WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Higher Education Coming Under Attack

Macomb, IL – The legislative liaison for Western Illinois University feels higher education in the state is under siege this year.

David Steelman, Assistant to the President for Governmental Relations, made his comments during the WIU Board of Trustees' quarterly meeting. He said numerous pieces of legislation could impact colleges and universities - and most would do more harm than good.

"I feel like we're under attack. I really do," said Steelman. "Part of it is, I believe, people are trying to point fingers and ask for increased accountability because they have none."

He said one of the proposals would impact contracts worth more than $250,000 for things such as food services, software, and transit services. They would have to be bid out every year.

Steelman said this would prevent schools from achieving the cost savings that often come with multi-year contracts.

Another measure would repeal the tuition waiver for dependents of university employees. Steelman believes that measure will not move forward, though he won't rule it out.

University Borrowing Bill

Steelman also expressed concerns about a bill that would allow universities to borrow money to cover cash flow needs.

The Senate approved the bill. It's now being considered in the House, which has amended the measure. One of the changes would require Board of Trustees members - including the student member - to run statewide for retention if they choose to borrow money.

"Some of these amendments defy explanation, they truly do," said Steelman.

The BoT was asked to consider a resolution to approve the idea of borrowing money but decided to table the matter.

Jackie Thompson, Vice President for Administrative Services, said it made sense to wait until the university knows what is included in the final version of the bill.

"This is one of the most frustrating resolutions I've ever tried to deal with because we're trying to anticipate to protect the institution, and it (the legislation) keeps changing," said Thompson.

Once a bill is approved, the BoT will call a special meeting to consider a resolution. It would grant university leaders the authority to borrow money if needed, though administrators indicated they would prefer not to borrow money if possible.