MACOMB — Look out, folks.
The state of Illinois is in crisis, the higher education budget is facing cuts and university administrators are talking about desperate action.
Yes, you read that right: desperate action.
They’re going to hold talks.
Who knows what comes next? They might actually form a committee.
Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas asked the school’s board of trustees last week to hold off voting on a plan he’d earlier submitted that called for cuts of $7.5 million, including the elimination of 50 faculty positions by the summer.
Instead of asking the board to move forward with the cuts, Thomas proposes more talks: “We will meet with union leaders and other faculty, staff, and administrative leaders immediately to search for possible alternatives out of this difficult situation,” he wrote.
Western isn’t alone. The budget impasse in Springfield has administrators at all of Illinois’ state universities wondering what’s next.
Words are flowing out of Springfield, but money isn’t.
Universities have overextended themselves by offering scholarships to students in anticipation of the money eventually coming from the state.
But now, six months into the fiscal year without a budget, they are beginning to wonder if the money is ever coming.
With House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner staring eyeball to eyeball, don’t hold your breath.
In lean times, tough decisions have to be made. Thomas’ initial instinct to cut faculty positions was on target.
No one likes to see anyone lose his or her job.
But it is a preferable alternative to seeing tuition jacked up even higher. Or, worse yet, seeing hard-working taxpayers bear an even greater burden.
Should folks living paycheck to paycheck sacrifice their own well-being — or their children’s — to ensure greater job security for professors making more than they will likely ever earn?
Not surprisingly, the union representing college professors at Western doesn’t like that question.
University spokeswoman Darcie Shinberger said part of the issue is that the university’s labor contracts call for faculty members to be given six to nine months notice before they are let go.
Raise your hand if your boss has to give you nine months notice before showing you the door.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
This privileged group wants to shift the burden of balancing the university budget elsewhere, namely to taxpayers and students.
Our universities exist to educate our young people, yet there are some in academia who don’t see it that way.
They view their tenured positions as cozy cocoons protecting them from harsh economic reality.
But one reality no one can escape is that our state is spending too much.
When your spending exceeds your revenues, something has to be cut.
And it doesn’t take a committee to figure that out.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.