Thank you very much Mr. Speaker.
Today I rise to speak in defense of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. As the State Representative for SIU-C, I have been disturbed by a pattern of behaviors and attitudes toward the campus that I have witnessed in recent months.
We all recognize that the State’s multi-year budget impasse had a tremendous negative impact on the entire higher education system in our State. But, as a result of July 2017’s budget action, some sense of financial stability has begun to take hold in our State university system. However, in the last couple of months, just as SIU Carbondale started to implement a long-term plan for reorganization, a scheme to divert more than $5 million from SIUC to SIUE rapidly bubbled to the surface.
Thankfully, a bipartisan coalition of legislators from Southern Illinois joined area leaders and came out in strong and very public opposition to the funding shift. To my relief, and to the relief of thousands of students, teachers, and small businesses that are positively served and impacted by SIU-C, the SIU Board of Trustees narrowly voted down the proposal.
It seemed, for a moment, that the Carbondale campus had dodged a proverbial bullet. But, just when SIU Carbondale felt that one of the threats they were facing had ended, three members of the House Democrat Majority began moving legislation that would split the Southern Illinois University system in two.
On Thursday, April 19, I attended a hearing of the House Higher Education Committee where a package of four bills, HB 1292, 1293, 1294, and HB 5860 were brought for consideration by Representatives Hoffman, Stuart, and Bristow.
Both Republican and Democrat members of the Committee helpfully identified the legislation as a direct attack on Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The sponsor of the bill was unfortunately not able to sufficiently answer questions as to the economic impact that such a drastic measure would have on the city of Carbondale, or to the Southern Illinois economy as a whole.
SIU Carbondale is a nationally accredited research University, one of only two in Illinois. The loss of that accreditation would be devastating, leaving the University of Illinois as the only accredited higher education research facility in Illinois. I believe that the Democrat sponsored attack on SIU Carbondale willfully ignores the importance of the research that is performed at SIUC. My Republican colleagues and I also pushed back against claims that SIU Edwardsville has had an explosion in enrollment growth over the last 7 years. SIU Edwardsville’s enrollment has actually stagnated over the period of the last 7 years. So, if the argument is that SIU Edwardsville is growing so fast that it needs more money, then let’s study that. The numbers do not seem to bear that out, but I believe a third party should provide an independent analysis of the effect that a move like this would have on not only the Carbondale campus, but on the entire region’s economy.
While the fiscal impact to the entire southernmost region of Illinois may not be fully known, there would be a negative fiscal impact to the State from this legislation. By creating another university income fund, there would be costs to the Auditor General’s office for conducting another audit. By creating another Board of Trustees, costs would be inquired to reimburse board members for expenses, and to transfer records, books, papers, documents and property. All four bills in the ‘attack SIU Carbondale’ package did pass the Higher Ed Committee against Republican opposition. Now these bills are sitting on 2nd reading. Thankfully the deadline to pass substantive bills through the House has passed, but as we all know, no BAD idea is ever truly dead in Springfield.
As a Murphysboro resident, as a proud supporter of SIU-C, and as a member of the House Higher Ed Committee, I firmly believe that Southern Illinois University will be healthier and more attractive as a cohesive unit, and I believe splitting the system apart will weaken it.
To the hundreds of constituents that contacted me in opposition to splitting up SIU, to my colleagues on the House Higher Education Committee, and to the members of the SIU Board of Trustees that rejected the transfer of $5 million away from Carbondale, I want to say THANK YOU.
It is my sincere pledge that I will continue to fight against this effort. As I’ve said on this House floor before, I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to end the attacks on SIU C, help me restore the Carbondale campus to its rightful place as the economic powerhouse and flagship research institution that we all know it can be. Thank you.- END TRANSCRIPT