NIU should keep community in loop with budget decisions

NIU officials must work harder than ever before to ensure community members know what budget NIU will push for it and what sacrifices it is willing to make in the coming months.

The state is debating Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed $29 million cut to the funding Illinois gives NIU. University officials will present a budget to the Legislature’s appropriations committee in late March and will “discuss with them the impact that these cuts will have on NIU and our ability to achieve career success,” said Chief Financial Officer Alan Phillips.

The proposed cut will deeply affect NIU and the quality of the education it offers as there would be potential layoffs and less money for projects, among other things. NIU must work to keep the community informed and avoid confusion and uncertainty.

To do this, NIU should hold an open house before the committee meeting so Phillips and NIU President Doug Baker can explain how much money NIU will ask the state for, what representatives will emphasize when talking about the impact of a budget cut and what they will be willing to cut. Students, faculty, staff and locals must be invited to attend, and the event must be publicized well so everyone can understand what’s at stake and why they need to care about participating in budget discussions.

This open house would give community members a chance to become informed, and they would be able to comment and ask questions so NIU receives feedback from the community. This strategy proved successful at the program prioritization process open house since it gave community members a voice in major decisions and an explanation for NIU’s actions.

But, that’s not where the engagement between officials and community should end: Baker should use his weekly email report to update community members on the state of NIU’s budget and how conversations are going with the state. NIUToday.info, where the university issues news releases, can be used in a similar manner.

The updates must continue even after the appropriations committee meeting since the Legislature and Rauner will undoubtedly battle over the budget for months.

Every person in the NIU-DeKalb community has a stake in the university’s budget. Students rely on NIU for higher education and faculty and staff need it for employment, research and teaching. Even community members need NIU to be successful so surrounding businesses can thrive.

NIU officials must recognize that and include everyone in budget discussions.