University braces for economic hardships

By Alissa Groeninger

Remaining financially stable during the last few years in spite of the declining economy, the University finally is succumbing to the state’s budget woes.

In October, Chancellor Richard Herman and President B. Joseph White sent out e-mails to the student body, warning that University leaders had been directed to prepare for economic hardships.

“Overall the University is in a reasonable position financially to weather a difficult economic period,” White wrote. “We cannot, however, fully immunize ourselves from the painful effects of a severe recession should one occur.”

A recession was officially declared by economists in November.

The economy hit state schools across the country hard because public schools rely on state funding and the economy has diminished the amount available.

Randall Kangas, assistant vice president for planning and budgeting at the University, said the state of Illinois is having revenue problems, like all other states.

“The state (of Illinois) is in a precarious financial state right now and just doesn’t have the money,” said Jay Bergman, member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Randall Kangas, assistant vice president for planning and budgeting at the University, said that the worst has not come though.

“We have not hit rock bottom yet,” Kangas said. “(Though,) they’re preparing us.”

Kangas said the University is going to be cautious about hiring new staff members, purchasing new equipment, such as computers, and spending money on travel.

“The campus is working very hard to reduce. impact on students, (and) the core academic mission,” he said. “(But) this will have an impact on people.”

The University has to consider the possibility that the budget might be cut during the middle of the year, as promised state funds have yet to arrive, Kangas said.

“We’re still assessing how bad this is going to be,” he added. In 1980 the University received 44.5 percent of its budget from the state. For fiscal year 2009, that number hit 18.4 percent.

“We were very dependent on state funding,” said Mike Andrechak, associate provost for budgets and resource planning. “This is not the type of climate where we’re going to bounce back in a few months.”Political leaders in Illinois have placed some of the blame on Gov. Rod Blogojevich.

“I think the most devastating thing to university budgets at this point is the Blagojevich administration,” said Patty Schuh, Illinois Senate Republican spokesperson. “It hasn’t placed much of a priority on higher education.”

State Sen. Edward Maloney, D-18, said the governor retracted a 3 percent increase to higher education that the General Assembly passed for this year’s budget.

Kangas said students and families should be concerned and encouraged people to write the state legislature if the University is important to them.

“I certainly hope President-elect (Barack) Obama can give the education system a shot in the arm not only with dollars but with incentives to encourage different states to hold costs down,” said state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-3.

What to look for next semester:

Students should pay attention to national and local politics during the upcoming months to see if higher education is made a priority and how it is dealt with. Obama has a lot of decisions to make regarding how to help public institutions. The Illinois General Assembly is going to have to figure out how to provide the state’s universities with funding. Lower education levels have also taken a hit, as both the Champaign and Urbana school districts fear the possibility that their promised state funds will not come this year.