As Chicago State University senior Charles Preston plans his future, he’s contending with a unique variable most other college students will never face: the possibility that his school will close before he can finish his degree.
Shutdown looms for the nearly 150-year-old school — the only majority black public university on Chicago’s South Side — due to a state budget impasse in Springfield that has remained unresolved since last June.
CSU officials project its reserve funds will run out by March 1, more than two months before the end of the current semester. CSU relies on the state for approximately 30 percent of its budget, or about $36 million.
“The current budget situation is historically unprecedented and therefore makes it very difficult to predict exactly how it will eventually be resolved,” newly installedCSU President Thomas Calhoun Jr. said in a Jan. 14 memo to staff and students.
While the school committed to finishing the semester, Calhoun warned the financial crunch “may lead to a massive disruption of services.”
Neither students nor school officials are sure what that means in actual terms of staff payment or administrative function. CSU spokesman Tom Wogan said everyone at the school is dealing with the issue “day by day.”
“We have to get to the end of the semester one way or the other,” Wogan said Sunday. “We have a moral, legal and ethical obligation to do that.”
Preston, who has one additional semester left before graduation, said a school shutdown would not only jeopardize his future, but most certainly drive him deeper into student loan debt.
“I would be stuck in limbo,” Preston said, noting that his African-American studies major is not widely offered at other schools. “A lot of my credits would be untransferable to another school.”
This university is basically an oasis in the desert.” Charles Preston, CSU Senior
A coalition of CSU students have organized to pressure lawmakers into passing a budget, though Preston said the group is at a disadvantage with the shutdown threat less than six weeks away. Rumors of a possible shutdown didn’t start bubbling up on campus until about December.
“The lawmakers in the state tend to look at us as numbers, not as lives,” Preston said.
The majority Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have been at odds for months over who’s to blame for the lack of budget, but it’s Rauner who is drawing the ire of the CSU community.
Rauner’s deputy chief of staff on Wednesday sent a memo to the Illinois legislature criticizing CSU’s pleas for financial help. Richard Goldberg wrote the school’s financial mismanagement was rife with “waste” and “cronyism,” according to The Associated Press.
“For them to all of a sudden go, ‘Hey, we’re sorta more broke than most,’ while they’ve been throwing money down the toilet — you know what? Let’s have some standards of behavior,” Rauner said a day after the memo’s release.
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