Saturday, January 16, 2021

With budget impasse, an IL college cancels 3 days


“On a scale of 1 to 10, my frustration level is at a 22,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Northeastern Illinois University interim President Richard Helldobler as saying in a statement Wednesday. That was the second of three days the university will cancel classes to cut costs, the inevitable effect of Illinois’s failure—still, after 22 months—to pass a state budget.

Harvard Business School (iStock)

Cuts are hitting K-12 schools in the state as well, but aside from the occasional talk of closure, none of them have padlocked their doors.

Northeastern cancelled classes last week on Tuesday and Wednesday and will do so again on May 1, according to the report. Furlough days will be announced on an as-needed basis in the future as well unless the state passes this budget. A stopgap spending bill was in place, but that law, which was enacted last summer, expired in January.

“For Northeastern, this is a state of emergency,” Mr Helldobler was quoted as saying. “When we decided to implement furloughs during the five days of Spring Break, we did so with the intention of avoiding any impact on instruction even though we knew it could be problematic to our accreditation and licensure requirements. With these additional furlough days, we are now forced to cancel classes, which not only affects instruction but also critical core knowledge delivered by our highly qualified faculty.”

Why does Illinois still not have a budget?

A university education isn’t necessarily an urgent need that requires the government to subsidize, but other needs of poor people are. As stopgap measures are passed, they handle college funding as well as possible, but they continue to provide funds for urgent needs of the public, especially of the poor. Just because a college president calls the situation a “state of emergency” doesn’t mean there’s an actual emergency.

Eventually, as money runs low, this leads to a removal of funds from school districts and universities, as governments move to meet more urgent needs, especially those of poor people.

As a result, universities and school districts turn to other sources of funds, such as bond issues in the case of Illinois public schools, or banks, in the case of universities, who can provide much-needed loans that serve to keep institutions of learning afloat and functional.

Northeastern cut dozens of professorships when Illinois’s budget problems got so bad that it had no other choice. You can’t write paychecks with money you don’t have, and turning to the private sector—banks, mainly—for the money to keep the public sector jobs doesn’t go over very well with trustees. Using long-term debt to meet short-term payroll needs is hardly ever a good idea.

Banks love that sort of activity, of course, but in the end, it’s a way to bring capitalistic enterprises into the public sector. If public money runs dry, as it has for many of Illinois’s universities, colleges, and school districts, a visit to a banker won’t be too far away for many of them. The others will eventually close, and new markets for private enterprise to provide public services will be encouraged.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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