Coalition plans rally tonight against UIC budget cuts

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • March 18, 2009 @ 9:00 AM

A coalition of students, faculty and graduate teaching assistants is planning to rally this evening against planned budget cuts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The proposed cuts could touch everything from student clubs and department budgets to a low-income clinic and other medical facilities at the university.

 “We’re having students, workers and members of the community speak out about how the cuts are affecting them,” says Amber Cooper, a staffer for the Graduate Employee Organization who is helping organize the coalition.

The group formed earlier this month, calling itself United In Campaign Against Budget Cuts. University officials began announcing $25 million worth of cuts in November, citing concerns that they would get less money from the state.

Cooper says that’s a big underlying problem UICABC wants to address by lobbying administrators and state legislators.

“UIC really is a place where we’ve had extreme cuts for a very long time, extreme disinvestment,” Cooper says.

The amount of money the state puts toward UIC has decreased by more than 50 percent in the last 12 years, she says.

While UIC spokesman Mark Rosati didn’t have figures immediately available, he says, “There’s no question that overall the percentage is down.”

The university’s department heads have been asked to plan for budget cuts of up to 10 percent, but no plans have been finalized, says Rosati. The administration also is proposing eliminating about 150 teaching assistant jobs for graduate students.

The Classics Department, which includes foreign language classes in Ancient Greek and Latin, faces having many of its courses cancelled. University officials have said the school cannot justify the cost of running the department when its enrollment has shrunk in recent years.

In November, UIC Medical Center officials announced they would lay off about 200 workers as part of this same round of budget cuts. And earlier this month, protesters rallied around UIC’s Women’s Community Clinic in Pilsen when they learned it could also be shut down. Most of the clinic’s patients are low-income Hispanic women.

Cooper and some people in the coalition want high-paid administrators to take 10-percent pay cuts, a move they say would save nearly $900,000 and be enough to restore some of the other proposed cuts.

But not everyone in the coalition agrees that seeking a pay cut is the best route for the group to take.

“I don’t think the administration is going to say, ‘Our top administrators should be giving back to the university.’ They’re entitled to their salaries,” says Joel Ebert, a junior English major who is serving as one of the coalition’s spokesmen.

A salary freeze might make more sense, he says, as would taking a closer look at where cuts are being made. For example, Ebert says, the student government’s budget went up for the next year even as most academic departments are being asked to make cuts.

“They aren’t consulting the people that have been affected by these cuts, and that’s been a huge concern of mine,” Ebert says.

Cooper and Ebert agree that getting another meeting with President Joseph White – one was held several months ago – would be a significant step for the coalition.

“One of the main things is to be able to just sit down and have a conversation with the administrators, Ebert says. “That to me is the most important goal of the coalition.”

The speak-in begins at 5 p.m. today in the Illinois Room on the third floor of Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted.

Clarification: UIC officials are asking department heads to plan for budget cuts of up to 10 percent, but no plans have been finalized. An earlier version of the story misstated the information.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18