NORTH PARK — With no end in sight to the Illinois budget impasse, Northeastern Illinois University has announced it will furlough staff for the second year in a row as a cost-cutting measure, and this time students will lose campus jobs as well.
Without state appropriations, which have been in limbo for 20 months, NEIU is facing a $17 million deficit this year, according to officials.
Last year, as the state failed to release funds, NEIU was forced to dip into its reserves, furlough employees one day a week for six weeks and implement a spending and hiring freeze.
This year, NEIU will completely shut down operations over the school's spring break, furloughing employees March 20-24, to have the least impact on student instruction.
“No matter how you look at it, any furlough program would result in a harmful interruption in the academic lives of college students — whether it involves classroom instruction or university life,” interim President Richard Helldobler said.
Though classes aren't in session over spring break, the university's library, rec center, computer labs, writing center and financial aid office, among others, typically remain open, which won't be the case this year. Only a skeleton staff of building engineers and university police will be on campus during the break.
“[Students] need libraries, computer labs and other services to be open when they need them. If not, they fall victim to falling behind — or not reaching their academic goals at all," Helldobler said. "This is unacceptable."
Due to changes in the rules surrounding furloughs, NEIU also had to terminate about 300 state-funded positions held by students, including as tutors, lab assistants and other jobs. It's unclear whether those positions can be reinstated when the furlough period ends, officials said.
Federal work-study programs are not affected.
Many of the university's 10,000 students are already struggling to balance significant family and financial responsibilities, Helldobler said.
“This heightened anxiety is a burden to these students who should instead be laser-focused on achieving their academic goals and becoming productive tax-paying members of the state," he said.
The university will hold its scheduled commencement ceremony in May and still is registering students for spring and fall classes.
“Northeastern is committed to doing everything it can to stay open," Helldobler said.
The University Professionals of Illinois union responded to the furloughs with a statement from John Miller, the union's president:
"These unilateral cuts are the direct result of Gov. Bruce Rauner's failed leadership and demand that his political agenda be passed before our students and universities receive funding. The closure of NEIU will delay important educational activities such as research with students, student field experiences and other activities that are vital to learning."
Miller continued: “Unfortunately, the university’s decision comes as we were in negotiations with the institution. This is the second consecutive year where the university furloughed the hardworking staff and faculty to simply keep the doors open. Our students, employees and state deserve better.”