT); and John Miller, president of UPI 4100.

Mackey began the event by giving a synopsis of how the state fell into such a crisis and how this reflects on the status of higher education in Illinois.

Describing how the crisis affects universities, Mackey said, “Southern Illinois University has already cut $13.5 million out of its budget; that affects student jobs, campus library, the public radio station WSIU…Students who depend on MAP grants across the state are not getting those grants, universities have said ‘okay, you can come this fall, but if this goes into spring, we may not be able to enroll you.’”

The issues with higher education come on the back of what Mackey refers to in his article on the matter as a “selective government shutdown,” which is created, he says, by Gov. Bruce Rauner approving some, but not all, of the budget proposed by the Democrat-controlled legislature.

The next speaker was Nick Yelverton, who was critical of the governor. Yelverton argued, “What is really happening is there is a consequence to that consequence and that consequence is what we’re living today. And does Bruce Rauner care about that consequence? Frankly, my personal opinion, no.”

Yelverton continued, “Clearly, he cares about one thing: He cares about busting unions and going after working class families in this state for an agenda that has been widely panned throughout the country.”

UPI 4100 president John Miller began by speaking about the tuition in Illinois. Miller argued that the high tuition in Illinois has caused “a mass exodus of students out of the state. On average the state of Illinois is losing approximately 29,000 students per year.”

In turn, as students leave the state to attend cheaper schools out of state, they are recruited by companies located outside of Illinois. Because of this, Miller said, “our brightest talent is being forced out of the state.”

Miller aims to spread the message to the community, claiming, “We need to get everyone involved…it’s not a defeated situation.”

While student voter turnout and political involvement is infamously very low, the chapter president aims to work with students and encourage them to make themselves heard.

“Students are one of our biggest allies,” said Miller. “Last year, in less than a week during the end of April, while students are getting ready for final exams and the like, we were able to get petitions out to students and had over 10,000 signatures. Now not all of that was students…so it’s there.”

Miller also encouraged more students to show up at events such as the panel so that they can influence future policy changes and have an impact on higher education in Illinois.