The Daily Illini

Funding for UI relies on student lobbying efforts

Friday, October 29, 2010

The University and the state of Illinois are in a deep hole and getting out of won’t be easy. The state began this year with a budget shortfall of about $13 billion out of a $26 billion budget, or 50 percent of the budget. Horrible management of the state employee pension fund has given the state a whopping pension liability that by some estimates is as high as $130 billion! These problems are systemic, won’t be eliminated overnight and pose great threats for the future of our university.

In response to these glaring problems, the state slashed funding for the University by 6.3 percent this year and tuition payments now surpass state tax support for the first time in the University’s history. The University also lost $45.5 million of federal stimulus money, which saved faculty and staff jobs from being casualties of the recession.

In spite of these funding losses, next year’s budget proposal includes a necessary 4.2 percent increase to pay for salary increases to retain faculty, pay for building maintenance, and pay for inflationary costs. As a result, tuition has had to go up and, in all likelihood, will go up again.

Whether you realize it or not, as students of the University of Illinois, future alumni and (for many of you) residents of Illinois, the University’s financial position affects you greatly. The University’s financial health, bleak as it is, will influence the value and prestige of your diplomas.

The University is at the heart of Illinois’ economy, pumping $17 into the state’s economy for every $1 of state tax support received! Clearly, feeding the University a healthy and steady diet enhances the economic well-being of the state.

Yet, state legislators don’t view the University as a priority, even though the numbers suggest otherwise. They don’t deem college students as a dominant political force, and for the most part, they’ve been proven right.

Many students feel that they can’t make a difference and save the University from the powerful forces squeezing it. This is blatantly false. Students can help in a plethora of ways. Vote in the Tuesday’s elections for the candidates you think can best help the University. Write to your state legislators, imploring them to fund the University. Participate in spring Lobby Day and raise your concerns to state legislators in person. Get involved with the Alumni Association and persuade alumni to give back to future generations of Illini. Tout the importance of the university to everyone.

The University Budget Committee is working hard to watch your backs. We want to get the student body more informed about the University’s finances than ever before, because we face bigger problems than ever before.

However, we can’t do all the work on our own. We want to hear your ideas (our Facebook page is Illinois Student Senate: University Budget Committee.) We need your input, your attention and your action. No matter what you do or where you live after graduation, the University of Illinois will be a part of you. Nourish that part, exercise your voice, and make a difference. I know I will.

Peter Hughes, Chairman, ISS University Budget Committee