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Chicago City Council committees back higher ed funding

UIC crowd shows support at City Hall

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University Interim President Stanley Ikenberry, Latasha Thomas and 14th Ward Ald. Ed  Burke
University Interim President Stanley Ikenberry at today's hearing with 17th Ward Ald. Latasha Thomas, chair of the education committee, and 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, chair of the finance committee.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

As a crowd of UIC supporters packed the Chicago City Council chambers this morning, the council's finance and education committees unanimously approved a resolution urging the state to pay its debts to public universities and re-examine higher education funding cuts.

Seven U of I administrators, faculty and students testified before the committee vote.

“We are here to ask for your help to persuade the governor, comptroller and state legislature to release the nearly $500 million the state owes us today, and to reverse the budget cuts that are scheduled,” said Dick Simpson, head of political science and former Chicago alderman.

The joint committee will present the resolution at Wednesday’s full council meeting.

As of March 31, the state owes the university $464 million in unpaid appropriations for this fiscal year.

Higher education cuts mean fewer staff members and teachers, less research generated and diminished access to education, said Simpson, who organized the presentation with Maria de los Angeles Torres, director of Latin American and Latino studies.

“Cuts will make college less affordable for every one of the students from your wards and communities,” Simpson told aldermen.

“It will power down one of the state’s most important economic engines.”

Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares explained the impact the university has on the state.

She noted that an estimated one out of every 10 Chicagoans who has a college degree is a UIC alum, and that UIC employs nearly 12,000 people — making it the 15th largest employer in the Chicago region.

UIC operates the state’s flagship public medical center, which is expected to provide more than $35 million in charity care this year, she said.

The university also trains future Chicago Public School teachers and contributes $7.3 billion to dollars to the state economy, she said.

“All of these contributions are vitally important to our city, county and state,” she said. “And all of this is, in some measure, at risk due to the state’s financial crisis.

“Higher education is the best investment toward a healthy and prosperous future for our city and state.”

U of I Interim President Stanley O. Ikenberry told aldermen that the state has been gradually withdrawing financial support to the university over the past decade.

“Turning that around and making sure we have a bright future where young people have an opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest extent, that’s important to the survival of the entire state of Illinois,” he said.

This fiscal year, the university has cut expenditures and implemented a hiring freeze and furlough days, Ikenberry said.

It’s likely that tuition for next year’s freshmen will increase by about 9.5 percent, he said.

“We are facing a very perilous circumstance,” Ikenberry said. “The more quickly we come together to recognize the severity of the financial crisis we face and the more quickly we address that problem, the more solvable that problem will be and the less long-term damage our state will suffer.”

17th Ward Ald. Latasha Thomas, a 1987 Urbana-Champaign graduate in political science, said students are facing an increased burden in light of the economic crisis.

“We cannot balance the budget on the backs of those we educate,” said Thomas, chairwoman of the education committee.  

For students, budget cuts would mean larger class sizes, fewer course selections and more debt, said Undergraduate Student Government member Sean Murray.

“These problems that students are facing today will be come the problems for us as Chicagoans as we graduate,” he said.

“As the state continues to delay its obligation, it’s putting the university and the City of Chicago in a potentially dangerous situation.”

Other speakers who testified before the committees included Torres ; Joseph Flaherty, dean of the College of Medicine; and Elizabeth Orsay, associate professor of emergency medicine.

The council resolution was developed after Simpson and other UIC faculty members met with four supportive aldermen, Robert Fioretti (2nd), Danny Solis (25th), Walter Burnett (27th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd), during a joint furlough day March 8.


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