Forum to discuss threats to higher education

Brooke Schwartz, Administration reporter

Threats to higher education in Illinois, and what can be done to solve them, will be talked about during a forum set for 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Charleston/Mattoon room of the Martin Luther King Jr. Union.

Speaking at the forum will be panelists English professor Jeannie Ludlow, coordinator of the women’s, gender and sexuality Studies, history professor Bailey Young, biological sciences professor Billy Hung and Provost Jay Gatrell.

The forum is sponsored by the Faculty Senate, the Student Government and the Provost’s office and will include each panelist talking for around seven minutes about what they see as coming threats and pressures to higher education and what can be done in response.

The pressures being placed on higher education that the forum will discuss include SB 4103 and HB 2234.

The bills look at creating one application process for all universities in Illinois.

Other threats to higher education include decreased funding throughout Illinois for higher education, a possible guaranteed admission for all high school graduates with a B average.

Changing to a one-application system could be dangerous for Eastern and other campuses, Young said.

“My great concern is that the thinking, if it can be called that, behind this sort of legislation is ‘let’s save money by centralizing things on the assumption that one size fits all,’” Young said. “This means that decisions are made somewhere else, let’s say in Springfield, that affect the ability of this university to give the best education it can to its students.”

Economics professor Teshome Abebe said while these bills may be attractive to potential students and families, they would not necessarily benefit Illinois’ universities.

“I think students might like (one application), I think parents might like (one application), but I don’t know who else would support such a position,” Abebe said.

Young is worried about how such bills might affect a university’s ability to adapt and change throughout time.

“I’ve been here for more than 20 years and it’s been an excellent university all that time, but it hasn’t stayed the same,” Young said. “I’ve been here while we’ve had the maximum enrollment, when people were doubled up in offices.”

Now, there are many empty offices because of the decline in enrollment, Young said.

Young said Eastern was able to keep up its morale and relationship with the students and community during the times of low enrollment and funding because of its ability to adapt.

“Measures like (these bills) could take away (that) ability,” Young said.

Abebe and Young are both on the faculty senate forum committee which helped pick this topic.

The committee picked this topic because it became aware that threats heading toward universities were not unique to Eastern.

“(The Faculty Senate Forum Committee) felt that perhaps this (was) not an isolated situation, and perhaps if we were to start a conversation about these two proposals here on our campus, maybe other campuses could also chime in eventually,” Abebe said.

Abebe said this conversation could lead to more unity throughout Eastern’ s campus, as well as throughout all of higher education in Illinois.

A forum is the perfect way to start this conversation, as forums and discussions are an integral part of a university setting, Abebe said.

“I think the university’s culture is one of asking questions and deliberation,” Abebe said. “We’re very proud of that generally, because decisions made that way are accepted by most people. Given that tradition, we felt that this is a major question: it affects our livelihood, it affects our interactions with our students, it affects our interaction with each other, it affects our service to the state and the best way to accomplish (something) would be to have an open conversation.”

Brooke Schwartz can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]