State budget cuts leave college students in limbo, some tweet Kanye West for help

CSU Student Video Editing
Thomas Hibbler, a student at Chicago State University, works on a multimedia project in the video editing room. (Branden Hampton/MEDILL)

By Branden Hampton

Students and faculty at public colleges are furious about being left without state funding as a result of an eight-month state budget standoff that could force layoffs and program cuts.

“[Legislators] can’t continue to use the taxpayers’ money and then look at the taxpayer and say, ‘Well, we don’t have any money.’ Those guys work for us,” said Thomas Hibbler, a junior at Chicago State University. “Take a pay cut. Channel that money [to colleges] for the next two years. Because every other year these guys are getting raises.”

Back in July 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed a 31.5 percent cut to state university funding, which was blocked by the General Assembly. The General Assembly proposed an alternative 6.5 percent cut, but that bill was vetoed by the governor.

Since then, public four-year and community colleges have been relying on their own resources to stay afloat. Chicago State University, a university that enrolls predominantly black students on the Far South Side, declared a financial emergency in early February. Along with staff layoffs and program cuts,  the possibility of closure could come as soon as March.

Troi Tyler, station manager forCSU’s campus radio station WCSU, said that the university should cut faculty before considering closing the school.

“You can’t take tuition from students and then not graduate them or have them in a classroom,” Tyler said.

Students tweet Kanye West for money

Earlier this month, a group of CSU students temporarily blocked the Dan Ryan Expressway to call attention to the need for funding. In recent weeks, a number of students have taken the call to social media, tweeting former CSU student and music mogul Kanye West to ask for donations.

“Kanye, where are you? We need a little money over here. Our reserve is running low, throw us a few millions,” Tyler said.

West’s late mother, Donda West, was a professor and chairwoman of the English department at CSU. West attended the school for a short time before dropping out to pursue a music career.

Students across the state speak out

Senior Felix Mitchell said he has postponed taking the admission test for law school due to the financial burden caused by the cuts. He won a presidential scholarship to CSU, but has yet to receive the money he was due for the current semester.

Asked to describe in one word how the cuts make him feel, Mitchell said, “Undervalued, because there’s the idea that my education and the value of education for me, my family and my community is not legitimate. If I can add two other words, it would be marginalized and underestimated.”

Mitchell added that the situation at CSU shouldn’t be the sole focus of attention. “There are other white students here in this state that go to EIU [Eastern Illinois University}, SIU [Southern Illinois University] and Western Illinois and Northern Illinois, whose parents need the MAP grant for them just as much as I need it, and their kids have to drop out. I have solidarity with them too,” he said.

MAP stands for Monetary Award Program, a grant program that provides financial aid to students in Illinois public colleges. This week, students from about 15 state colleges and university rallied at the Thompson Center in Chicago, asking Rauner to restore MAP  funding.

Matthew Bierman, interim vice president for administrative services at Western Illinois University, said that the budget cuts have taken their toll on the school’s morale.

“Students are being affected through the lack of MAP funding,” he said. “We’ve covered [the cost] as a university, but the uncertainty of that is certainly affecting our students as well.”

Bierman also noted that Western Illinois is facing staff layoffs and that staff were offered a retirement incentive in December that almost 60 people took advantage of. Bierman said that the university is trying to reduce payroll to help free up money for the school.

“The governor’s proposed FY16 budget cut the university by 31.5 percent. We went from $51.4 million down to $36 million. The General Assembly proposed a 6.5 percent reduction, which took us down to $48.1 million. The governor vetoed the $48.1 million and now we have nothing,” Bierman said.

Reginald Miles, a part-time communications instructor at CSU, is hopeful that a breakthrough will come through because the “powers that be understand that there needs to be changes and reform.”

Photo at top: Thomas Hibbler, a student at Chicago State University, works on a multimedia project in the video editing room. (Branden Hampton/MEDILL)