The President of SIU warns the school's footprint as an economic engine for the region will continue to shrink in the coming months as the institution continues to borrow from itself to pay the bills during the now eighteen-month-long budget stalemate in Springfield.
"That close relationship of the university to the region is something we want to make sure the governor and the general assembly and the rest of the state understands." System President Randy Dunn said. "Southern Illinois is not a metropolitan area. If we stop providing, say, a social service, that's it. There may not be an alternative option for hundreds of miles."
Stopgap funding approved in 2016 expired on January 1st, and Dunn says the school is now running the risk of 'running on fumes' should a deal not be reached.
"We can't do that forever." Dunn said Thursday. "We've had 18 months with sporadic appropriation to keep the lights on, and we cannot have another two years of that same approach without taking a very hard look at the full range of operations at SIU, and making some very tough decisions about what we don't do any longer… about things that we have to dismantle."
"Our primary purpose and mission, of course, is awarding degrees." Dunn said "But in part thanks to state mandates, and just growth within our community, we've pushed to become a supportive and essential citizen of southern Illinois by providing services and options for the region."
When asked about what sort of programs are at risk, Dunn was vague in response, but brought up things like the University's ability to staff legal clinics, provide healthcare, and social services to the surrounding area, both through University-funded agencies, and collaboration with other entities.
Cuts to University Farms, the broadcasting service, and items like academic advisement, and counseling services were also mentioned as possible cost-saving measures.
"It's a legitimate public policy question to ask on whether or not the state should be paying for these things, but to have that decision made by default, say; 'we're simply not going to have a budget and say to the universities you all figure that out' is decision making by default… and I don't think that's good management that we can adopt as a state."
It's worth pointing out that the state did not legally vote on any cost reductions in higher education, and Dunn says the higher education community is asking lawmakers to fund higher education equal to the levels of the last year they received full funding, which was FY-2015.
Dunn says primarily thanks to internal borrowing between the university's three campuses, there will be no payroll interruptions or closures through at least June 30th, even if a budget or appropriation is not made.
At that point is when Dunn says further altering the University's mission and footprint on the region will become necessary.
"So while the doors aren't closing, if we don't see some resolution of this crisis soon, it's going to be a question of what we don't do any longer." Dunn said. "Whether it's for our students, or the people of southern Illinois, since we are the economic engine for this reason."