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Illinois Colleges Under Attack By Rauner

By Kai F. Hung

I want to begin by telling you that I had all the intention of writing a kick-ass speech about the importance of public investment in higher education; about how public universities are the great equalizers against the vagrancy of life, so that the people who didn't win a birth lotto to be born into stable, economically prosperous households, may also have a chance to compete in the economic market and make a better life. I wanted to talk about how uniquely placed public universities are to serve this critical role in maintaining social mobility and to soften class boundaries. I wanted to talk about the immeasurable value of a liberal arts education that preserves our humanity disciplines. I wanted to cite inspiring quotes and give you a barrage of statistics to support that claim.

All in 5 minutes or less.

But now I must apologize because I didn't get any of that done. I just couldn't get it done because I am just so angry right now.

On Wednesday, two days ago, 3 of the unions at EIU - UPI, AFSCME, and Plumbers and Pipefitters, organized an event where we planted on red flag on our campus library quad for each EIU employee who has been terminated since Fall semester.

Do you know how many red flags we used?

Two hundred and sixty one.

If I scale that to the size of UIUC, which is roughly 55,000 students, faculty, and staff, then that would be 1,436 employees. On our campus, that is 1 in 4 civil service staff being laid off. In fact, today, right now, right this minute, 177 of our colleagues are saying goodbyes. Many of these people have worked at EIU, sometimes at the same department, for over 20 years.

My colleagues are losing their jobs because Rauner has refused to send a single penny to public universities.

They are losing their jobs because Rauner would rather see our schools collapse than lift a finger to help.

They are losing their jobs because Rauner thinks that his political gains are worth more than our city's prosperity.

They are losing their jobs because of Rauner.

No, I am done with the false equivalence. I am done with using the euphemism of "Springfield" or "our government." I am done trying to lighten the sting of the criticism by adding the obligatory "but sure, Madigan is to blame in some part, too."

No, I am fucking done with that shit.

There are no justifiable reasons why Rauner couldn't fix our budget while keeping some funding to our schools.

There are no justifiable reasons to deny the MAP grant money so that our economically disadvantaged students could get the money that they were promised and stop worrying about their finance.

There are no justifiable reasons why Rauner couldn't have used his line-veto power. He chose not to line veto items that he dislikes in a bill and instead, he chose to summarily veto all the higher education funding bills.

In the FY2016 budget, Rauner proposed a 30% cut across the board for higher education. In the FY 2017, He proposed 20% cut across the board for higher education. And the kicker? In that same FY2017 budget, he proposed an increase of 40% in the budget for prisons and correction facilities. Is it not clear where he'd rather see our next generation end up at? Kill the universities, grow the prisons. Welcome to Rauner's Illinois: Please wipe your feet and leave your hopes at the door.

Many people refuse to believe that this is a deliberate attack on public higher education, with the ultimate goal of eliminating public universities. This past December, Rauner visited DeVry University in Chicago and proclaimed that he wishes all higher educations are run like this - for profit, where our next generation's access to economic stability is commoditized, traded, bartered, exploited. To those people, I say, WAKE UP! Look to Wisconsin. Look to Kansas. Look to Pennsylvania. Look to Louisiana. It is the same story. And I bet pretty soon, Kentucky will join this list.

The toxic political ideology of painting the government as a destructive, inept agent is bearing poisonous fruits. The act of deliberately destroying the government's capacity to function in order to create a crisis to blame the government and the public sector workers has become an art form. And right now, in Illinois, public higher education is the top billing star of this absurdly destructive performance titled "How Illinois dies and loses its soul."

But there is still hope. There is still hope if we all mobilize and if we all start to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.

Be politically aware. Be politically active.

Use your voice to speak out, and to speak for those whose voices have been silenced. We need you. In solidarity.