By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Chicago State students and faculty took their demands for a state budget to be passed downtown to the Thompson Center Feb. 9 after the school last week declared a financial state of emergency. The 4,800 commuter university on the city’s South Side has been plagued by financial mismanagement, decades of underfunding from the state and alumni who do not give back, which has led to the current financial state of affairs. But if the school does not get money within the next three weeks, the university will be unable to meet its payroll and it will cause major operational disruptions.
“Chicago State is my life. My mother works at Chicago State and so she has to walk in every day not knowing if she will have a job or not,” said CSU student Charles Preston.
He was one of dozens of students who marched around the Thompson building and the surrounding streets. The students and faculty at the rally said everyone is on edge at the school. They say it is unfair to the students who are having a hard time concentrating on their studies because of all the uncertainty surrounding the school’s future.
“We want our voices to be heard and let the world know we are here and we count,” said student Daniel Jones.
On January 29, several CSU students were given citations after two dozen walked onto the Dan Ryan Expressway during the morning rush hour and shut down traffic. The protests have been growing louder and more visible as CSU students say they are the forgotten university in town.
“We put out more African American college graduates in a year than just about all of the other schools combined. For the lawmakers to put this school in this predicament is an attack on the Black community at large,” Jones said.
Critics of CSU, which include many of its own alumni, claim the school is a big part of the blame. They say CSU students often miss out on a true college experience and do not connect with the school in an emotional way.
“I think most CSU students see the school as a place to get their education and be done. There is no sense of community and there are not activities at the school that bind the students there together,” said alum Ronald Johnson. “Plain and simple with the amount of degrees people have earned from there, money should be the least of their worries if each of us gave a hundred dollars a year. But usually when people graduate from CSU they are so angered by their experience, they are just happy to get out and move on to the next phase of their life without a second thought.”
Johnson’s sentiments are shared by many other CSU alumni the Crusader spoke with. But everyone also agrees losing the institution would be bad for everyone involved.
“Look while I’m not a rah rah ‘CSU is the greatest,’ I also know without it I would not be where I am in life,” said Sandra Williams, a teacher from the south suburbs. “The school has great academic programs and that is what you are going to school for anyway, not the ancillary stuff. But CSU could do itself a favor by doing more for its students in getting them to bond with the University then they wouldn’t have to beg so much. My friends who attended HBCU’s would die for their schools and when they come across fellow alum they greet each other with love because of a shared experience. That’s not the case with CSU. It’s like ‘oh you went there? So did I,’ and that’s it.”
Illinois has now gone eight months without a budget, the longest in the state’s history. The stalemate is causing problems in day care, healthcare, correctional institutions, and business, in addition to the state universities. Officials at Chicago State along with Governors State in University Park and Eastern Illinois in downstate Charleston, have expressed serious concerns about the future of their operations.
“Illinois needs a budget to fund higher education,” said Paris Griffin, CSU student government president. “Without the state budget being passed, higher education in the state of Illinois is in danger.”
So far Illinois lawmakers have made several proposals to address the problem at Chicago State but they have yet to take a vote on anything. In the meantime, the students say they will continue their protests and keep the issue in the media.
“If we don’t keep this problem at the front of the public’s conscious we’re just as good as gone,” Griffin said.