Governor’s office claims state universities need more discretion in spending

Cassie Buchman, Associate News Editor

In a memo from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs Richard Goldberg, Rauner told lawmakers that state universities should be more accountable for their spending before the state finds money for tuition grants, according to the Sun-Herald.

The memo took a shot at Eastern for “paying $627,000 over 13 years to lobbyist Loretta Durbin,” who is the wife of Senator Dick Durbin.

Paul McCann, in regards to these comments, said Eastern used Durbin’s company Government Affairs Specialists, Inc. from Jan. 14, 1998, through Jan. 31, 2012.

“Government Affairs Specialists acted as our liaison to the Capitol,” McCann said. “Government Affairs Specialists, Inc. did not lobby for the university. When lobbying was necessary, the university sent people from campus to do so.”

The university paid the organization $627,093.10 from 1998 through 2012, or an average of $44,792.36 a year, for their services.

“As our liaison, Government Affairs Specialists kept us informed about what was going on in Springfield and acted as a conduit for communication with the legislature,” McCann said. “We believe that they provided a valuable service to the university.”

McCann said he did not know where the governor’s remarks put Eastern, but the university would continue to work on receiving an appropriation from the state.

Eastern has “plenty of ways of being held accountable,” he said, including providing the budget and letting people look at it and auditing financial statements.

Richard Wandling, chair of the political science department, said he was concerned that the Rauner administration was pulling out the worst-case examples as representative of higher education spending in Illinois.

“Any time you look at government spending, or for that matter, private sector spending, eventually you’re probably going to run into some examples of bad choices or inappropriate spending and certainly that’s an unfortunate reality,” Wandling said.

He said it was a reach to say these choices represented a pattern in higher education.

“Rauner’s chief of staff has obviously found an example of questionable spending by Eastern Illinois University; it obviously raised ethical questions. On the plus side for Eastern, that practice did stop,” Wandling said. “I think it’s unfair to trot out an example from some years ago as a way of saying anything about what is happening at institutions like EIU in 2016.”

He said there was no evidence of Eastern wasting funds.

“EIU is as barebones as it could possibly be in regards to its budget,” Wandling said. “Part of the reason we are so bare bones is because the state of Illinois has not come through with a budget for us.”

He said comparing Eastern and institutions that have had excesses in the past are like comparing “apples and oranges.”

“What needs to happen is President Glassman and the Board of Trustees needs to be very proactive and direct in communicating with the Rauner administration how dire our budget is and how efficiently run we are,” Wandling said.

Wandling said this could conclude explaining how Eastern has pared down on its budget.

“Our administration needs to work directly with our legislators to ensure the message is communicated very clearly to them,” Wandling said.

At Friday’s meeting of the Council on University Planning and Budget, Glassman addressed the comments made in Rauner’s memo.

Glassman said Durbin was not lobbying for Eastern; she was instead a government relations person.

“They’re not sitting there lobbying saying get money for this, get money for that,” Glassman said. “They are finding out what’s taking place, what bills are taking place, asking us how we want to vote on bills and they are essentially our proxy to vote on bills.”

Glassman said they also tell the university to be aware of certain things going on.

“If we feel we have to lobby, then I go like I did on Wednesday to Springfield to talk to government officials and lawmakers and lobby for us,” Glassman said.

Glassman said in bringing up money spent on government relations, Rauner and others were looking for instances that made the universities look like they are filled with money and using the money from state appropriations for lavish things.

“I would contend that Eastern is probably the best steward, and the history shows this, of taxpayers dollars,” Glassman said. “We are not only lean, we have high graduation rates, high retention rates, high job placement rates, high student satisfaction.”

Glassman said the appropriation from the state was not a luxury to the school; rather it is needed to run and operate the university.


Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]