The Illinois budget crisis caused more casualties this week, as Chicago State University laid off more than 300 people, one third of its staff. CSU has been heading towards the financial edge during 2016, and these cuts indicate that even a last-minute state aid package hasn’t halted that flight.
Which staff are suffering?
[Chicago State President Thomas Calhoun Jr.] said the cuts will touch every area of the university — from associate vice presidents to police officers, counselors and carpenters — and will reduce the number of noninstructional employees by nearly half.
Instructors are not affected… so far: “[f]aculty members were spared during this initial wave of cuts but are likely to be affected later.” According to Calhoun,
the university will … evaluate academic programs, a routine process that will involve more scrutiny this year because of the fiscal situation.
“There are those kinds of tough decisions that certainly will be made as we go through this program review process,” Calhoun said.
This means a queen sacrifice is possible, even likely, down the road.
One reaction to the cuts:
“This is a staggering number. It is a lot more than I expected,” said Robert Bionaz, president of the faculty union, which represents some academic service professionals who were laid off. “It’s profound that you talk about laying off half of your noninstructional staff. I just don’t know who is going to do the work.”
Very serious damage.
Scott Robison, to whom I owe the credit for this story, asks a good question on Twitter:
Is CSU a canary in academia’s coal mine? (Hello to Mark Rush and Steve Bragaw, who are fond of the metaphor.)
I’m not sure. On the one hand this staff massacre aligns with the problems many states are having in allocating funds to public higher education, thanks to revenue challenges, increasing competition from other state-funded services, and political crises. Pennsylvania, Alaska, California (the case of UC Berkeley), Oklahoma, and Louisiana are some of those states.
CSU also points to problems of racial and economic diversity in, or access to, higher education. As the Tribune piece notes, “Chicago State serves about 4,500 mostly minority and low-income students from the city.” As racial tensions persist and economic inequality grows, will we see more institutions that serve the underserved go through CSU-like agonies?
On the other, not all states are having such issues. Indeed, others have actually increased post-secondary funding over the past two years, although the amounts are still below pre-recession numbers. And, of course, wealthier institutions are tending to do better than the rest.
Perhaps we’re seeing two coal mines, two academies separating out.