Editorial: New student fee comes too late

After years of inaction and wails about the decreasing funding from the state, the University has finally taken the matter into its own hands to tend after its buildings. But incoming students will be forced to bear the brunt of a burden created by neglect and lack of initiative by administrators and state government.

Aside from clever accounting tricks, like the ones our friends in Springfield and Washington often engage in to cover up their cavalier spending habits, there are two ways to deal with a budget crunch: cut down on spending or find new sources of income. The University chose to do both by raising tuition and trimming expenditures wherever possible. Unfortunately, the University cut the wrong corner by putting off maintenance on buildings.

It is common sense that the longer a problem with a building is left untouched, the worse it will get. A perfect example of that simple fact is the state of Lincoln Hall, a building that bears the name of the most important citizen of Illinois in the history of the United States. Paint is peeling off its lecture hall walls, tiles shift and slide at every step and squirrels and bats now claim it as their home.

The alumni, faculty, staff and students have recognized and cried out with alarm about the growing decay of Lincoln Hall, as well as many other buildings they have studied in. Yet, administrators did nothing but watch the bill balloon into a $400 million problem. For every year the problems are continue to be left untouched, the cost will go up by an additional $40 million. Such poor stewardship is unacceptable under any circumstances.

The University made a correct decision by creating a $500-per-year student fee, starting with incoming freshmen, to fund the rehabilitation process of Lincoln Hall, Noyes Lab and various other facilities on campus in serious need of repair. But, with the implementation of this fee, the administration now asks for students to pay two different fees to keep the buildings upright and safe. Juxtaposed with the recently announced increase in tuition, the fee might squeeze out more students who would have otherwise been a part of the Urbana-Champaign campus community.

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Politicians and public officials in Springfield are not without blame. Despite the xenophobic and ignorant outcries about the outsourcing of a fraction of spots to Koreans and Indians that some suburbanites of Chicago feel entitled to their sons and daughters, the fact remains that this University is the flagship public institution of higher education in Illinois. It is disingenuous for members of the state legislature and the government to talk about the importance of quality education when it is unwilling to meet its end of the deal in making sure that students of this University are in buildings that are up to standards.

For all the talk about how this University is one of the state’s primary assets, Illinois’ politicians do not seem to value it enough to help pay for its basic costs. The days when this institution could count on the state to be its biggest contributor are long gone. But this does not excuse the state government’s apparent nonchalance. Politicians on both aisles need to show some action to back up the posturing.