White petitions state

Patrick Traylor

Patrick Traylor

By Susan Kantor

University President B. Joseph White, along with other Illinois public university presidents, recently signed a letter to the Illinois General Assembly asking them to increase the funding for public universities in the state.

Along with the letter, White and the other presidents included Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to seek increased funding for public higher education.

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If this letter is supported by the General Assembly, the University will receive approximately $10 million, which will be about half of the higher education budget. However, to get support from the General Assembly is very difficult since the state has its own budget problems, White said in an e-mail interview.

“Capital would require borrowing by the state and it is a big challenge to get enough support for this in the General Assembly,” he said in an e-mail interview.

One project on campus waiting for funding is the renovation of Lincoln Hall. Graduate students Nicol Figueroa and Bethany Harnden said they worry about chunks falling from the ceiling and landing on desks, exposed pipes, strange smells, unbearable heat, and rumors of asbestos and lead in the pipes. They also said there was a possum that had been previously living in the basement and Figueroa said an insect the size of a palm was found in an office in the basement.

“The University of Illinois’s highest capital priorities, should capital become available from the state, are for repairs and renovation in light of our big deferred maintenance problem and Lincoln Hall, which is in great need of modernization and renovation,” White said in an e-mail. “But we don’t know if money will be forthcoming and if it is, how much.”

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-103) agreed that Lincoln Hall is in need of a major overhaul.

“As a representative of this district, I certainly will be pushing for it,” Jakobsson said. “People ask me if Lincoln Hall is the same way it used to be when I was a student here, and my answer is no. It needs a lot of work.”

Last week, White said he told the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee that the deferred maintenance problem of the University is at least $700 million and growing worse each year. White said he is determined to repair this situation while he is president.

He said one solution to the problem of the lack of funding is to propose a new student fee to the Board of Trustees. This fee would be used for “repairs, renovation and modernization, or on interest on borrowing for the same purpose, and on nothing else,” White said in an e-mail.

“I think students would be willing to pay as long as they see tangible improvements,” said Nick Klitzing, student trustee and junior in LAS. “It is vitally important that each and every student knows where these fees are going.”

Klitzing said the University, students and their families are in a bad position because the money from the state is dwindling and tuition continues to increase.

Fundraising and donations are going to have to take a larger role in supporting the University’s funding, he said.

“Lincoln Hall is a historic building that serves thousands of students and hundreds of faculty,” White said in an e-mail. “It is a symbol of the University of Illinois. Its condition is unacceptable and we have to fix it. There is a lot more deferred maintenance to be addressed across the University but there is no higher priority than Lincoln Hall.”