President answers UI budget questions

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

Editor’s note: University President B. Joseph White met with The Daily Illini’s editorial board and other staff members Monday afternoon. The following are excerpts of the question and answer session, largely centering on the financial challenges facing the university system.

How is the plan for addressing the budget situation in Illinois and across the nation developing? How realistic is avoiding job cuts?

BJW: What we have … is a financial problem-slash-crisis. A lot of the workforce reductions you see being announced every day, I would guess that three-quarters of those are being lost because the work is going away.

Our situation is completely different than that. There’s no reduction in the body of our work – we have just as many students to educate, just as many hospital patients, just as many research grants and contracts, just as many buildings to maintain.

I would like for the University of Illinois not to add to the problem (with layoffs) … We need our people. I view this as a financial valley to get through while maintaining the quality of the University.

What information has been passed on about a rescission of state funding?

BJW: We did receive 2.5 percent firm rescission notice, and that’s about 20 million dollars. But it’s $20 million we never spent because when we got it, I didn’t believe it would be fulfilled so we didn’t distribute it. So, that we can handle with no effect on anybody because we never doled it out.

I think we may not receive further notice this year. My sense watching Springfield … is the new leadership is going to take time to figure out how to address this problem.

When could a tuition decision for next year be made?

BJW: I think we’ll discuss tuition at the March (Board of Trustees) meeting, but I don’t really think there will be a tuition decision before May. I think the board’s going to want to see what’s the situation from the state.

The easiest thing in the world is to say what we want is nice support from the state, minimum tuition increases, no layoffs.

But in the real world we’re living in, the issue is going to become what do we get from the state, and if it’s a cut – then what do we do in the way of tuition and how does the total of those two relate to our ability to keep our people employed?

I think a really tough issue … is if we get a big cut from the state and the trade-off ends up being a substantial tuition increase (or) laying people off … where would the students come out on that?

Can’t cuts be made without ordering layoffs?

BJW: I have a preference for reducing people costs through furloughs (rather than layoffs) … if we go that direction, then I like the approach they took at Arizona State, in which higher-paid people who can better absorb a reduction in their monthly income take more furlough days … We’ll look specifically if it comes to that, but that would be my preference.

Sometimes you have to do reductions in force because … contracts call for dealing with problems like this through layoffs. Unions are very oriented toward seniority rights, and those seniority rights are earned … (which) means the lowest-seniority people go first.

The other principle for me is you don’t just take your cuts out of the lowest-paid people. You have to really pay attention to principles of fairness and think about the organization as a pyramid.

How would you address critics of Global Campus calling for the absorption of the program?

BJW: If right now, we shut down Global Campus, there is an outstanding line of credit that will never be repaid (to the University of Illinois).

Now if you’re an extreme skeptic and think this whole thing is wrong-minded … then you say, I don’t care what the president says – cut our losses … I personally think we’ll look back one day and say it was a wise thing to do.