President Maimon Delivers a Strong Message to the GSU Community
President Elaine P. Maimon addressed concerns and dispelled rumors about the future of Governors State University as the institution exits its eighth month without state funding during a faculty and staff Town Hall meeting last Thursday.
“We are open and we are staying open,” Maimon announced, reinforcing a line the Chicago Tribune quoted her saying the day before. It was rewarded by applause from the overflowing audience in the Sherman Recital Hall.
To banish concerns about the university’s status in the summer, fall, or future, President Maimon continued, “Our first freshmen will become juniors in the fall, and I look forward to their graduation ceremony in 2018!”
The Illinois budget crisis has left public universities operating without state funding or reimbursement for MAP grant dollars, which is money currently being fronted for students by some universities with the expectation of reimbursement by the state. The delayed appropriation (based on FY15 numbers) and the student MAP money total $27 million in unrecovered funds for Governors State.
While the stalemate has created “varying levels of fiscal crisis” for the state universities, Maimon said GSU is doing its best to address the incredible challenges posed by the budget impasse.
In her Town Hall address, President Maimon credited the university’s current position to the eight years of strategic planning that led to university-wide reform. Most notable is the university’s 2014 transformation from an upper-division institution to a full-service four-year institution, offering what Dr. Maimon described as, “one of the best designed, most attractive undergraduate programs in the nation.”
Maimon also cited other initiatives that have contributed to the university’s trend-defying enrollment growth, including the recent addition of GSU’s low-cost athletics program; new residential housing; the Dual Degree Program, which brings in more full-time community college transfer students; and an increase in international student enrollment. Over the last two years, new initiatives have yielded nearly $17 million in tuition revenue alone.
Without state support, GSU has tapped its operating reserves set aside for physical plant repair and maintenance projects and other emergency use. Maimon says this is not the way to do business. “Emergency funds are not intended to be used for regular university operations; they have to be replaced. We cannot forever put off repairs and maintenance. Our doing so this fall resulted in a major water main break costing us $165,000.”
Defining the road ahead, President Maimon was careful to draw the line separating the university’s recent accomplishments from the hovering uncertainties cast by the state’s budget stalemate.
“My crystal ball is cloudy,” she said, “But one thing is clear. All is not well. No one knows when these issues will be resolved. We are uncertain about the amount of funds that will eventually be appropriated for FY 16—and for FY17. We also have no guarantee that the MAP funds we have fronted this year for students will be replaced.”
Though she could not predict the future, Maimon assured the GSU community, “we will stay true to our mission and remain open to serve the students who count on us. We have never contemplated closing our doors.”
Calling it the “new normal,” Maimon said even the best-case appropriations scenario proposed by the General Assembly is an 8 percent cut, adding that the university will need to continue to develop new ways to serve students.
"GSU will again accept liability for students’ MAP funding for the coming academic year, 2016-17. We do this for educational purposes, so that students can enroll without deep financial fears."
To address the ongoing uncertainties, President Maimon and her administration are developing a range of possible options that the university may be forced to take if a reasonable resolution of the budget stalemate is not achieved shortly, including such options as furloughs, layoffs, and programmatic streamlining. . Dr. Maimon stressed that should such actions become necessary, the university will follow all applicable rules, procedures and agreements including those in our union contracts. Before any such actions are taken, she added that consultation and advance notice would be provided.
In addition to the current freeze on travel and hiring, the university has put on hold two major and much needed projects: the cafeteria renovation and the purchase of a document imaging system needed to improve the university’s admissions processes.
In her closing remarks, President Maimon appealed to the State of Illinois to partner with GSU—a public university that she says is, “fulfilling state goals”. She thanked faculty, staff, and students for keeping GSU’s momentum going under extremely difficult circumstances.
Later that afternoon President Maimon hosted GSU students at a Chat with the President. Her message was clear: students come first. President Maimon underlined that point by announcing GSU will again accept liability for students’ MAP funding for the coming academic year, 2016-17.
“We do this for educational purposes, so that students can enroll without deep financial fears.”
Dr. Maimon gave a brief update on the budget and then listened to student concerns, which ranged from fear of stalled growth because of the public’s perception of the budget situation to questions about program cuts should the state decide to chop funding.
Heather Locklear, a sociology major, asked, “What can students do to get involved? What is the call to action?”
GSU’s Dean of Student Affairs, Aurelio Valente, said that in addition to joining advocacy efforts led by our student government, there are simple things students can do to help. “Do well so that we can proudly tell your stories. Use our online resources instead of tapping manpower. Turn off the lights in classrooms when they’re not being used, and throw away paper when you see it on the floor.”
President Maimon praised students, faculty, staff, and community supporters for their advocacy in Springfield.
Students were also encouraged to use the power of social media to receive and share event information and good news about Governors State.