By a Thousand Cuts: Higher Education in Illinois
By Gretchen Knapp
Testimony by Gretchen Knapp in February, 2004 to a General Assembly
committee on higher education in Illinois.
I am here
to give you the perspective from the Illinois State University
classroom on how the budget cuts have affected student learning
and access to education. My colleagues at Eastern Illinois and
Northern Illinois University share my concerns.
Since the budget cuts, class sizes have increased, which is not
conducive to optimum student learning. Certain courses have been
cancelled or offered less frequently. This means that students
may not be able to graduate on time.
Our IBHE-award-winning course for freshmen, Foundations of Inquiry,
is the first general education class on the chopping block. This
course guaranteed a small class atmosphere of 30 students and
improved retention. And the course was a major recruiting tool
to convince parents that their children would not be treated impersonally
at a large public university.
Since the budget cuts, student access to the library has been
limited as its hours have been cut. In response, students have
volunteered their own work and study time to keep the library
open longer hours. Their intent is honorable; however, we should
not ask students who are paying for their education to replace
trained librarians and library technicians who are there to help
Since the budget cuts, only bare-bones additions to the book,
periodical, and electronic databases in the library have been
possible. This does not serve our mandate to keep student learning
current, especially in the fast-moving fields of science, technology,
business, and nursing.
Since the budget cuts, even basic resources have become hard to
obtain. In many units, staff and students must ask for toilet
paper and paper towels. In some departments faculty must purchase
their own zip disks and other storage media to use in “smart
rooms” set up for technology.
Budget cuts at Illinois State have led to the removal of daytime
building service workers from most of the campus area. In science
labs, this has led to hazardous situations that have harmed people
and damaged tax-supported equipment and buildings.
Deferred maintenance at the library has meant not keeping up with
annual adjustments of the roof leak management system. Plus the
library’s electrical system has been rated so poorly that
it may well be the next “Law and Justice Center” disaster.
You may remember that the county’s Law and Justice Center’s
electrical system literally exploded, closing the building for
months — and costing taxpayers. Illinois State could not
function without its library.
Other hidden costs of the budget cuts affect student learning.
Faculty have tried to use technology to alleviate problems caused
by restricted photocopying of class materials. But the lack of
computer technicians and technical support has made reliance on
computer technology to provide electronic readings, tests, and
study materials very difficult. Add to that the lack of personnel
to maintain and update existing software and hardware, and protect
faculty and students against viruses — and you see a disaster
waiting to happen.
For example, the Illinois State University Technology Fellows
completed a program on using technology in the classroom last
summer under the sponsorship of State Farm Insurance. Sadly, one
of the major software packages faculty prepared for use in the
fall semester could no longer be supported by the university,
which could not afford the license.
Even the Faculty Technology Support Services division has lost
staff and equipment to help faculty use technology to improve
student learning. For example, faculty routinely made PowerPoint
presentations into regular slides when giving talks to church
groups and civic organizations that have slide projectors, but
not expensive PC projectors. FTSS no longer has this capability.
While Illinois State’s Foundation has started a successful
capital campaign and established endowed accounts which can be
used by selected departments for particular purposes, this is
not an answer to the budget crisis, either.
The Foundation’s board decided that there were to be zero
disbursements on the endowed accounts for FY 04, and most of the
funds that have been raised are estate gifts which will be useful
decades from now when they are available — but certainly
We appreciate that the budget situation is very difficult. But
we also hope you realize that our students’ learning is
being affected by these cuts in the budget. We ask that you, the
legislature, not cut our budget any further.