Dean Dad looks at the continued standoff in Springfield over the lack of an appropriation bill for the state universities.
From an administrator’s perspective, it’s a colossal nightmare.  Chicago State has sent out a raft of layoff notices to all employees, including the president, and cancelled Spring Break so it could wrap up the Spring semester (and stop paying employees for Spring) sooner.  Southern Illinois University is in “full-on fiscal triage mode,” according to its president, and looking to cut tens of millions of dollars from a budget that had already been cut badly.

What makes it a nightmare, beyond the obvious, is that they have remarkably little agency, but will be held responsible for whatever happens.  Some have already declared “financial exigency,” which allows for the layoff or termination of tenured faculty and staff.  Even if the money comes through in enough quantity, and early enough, to say “never mind,” you can’t un-ring that bell.  Illinois is still heavily unionized, and I expect that the unions will be watching like hawks for any procedural irregularities.

Worse, the funding shortfall is essentially collateral damage from a political battle, meaning there’s no way of knowing the exact size of the problem.  It may end tomorrow, or it may go into next year.
That's mostly true. The political battle has historic roots, however, and the institutions mentioned above are not blameless in the matter.

Chicago State's administrators failed to obtain legal sanctions against dissident faculty members who continue to publish their weblog.  They've been trimming course offerings and losing enrollment for years.  Two presidents in a row have indulged themselves like third world dictators while the enrollments, and the faculty morale, erode.  A third president recently came in with the task of picking up the pieces.  Follow the links, there's plenty of detail, generally suggesting that the agency exercised by Chicago State senior administrators, when appropriations were stingy rather than nonexistent, didn't win friends or influence people.

Southern Illinois University appointed culturally conservative Democrat Glenn Poshard, a onetime congressman who lost a gubernatorial election to Combine Republican George Ryan, who some of you may know as a recently released resident of the correction system, account his practice of selling commercial driving licenses.  Some of you might also recall that Governor Ryan was replaced in a fair election by Combine Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who is still a resident of the correction system.  In Illinois, however, bipartisanship means the Combine is stingy with the universities, including Southern Illinois, which six years ago had exhausted its reserves, was losing enrollments, and fretting about how to buy cleats for its (successful at a lower division) football team.  It didn't help that the originality of Mr Poshard's doctoral dissertation was, shall we say, in doubt.  A faculty committee cleared him.

Meanwhile, the Combine was making sure that properly vetted spawn of Influential Constituents matriculated with financial aid.  The Urbana campus, however, used furloughs to cope with tight budgets back then, and Northern Illinois University resorted to a stealth furlough.

In the current standoff, the bond rating agencies have lowered Northern Illinois University's credit rating, in part because the reserves are gone.  Thus Dean Dad is spot on about the role of reserves.
The universities have consumed their reserves.  That’s a much bigger deal than many people seem to realize.  For most colleges and universities, payroll fluctuates much less over the course of the year than revenues do.  Full-time employees get paid over the summer, when tuition revenue is much lower than the rest of the year.  Colleges do great in August -- lots of tuition checks coming in, relatively little teaching going on -- and badly in June.  Reserves help to even out the cycles.  Take the reserves away, and even if the overall budget is balanced, there will be times when making payroll will take a miracle.  A certain level of reserves is necessary just to make sure the checks don’t bounce.
Unfortunately, that argument might not impress sufficiently many voters or legislators, particularly voters or legislators who are aware of some, shall we say, unofficial reserves.

It's hard to plead poverty whilst retaining an inspiration officer, assorted executive search and legal professionals and a chief diversity officer,  and missing some clandestine sales of scrap metal a few years ago.  Let's say that the morale among past colleagues is not great.
Even assuming that the governor and the legislature find their way to some sort of agreement, the damage already done will take years to undo.  (And that’s assuming they don’t make it worse next year...)  Employees who didn’t make the cut -- even if recalled -- will remember, and some will bear grudges.  Donors will be tough to court, since as a group, they tend to give to success rather than need.  Students may flee to safer, more stable options.  Star employees may do the same.  It’s likely that the employees who survive the cuts are facing a long term “new normal” of lower compensation.
You don't know the half of it.  Let's say that I built that new headquarters for Cold Spring Shops and set aside my F-U money for a reason.

Dean Dad's area of expertise is the community colleges, and he's correct in noting that the state impasse isn't affecting the community colleges as severely yet (although the failure to fund the Monetary Assistance Program matters.)  Kishwaukee College, which receives funds from DeKalb County property taxes, did get a bond issue through a referendum last year.  On the other hand, the College of DuPage, which has been on a construction spree in recent years, is in the middle of a presidential search after the previous president might have been indulging himself like a tsarevich.

It strikes me that, pace Dean Dad, there might be more than one cause to this battle of egos.

No comments: