Chicago State collecting keys from faculty and students

CHICAGO (AP) — Employees and students at Chicago State University are being asked to turn in their keys to campus facilities as the school prepares for possible layoffs blamed on the state budget stalemate.

The financially troubled university on Chicago’s South Side has been at risk of running out of money as Illinois’ public colleges and universities have waited since July for state funding held up by the budget standoff in Springfield.

The campus in February sent notices of potential layoffs to all 900 employees and declared a financial emergency. University President Thomas Calhoun eliminated spring break and announced the semester will end April 28 instead of May 13 for its roughly 4,500 students.

Administrator Aleshia Renee Terry asked deans on Monday to begin collecting keys from faculty, staff, administrators and students “as soon as possible,” the Chicago Tribune reported. The school said it was necessary to protect state property.

“Every key must be collected including master keys and special lock keys,” she wrote. “We are attempting to complete the key collecting process by April 4.”

Professor Laurie Walter said asking workers to turn in their keys is bad for morale.

“How are we supposed to tell students we will be here in the summer or the fall?” Walter said.

University spokesman Tom Wogan said the school has enough cash to make payroll through April 30. The school receives about a third of its budget, or about $36 million, from the state.

“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,” Wogan said. “In preparation for that reality, logistical steps must be taken to protect state property, including collecting keys.”

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said there’s no excuse for what’s happening at Chicago State. He noted a bipartisan bill in the Illinois Legislature that would help higher education institutions by freeing up more than $160 million of excess special purpose funds. Rauner said it should be called for a vote and passed.

“I am very upset that Chicago State University may have to close their doors,” he said Wednesday, adding it’s “an outrage.”

Despite its financial problems, the university announced Tuesday it would open registration for the summer and fall semesters next week. Officials at the university also said the next academic year would have no increases in tuition, which totals about $11,800 a year including fees.

“We’re stuck between being optimistic and realistic,” Wogan said. “That’s a tough place to be.”