Students at predominantly Black Chicago State University have started public protests urging the Illinois legislature to fund their university.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago State University has been crippled by the state legislature’s inability to pass a budget. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has been in an eight-month standoff with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. According to The Chicago Tribune, Rauner presented a budget that included deep cuts to Medicaid and higher education, a reduction in income tax the state shares with local government and a proposal to save $2 billion by reducing state pension benefits. His budget was rejected by Democrats, setting off a stalemate.
However, CSU administrators say the situation is so dire, that if state legislators don’t approve funding, the school will be forced to shut its doors at the beginning of March.
WGN reported that students rallied outside the James R. Thompson Center, which houses offices of the Illinois state government, demanding that Rauner pass a budget. Students have also staged a freeway protest.
According to The Sun-Times, several CSU students said the governor and state legislators’ lack of action was putting their education in jeopardy.
“We’re not asking for reform. We’re not asking for revolution. We’re asking for them to do their basic duty. Sign the darn budget. That’s all we’re asking,” said Charles Preston, a senior majoring in African-American Studies. “While they play this game of political chess, we are the ones suffering. We have students scared that they will be unable to graduate.”
All publicly funded institutions are being affected by the budget impasse, but HBCUs are in a more precarious position. While schools like the University of Illinois can fall back on their endowments to help them make it through tough times, CSU relies on the state for 30 percent of its funding, according to The Sun-Times. When state funding dries up they are in trouble. However, both Northeastern Illinois and Eastern Illinois are also scared they won’t make it through the spring semester without state funding.
“This is not just a Chicago State problem. This is all of the public universities in the state of Illinois. There are many schools whose doors could close at the end of this semester, yet it doesn’t seem like anyone cares or understands,” said Paris Griffin, president of the CSU Student Government Association in a Sun-Times interview. “That’s why we as students have to continue to get out here and make our voices heard.”
CSU officials have already reacted to the financial problems by triggering massive cuts. However, the Higher Learning Commission says the school’s money woes puts their accreditation at risk.
“A criterion for accreditation is demonstration of the availability of financial, physical and human resources necessary to provide quality higher education,” said Commission President Barbara Gellman-Danley in a Feb. 4 letter.
Gellman-Danley has also requested CSU provide plans on how they will assist students if they have to shut their doors.
“If they believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the next several months, they must provide HLC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university to avoid eliminating their access to higher education,” she wrote. “For students to continue at another institution, it could mean having to transfer to private universities or leave the state. It is also probable some students may drop out of college.”