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Chicago State tells employees to turn in keys as layoffs loom

The campus of Chicago State University in Chicago in February of 2014. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green File)

Administrators at Chicago State University this week issued a demand to all employees to turn in all keys to campus facilities by next week as an April 30 date for layoffs to begin looms.

“Chicago State continues to operate despite the absence of state funding,” CSU spokesman Tom Wogan said Tuesday.

“If the state continues to deny funding to public universities, institutions like CSU will have to make difficult decisions moving forward including the possibility of additional layoffs. In preparation for that reality, logistical steps must be taken to protect state property, including collecting keys,” he said.

CSU is among many victims of a 10-month budget battle between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders who have yet to allocate any state funding to Illinois’ 12 public universities and countless other state programs.

So the university on 95th Street has taken several emergency measures, including spending its reserves, to compensate for the lack of state money, which accounts for about 30 percent of its budget, or $37 million annually. That’s a greater ratio than Illinois’ other public colleges with greater endowments.

The school also cancelled spring break to shorten its semester. But without any impending budget agreement and the governor’s recent veto of MAP money, the South Side university last month sent layoff notices to all 900 staffers, saying an unspecified number will lose their jobs after April 30.

An email sent Monday to CSU deans instructed: “Every key must be collected including master keys and special lock keys,” from all employees, including faculty and students, by April 4, according to sources.

In declaring financial exigency — a crisis level permitting layoffs of union and tenured staff — CSU President Thomas Calhoun, Jr. said last month: “It is our sincere hope that the governor and legislative leaders will do the right thing and provide funding for public universities before these layoffs would have to be executed.”

With the budget impasse showing no sign of ending, retrieving keys was the next step, Wogan said. The University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, which represents about 330 CSU employees, said some members would lose their jobs come May; others, come August.

Like many public and private universities, CSU covered state MAP grants over the past two semesters for students while awaiting reimbursement from the state. It has not yet gone the route of demanding students now repay the funds, as schools such as the Illinois Institute of Technology did recently.

Serving a predominantly African-American population of 4,500 low-income and nontraditional students, CSU has been most severely affected by the void of higher education funding, though all public universities have been hobbled. Other universities have already issued staff furlough notices, and Northeastern Illinois and Eastern Illinois fear their cost-saving measures won’t outlast next fall semester.

“These moves are necessary to ensure CSU will remain open and be able to continue operating through the summer and into the next semester,” Wogan said. “We’re stuck between being optimistic and realistic. That’s a tough place to be.”