Our University – An Arm of the State

For all of the bad news about Illinois politicians and their appointees, pay for play, rigged bidding and contract decision making, favoritism, patronage, back room dealing, sinecure, influence peddling, and plain old back scratching, I have become very fond of Illinois: not cynical but ever hopeful about our future and thankful to be in its employ.  I have worked in different states and this one is an excellent employer.

The people are the state.

The people in Southern Illinois are hard working, truthful, committed, and desirous of a fair shot at things.  I don’t think anyone expects anything for nothing.  The people in Chicago are industrious, forward looking, mindful of the fact that they enjoy living in one of the finest cities of the world, home to exhibitions, parks, lakefront activities, clean streets, low crime rates, and a host of other amenities not shared by all large American cities.

The hearty souls twixt the collar counties and the confluence of two great rivers, till some of the most productive soil on earth, and get corn and bean yields second to none.  Year in and year out they mortgage their future and bet on that dirt producing something of great value. They take considerable risk, and I admire them, while the nation and the world need them.

However, our great state is challenged. The budget particulars of the day are powerful, pervasive, and perplexing.

Our university is an arm of the state.

The state, cities, counties, municipalities, school systems and other branches of government and service do not have the resources to grant cost of living pay increases, as much as it may be deserved and needed, yet they will be granted in all likelihood.  They should not.

This is a time when state employees should forgo the raises promised by contract and tradition.  Contracts should have provisions in them for the times in which we find ourselves…provisions that should apply equally to elected and appointed officials, executives, and working stiffs alike.

This is that time.

The idea of salary increases is a future burden that we and our children should not bear.  Our retirement programs are already broken…nearly beyond repair…and their solvency cannot be gifted to the next generation. At our university a tuition increase will barely cover pay increases like these.  Check the numbers.  The students are paying for all of us to get raises…the state can’t afford them… and we should not ask those in our charge to bear that burden.

Illinois is a great place to work, but, as state employees, we need to appreciate that, and expect our leadership to neither give nor take salary increases in a time such as this.  Some faculty and staff may leave the university if they cannot get increases, but this is a cost of a down economy. Maybe some elected officials will choose not to run again for the low compensation.

Irresponsible borrowing to provide temporary gratification against an uncertain future may go beyond the pale of risk-taking in public sector leadership and management.

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! / Sail on, O Union, strong and great! / Humanity with all its fears, / With all the hopes of future years, / Is hanging breathless on thy fate!” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our university is married to the state of Illinois.

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