By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
First came the layoff notices. Then Spring break was cancelled. On Tuesday, March 30, Chicago State University asked all of its employees and students to return their keys.
The future of the predominately Black college on the South Side is growing more bleak as the school continues to lose millions in funding while the state’s budget crises heads into its ninth month.
It is hard to put up a positive façade is what one Chicago State student told the Crusader earlier this week. As the days go on, the 4,500 students and 900 employees at the South Side campus continue to be kept in a precarious position in regards to their future. The state’s continued inability to pass a budget has crippled CSU and forced new President Thomas Calhoun to make drastic decisions during his first three months at the helm.
Last month the University sent layoff notices to all employees, a move they said was required by a federal law to notify businesses with more than 100 employees. The law however does not apply to public universities, but it is an example of how fragile things are at the school.
“People are walking around campus in a daze and it is hard to concentrate in class,” said student “Re-Re” Johnson. “We just don’t know what to do or think. I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m thinking about my wonderful professors who have families as well and they are stressed. We feel their stress in the classroom as they try to teach not knowing if they will be paid. This is just the worst.”
A 10-year employee of the school spoke with the Crusader on the condition of anonymity. She said everyone is on edge because they are receiving mixed messages from school administrators. The employee said during town hall meetings they are being given a worst case scenario where the school closes and everyone loses their job or another situation where the school stays open, but not everyone gets to come back.
“If everyone is laid off, then it is cut and dry and you can swallow it a little better. But if you bring back only some people, it makes it worse because then you are trying to figure out what factors will determine if you are brought back and who are the people making the decisions on who comes back and who doesn’t,” the source said. “That is leading to people trying to backstab others to prop themselves up to look better in the eyes of the administration. We are coming apart at the seams. They told us people who will be getting call back letters will know by April 15.”
A CSU spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny if that was the case. What is confirmed is that CSU is almost out of money. The school made several unprecedented moves to try to fend off a complete financial collapse; including shortening the spring semester and eliminating spring break. While those moves may have saved money and bought more time, the residual effect is it has killed morale.
“It is hell around here,” the source said. “It’s like a ghost town in the middle of the day. It’s also very quiet on campus. Usually when the weather gets nice the students and employees eat outside, there is music going on and people are enjoying the campus atmosphere. Not so right now. Even during these 60 degree days, people are just getting in their cars and heading home. Nobody wants to be here.”
President Calhoun has said the school is still preparing to have summer classes and a fall semester in August. But earlier this week student leaders and employees were told to start turning in their keys.
“That is when it really hit home for me,” said the source. “That is when I went home and told my husband I needed help with my résumé. I would have never thought in a million years it would come to this. I just knew this was all a political bluffing game and eventually they would settle this thing, but I really think they are going to allow this to happen. They are going to let them kill a school for political reasons.
Radio station WGCI broadcasted from the school’s campus earlier this week. Trying to increase morale and keep the issue in the public’s mind. CSU students have protested in Chicago and Springfield but are admitting it seems there is little more they can do.
“I think we have about exhausted all of our options and many of the students are seeking to continue their education elsewhere,” said student Speaker of the Senate August Love.
Despite its financial problems, the university announced Tuesday it would open registration for the summer and fall semesters next week. Spokesperson Thomas Wogan said the school has enough money to make it through the April 30 payroll but that is it.