UI plans ways to reduce costs

By Alissa Groeninger

After a fall semester warning from the governor’s office that Illinois universities should start saving money, the University is preparing for spring semester cutbacks.

Chancellor Richard Herman and President B. Joseph White warned the student body during the fall that University leaders had been instructed to plan for the possibility that promised state funds will not be available.

Randy Kangas, assistant vice president for planning and budgeting, said no final decisions have been made because the University is still waiting to hear what portion of the funds, if any, will come.

The governor’s office warned universities to save 2.5 percent of their revenue received through taxes in case they have to compensate for a shortage of state-promised funds.

University deans and department heads are considering ways to cut costs, although Kangas said students will likely not feel the effects of financial woes until the fall 2009 semester.

State Sen. Edward Maloney, D-18, said schools might have to cut faculty and offer less classes.

Schools should look to save on utility costs by using less energy, said Donald McNeil, chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Kangas said the University is being cautious about hiring new staff members, purchasing new equipment and spending money on travel.

“(We are) trying to protect the instructional mission (of the University),” he said. “(However), the instructional mission is not immune. How do you remain competitive in a volatile economic (period)?”

Kangas said the University is presuming this period is going to be more harmful to finances than the decade’s earlier recession in which the University had to make budget cuts.

While the recession is hurting all states, Illinois has to deal with a stalemate between its governing branches. Budget problems are not likely to be solved until the conflict with Gov. Rod Blagojevich is over, Maloney said.

Blagojevich denied the state senate education committee’s attempt to pass a 3 percent increase in funding for public universities. This was the first attempt in five years to provide state schools with more funding.

“The state is going to have to get creative,” McNeil said.

The lottery and a gas tax raise are being considered to raise money.

Maloney said leaders at state universities have to prove to legislators that more funding is a necessity.

“They need to articulate the importance of higher education as a whole,” Maloney said.

Southern Illinois University has invited state legislators to their campus to help demonstrate the importance of funding higher education. Southern has also become creative, planning to let out-of-state students pay in-state tuition in order to increase the number of students bringing in more money.

While leaders agree that higher education is a priority, there are many departments competing for state funds.

“In tough economic times everything becomes a priority,” Maloney said.

When people are hurting financially there are more demands for state funds, Kangas said. In addition to education, health care and Medicare, among other entities, need more government funding.

“All of state government is being squeezed,” Kangas said.

McNeil said President-elect Barack Obama and Congress may develop a plan to help states.

“(This is) something a new administration in Washington can do something about,” Maloney said.