CHICAGO – Deep funding cuts aimed at solving the Illinois state budget crisis will wallop students in the University of Illinois (U of I) system. Republican Gov. George Ryan has cut $34 million in funds allocated to the university this year to close a $500-million budget gap resulting from the deepening economic recession.

In response, the University Board of Trustees is proposing boosting tuition 10 percent at the three universities in the system. Accept tuition hikes or face massive layoffs of employees, U of I President James Stukel told students. Stukel boasts he has never heard a complaint that tuition is too high.

The tuition hike, on top of a 37 percent hike over the past two years, means incoming freshmen would pay almost a 50 percent increase. Incoming resident students at the main university campuses will pay approximately $12,000 per year in tuition, housing and fees.

While the cut in state funding will leave the university system with a $10-million increase in funding over last year, administrators say the tuition increase will not fully cover the state cuts and layoffs will be necessary. In addition another $42 million in cuts are expected in next year’s budget. Stukel warned tuition might rise higher than 10 percent.

“I’m disgusted with it,” said Paul Fitzgerald, a member of the student assembly at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). “It’s dishonest that UIC would backtrack on its urban mission and hike tuition 44 percent in two years.”

The mission statement declares that UIC will be accessible to racial minorities, working class and poor students, who would be hardest hit by the cuts.

“I am a junior and I’m already worrying about affording school,” said Corina Marshall, a student at Whitney Young High School here. “I always thought about UIC because it was affordable. But now it’s really expensive.”

Contrary to many media reports, Fitzgerald contends that there is widespread opposition to the hikes. The Undergraduate Student Government and both student newspapers strongly oppose the tuition increase. A coalition has formed to oppose the hike, which will be voted on by the trustees in March.

“They should be able to find the money,” said Fitzgerald. “UIC is trying to gain status among upper-tier universities. Administration salaries are out of whack. Some elite professors are paid big money for research and they don’t teach. UIC has spent a lot of money on a massive new development when they should have been hiring more professors and lowering class sizes.”

Many so-called “upper-tier” state universities have partnered with corporations to conduct research. They are in competition with elite private universities and state funding is channeled to pay top dollar to professors, in effect subsidizing corporations. Meanwhile, graduate students in the university system have been fighting for a union to demand increased salaries and health benefits.

“More government funding should be put into the schools and student support,” said Marshall. “It should be a better school without raising the tuition.” In 1980 state taxes accounted for 47 percent of the U of I budget but make up 31 percent this year.

A coalition of labor and community organizations has emerged to fight the $500 million state cut, which will fall heavily on the working poor, minorities and children. The coalition insists that most of the budget gap can be covered by closing a set of tax loopholes to the wealthy and corporations and eliminating pork barrel funding to legislators.

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