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President David Glassman's Spring 2016 Testimony: House Higher Education Committee

May-04-2016

Madam Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to testify on behalf of the students, staff, and faculty of Eastern Illinois University.

My name is David Glassman and I have been proudly serving as EIU’s 11th president for the past 11 months. Eastern takes great pride in being the Illinois public university with the lowest administrative costs per student and the second lowest in tuition and fees.  And we were nationally recognized by U.S. News and World Report as Illinois' top regional public university for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Shortly after taking the helm last summer, I initiated several significant cost-cutting measures in order to balance the university’s spending with its revenues. I eliminated 198 positions and issued graduated level furlough days to all administrative and professional employees making more than $50,000 annually. Those efforts, coupled with some operational efficiencies, achieved a savings of approximately $10-12 million.  These painful but necessary cuts positioned EIU for a fiscally and academically strong year assuming the state would come through with our appropriation, as it has done each of the last 118 years.

As the budget impasse continued into the fall, we assured our MAP students we would hold them harmless with regard to their unfunded MAP awards -- to the tune of nearly $8 million. Our faculty voted to forgo a raise they had already negotiated in order to keep 29 faculty in the classroom whose positions were not going to be renewed. We stopped all hiring, postponed construction projects, and restricted travel and purchasing. We pulled together for our students, confident that the state would not abandon its top-ranked regional public university or the students and communities who depend upon EIU’s continued success.

But as the months went on, we depleted nearly all cash flow reserves. Belt tightening can only take you so far, however, and robbing your own dedicated accounts in order to continue operations is not sustainable. So, in March, I mandated an additional 18 unpaid furlough days for all professional staff and administrators -- effectively withholding an entire month’s pay. Our faculty voted to approve a deferred salary model to save the university $2 million until an appropriation is enacted.  And I sadly was given no choice but to lay off an additional 177 employees who were and are necessary to our operations.  In total, I have had to reduce EIU by a total of 363 positions or 22.6 percent in one year.

Beyond these very real and fairly easily identified impacts, there are others that are not so easily identified or measured but still have potentially dire consequences for the state of Illinois.

We are very concerned about the impact of this impasse and its uncertainty on our new student enrollment.  We are certainly aware that students make their final college selections for myriad reasons -- location, finances, prestige, fit...  However, we expect the uncertainty and lack of confidence caused by this budgetary impasse will have direct and significant impacts on regional public university enrollments. We believe this because we are hearing it from potential students and their families on an almost daily basis.  Deposits at this date are significantly below expected levels based on past trends, as families wait to see what happens in Springfield before committing to an Illinois public university.

Similarly, we are concerned that we may experience an increase in current students transferring out of our public regional universities.  These students have already started here and they want to finish, but many are nervous about when or whether the state budgetary impasse will be completely resolved and how it will affect their ongoing education.   These students do not need the added stress of wondering whether their program will still be operating by their senior year.

To make matters worse, we are losing our best and brightest faculty at an increasingly alarming rate.  And we aren’t left to wonder what their reason for leaving is. They tell us up front: too much uncertainty, not enough trust.

Our best non-academic staff are being picked off one by one as well. And then, to add insult to injury, professional staff who remain are being asked to cover the duties of what previously would have been two to three positions and are expected to accomplish all that in four days a week rather than five due to mandatory furloughs.

Our local and regional economies rely heavily upon the success of EIU.  Apartment buildings, restaurants, bars, car dealerships, supermarkets, gas stations, dollar stores and hardware stores… all these businesses depend upon the students and employees of EIU as a significant portion of their customer base. And these businesses employ local residents who otherwise might be unrelated to the university.

Eastern Illinois University thanks you for coming together during the week of April 18th to provide stopgap funds. I can only imagine the behind-the-scenes efforts this feat required, and your efforts are appreciated by EIU’s employees, our students, our community, our alumni and by me.

I would be remiss however, if I did not clearly explain where this leaves EIU. Our gap has not been filled.

I am assured that the stopgap measure was truly just that and that there will be more funding to come for FY16. That absolutely must prove true for EIU. I am concerned by comments in the media indicating this stopgap measure has provided a reprieve for higher education into the fall, implying that these funds will get the institutions by until they start receiving fall tuition revenues without further cuts.  That is simply not true for EIU.  If we continue at current operational levels, which already has EIU down nearly 400 employees, EIU’s stopgap funding does not allow for any recall of essential employees to get us ready for the fall.  I desperately need many of these employees back working hard for our students.  In fact, the stopgap funding in real dollars is so low for EIU that it will likely necessitate additional layoffs in late summer.  This is the only way we can achieve the cost reductions necessary to make up for the absent appropriations. Insufficient funds = more layoffs.

Over the course of the budgetary impasse, I have written myriad letters to our prospective and current students along with their parents and our faculty and staff.  In these messages I have attempted to convey the assurance of faith in our state and the excellence of Illinois public universities and colleges.  I am sitting on another letter I drafted that is waiting to be sent out the moment a state FY16 Budget is enacted.  An excerpt reads:

“I am most pleased to inform you that the budgetary impasse in Springfield has been resolved and you may trust that Illinois public colleges and universities (including Eastern Illinois) will continue providing a world class education to their students without interruption for decades to come.   The state of Illinois believes in its people and its higher education institutions and recognizes that Illinois students are the future of this great state.  If you had been worried and contemplated leaving the state to begin or continue your higher education, there is no need for this consideration.  The public colleges and universities of Illinois are renowned for their academic excellence, affordability and accessibility.  Illinois needs you and welcomes you to an outstanding public university and college experience.” 

At this time, I will wrap up my prepared testimony as I am told the Committee would prefer to spend the bulk of its time on questions and I will provide answers to the best of my ability.  Thank you.