SIU president plans for changes during ongoing state budget impasse

Changes must be made. That’s what Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said Monday in Carbondale. He said SIU needs to adapt the university system to help make it through Illinois’ budget impasse.

Illinois has operated without a budget since July 1, 2015.

During his state of the SIU system address Monday, Dunn said additions, as well as cuts, will be what helps SIU survive.

Halfway through the fall semester, students at SIU Carbondale are staying busy with their class loads. But students Morgan Ashley Craft and Breagan Ricks say the uncertainty at the school through the state’s budget impasse is worrying.

"It will probably affect the financial aid that we receive from the school itself, but as for what’s going on, we haven’t really been notified about it," said Craft. She said the school hasn’t been very forthcoming about how much the budget impasse is hurting higher education there.

"Yeah, I feel like there should be some kind of notification about what’s going on, so that students are well aware of what’s going on in their university. So that when you do receive notification of, like, a certain amount of financial aid or certain resources being cut, it doesn’t come as a surprise because you could already see a foreshadow for it," Craft said.

During his state of the system address, Dunn said SIU cannot plan for the state to pass a budget anytime soon. Instead, it needs to rebuild a leaner system, with new or expanded programs to attract new eyes.

"We need to be thinking in much different ways about how we kind of reinvent or reset the university to deal with not just small fixes anymore," Dunn said.

Whether it’s creating new or expanded majors like additive manufacturing and disability services or simply investing more in athletics to bring in more sponsorship opportunities, Dunn said they need to find a way to bring more students and high quality researchers to campus.

"But we’re going to have to make some tough choices about where we invest," Dunn said.

"It’s a big hamper for anyone pursuing further education," said Ricks. "Post-secondary education across this country is already in shambles. So there should be as many avenues to finance that education as possible."

Ricks said not knowing what could happen next with SIU’s funding or financial aid sources is concerning. But, for now, she’s happy knowing her program is safe from any cuts.

Many around SIU Carbondale agree that the university system needs to do something to get them through the impasse. But others say more needs to be done, especially by lawmakers.

In a statement, President of the SIU Carbondale Faculty Association Dave Johnson said: "President Dunn today called for the SIU System to do more strategic planning. But what was happening on campus, as he spoke, was more like triage."

Johnson said:

SIU simply cannot function without reliable funding from the state. No administrator can compensate for the chaotic and utterly inadequate funding we’ve received under Governor Rauner. The mess in Springfield is having a devastating effect on SIU and on all of southern Illinois. If the state doesn’t get its act together, we’re looking at massive layoffs, leaving thousands of students without affordable access to quality education. SIU can be more efficient, and we applaud President Dunn’s call for an administrative hiring freeze. But a state university simply cannot survive without adequate state funding.

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