The headline reads: “State of the Standoff: In Budget Inaction, Illinois Has No Peer.” The article written by Dan Petrella tells the awful tale of the budget impasse currently going on in Illinois. It discusses the loss, the disappointment, and frustration that many people are feeling.
It is now clear to me that all over the state, higher education has been left to wither and die on the vine.
What took a century or more to create, in the case of some public universities like the University of Illinois and half a century in the case of Parkland College, is now being destroyed. The lack of state funding in the last two years is systematically destroying one of the states’ greatest assets.
In a time when a college education is necessary in the current job market, slashing state funding has crippled Parkland’s ability to attract students. Parkland has never been in competition with the University of Illinois. U of I is the golden jewel of the state.
What Parkland does is provide opportunities for students who cannot attend the U of I right away. Parkland’s open door policy means we take all-comers with a high school diploma regardless of reading, writing, or mathematical ability. We provide opportunity for students with a wide variety of disabilities. We meet students where they are and try to take them wherever they want to go. But without proper funding, we will be forced to narrow our focus to inexpensive programs and students who are college-ready right out of high school. We will begin to walk, talk, and act like a small private college.
I choose to teach at a community college. I choose to teach developmental students. I believe in the power of education and the mission of the community college. I have dedicated my professional life to it. However, all around me students and colleagues are leaving Parkland and the state for better opportunities.
Sometimes is it especially difficult to fight off the desire to curl into a ball or the intense desire to vent my frustration. It causes to me to question whether the budget impasse has been specifically designed to destroy public higher education and social services in the state of Illinois.
I try to remember that the students sitting in my classes did not have a hand in creating the current mess. Like all my students before them, they deserve the best education possible. I focus on that.
In my private time, I focus on pushing for a state budget. Parkland College needs a state budget–now. We cannot wait another two years for the leadership in the legislature or the governor’s office to change. The decisions we are being forced to make today will have long term repercussions that we may never recover from.
Please, take a moment to call your state representatives and tell them, “Parkland College needs a state budget. Pass a state budget–now!”
Who are my state representatives?
There has been concerns raised about my ability to be seated as a board member while also being a professor at Parkland College. An article in the News-Gazette explains the issue: “Parkland Board Candidate Would Have to Made a Choice.”
I did a little bit of research over the weekend. Here is what I discovered.
Michael Monaghan, the Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, claims that if elected to the Parkland Board of Trustees, I will have to choose between my paid faculty position and the unpaid board position because as he says, “You can’t be on the board that issues your paycheck.” Monaghan cited the Illinois Public Community College Act as evidence.
“Members of the board shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed for their reasonable expenses incurred in connection with their service as members. Compensation, for purposes of this Section, means any salary or other benefits not expressly authorized by this Act to be provided or paid to, for or on behalf of members of the board.”
When pressed about his interpretation of “compensation,” Monaghan claims he knows the legislative intent because he was on the Senate Democratic staff when the bill was written and debated.
He explained, “That was not the intent of the law and I was here when it was written. The law was sponsored by Judy Baar Topinka . . . . [S]he introduced this bill to clarify that community college trustees cannot be paid, they can’t receive any compensation from the employer.”
What is most disturbing about Monaghan’s comments is his version of events does not match the historical records of the legislation.
On May 16, 1990, then Senator Topinka explained the intent of the bill, “The bill comes from working with the Illinois Community College system, and it clarifies what is compensation to board members in terms of the ability to be able to get health care insurance. The amendment on it also puts together a credit card policy. Again, these are both agreed-to and worked-out amendments by the Illinois Community College Board. There is no opposition that I know of.” Directly after these comments, Senate Bill 1652 passed, 56 yes votes, 0 no votes, and 0 present votes.
On June 12, 1990, Senator Topinka explains again the intent of the legislation, “Committee Amendment No. 1 basically becomes the bill. And it now turns it into what had originally been Senate Bill 1652, which is now held in the House Rules Committee. It had come out of the Senate and – as an agreed bill list. And it discusses community college – it clarifies how insurance is used for board members – which is not at all. And the second part is how you use credit cards. And as I said, it was totally noncontroversial.” The amendment was adopted.
On two separate occasions, Topinka makes no mention of faculty salaries. In fact, the focus seems to be on board of trustees members receiving health insurance benefits.
I decided to look for some sort of controversy or scandal that prompted the legislation to add the language about compensation. I discovered an article in the Chicago Tribune from March 10, 1988 titled, “Payouts at 2 Colleges May Violate State Law” by Thomas M. Burton. The opening line of the article states, “Two suburban community colleges have paid more than $100,000 in health benefits for 10 elected board members since 1983, in apparent violation of a state law that says board members are to serve without compensation.”
This causes me to question Monaghan’s memory of events. There is no mention of the board/ faculty relationship as an employer/ employee relationship. It seems the addition of the language focused on issues related to past board members—not faculty board members.
Certainly, I understand how the rise of collective bargaining agreements over the years has created some degree of contention between bargaining units and the community college board of trustees, but overall the relationship between Parkland’s board and the faculty is one of mutual mission and purpose. We both serve in the best interests of students.
The Illinois Community College Act outlines the process trustees must take to avoid conflicts of interest: a board member with a conflict of interest must “publicly disclose the nature and extent of his interest prior to or during deliberations concerning the proposed award of the contract,” and must “abstain from voting on the award of the contract, though he shall be considered present for the purposes of establishing quorum.” (110 ILCS 805/3-48) (from Ch. 122, par. 103-48)
I will use this process to guide my decisions for all matters as a member of the board. However, it does concern me that the executive director of the Illinois Community College Trustee Association, who is one of the providers of the mandatory trustee training that recently became state law, may have misrepresented the legislative intent.
On Monday, March 6th at 7:00pm in the Parkland Cafeteria, we had a candidate forum.
It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, the NAACP Champaign County, and the News-Gazette.
Here is a link to the video of the event created by Chris Foster and Mike Coulter at Parkland: Candidate Forum Video
To actively engage members of the college community in the process of developing an appreciation for cultural diversity. – Parkland College Mission and Purposes
Parkland College has always embraced diversity. It is a fundamental part of our purpose and core values. We have a diverse community and a diverse student body. For that reason Parkland has always made it a priority to hire diverse individuals across the college. Just take a look at our Environmental Scanning Data.
Although Parkland serves a very diverse population, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a non-white Board member. In fact, despite an extensive African-American history and culture in Champaign-Urbana, there has never been an African-American elected to Parkland’s Board of Trustees. As Parkland celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is time for a truer representation of the district.
Multiculturalism. We celebrate the diversity in both our community and our world. Our goal is to recognize, promote, utilize, and educate one another regarding the unique qualities and shared humanity of all people and cultures. – Parkland College Core Values
A community college trustee ensures that the priorities, spending, and direction of the college operates in the best interest of its students and the whole community district.
Okay, it is true that a lot of time is spent attending meetings, going over budgets, and approving policies. But the fun stuff is helping to set the college mission and best of all being a community college advocate at the local, state, and national level.
That may not sound like fun to you, but it is to me. I believe in the community college mission. I believe in the power of education and hard work. I believe in the good work we do at Parkland College.
If not for community colleges, many people would not be able to attend college. Community colleges are affordable, local, and provide more personalize, one-on-one teaching than many major universities. Because of articulation agreements in the state of Illinois, the rigor and requirements of the college-level classes are the same at community colleges and 4-year colleges. Community colleges, oftentimes, have a strong connection with the local community, its employers, and changing needs. This connection creates a strong foundation for all communities.
When I started teaching at Parkland 15 years ago, I instantly fell in love with its people, students, mission, and spirit. Becoming a board of trustee would allow me to serve the college and the community that I cherish.
PHOTO: Parkland Archives
The spirit of the early 1960’s, both at the state and national level, gave way to the community college movement—a desire to provide wider access to higher education for more Americans. That desire was realized directly as a result of two key pieces of legislation. The first was the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 that provided federal funds to academic institutions for building campuses and student loans. The second was the Illinois Public Junior College Act of 1965 which put in place a funding system combining state funds, local taxes, and student tuition to establish community college districts throughout Illinois. These were the seeds that created Parkland College.
In July of 1965 the East Central Illinois Steering Committee, comprised of local educational leaders, worked to establish a community college in the area. Like many community colleges, Parkland developed from a belief in the American Dream and the belief that educational attainment was the key to “making it”, “getting a piece of the pie”, and securing a share of American prosperity. It is no accident that the concern for the civil rights of minorities and the plight of less educated poor Americans developed alongside the exponential growth of comprehensive community colleges. Community colleges embraced the open admissions policy specifically to help students reach their full potential.
Parkland College began offering classes in the Fall of 1967. 1,338 students were enrolled. At first, Parkland was located in downtown Champaign. The Student Center was located at 134 West Church Street where Nitaya Thai Restaurant is now. Classrooms and offices were spread out over several buildings in the downtown area. Some classes were held at First Presbyterian Church and First Methodist Church across from West Side Park on Church Street. English composition classes were 4 credit hours offered through the Communications division, and the College used a quarter system creating a 4-course load for faculty.
SIDE NOTE: By 1970, five years after the Junior College Act of 1965 was passed, the state had 18 junior-community colleges that reorganized under the act and 17 more that were newly established for a total 35 community colleges.
Wallace, Sally Foster. (2004) Parkland Works : A 1966-2001 History [Champaign, lL.] : Parkland College Board of Trustees.
Hardin, T (1975). A History of the Community Junior College in Illinois: 1901-1972. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Krebs, P., Katsinas, S. G., & Johnson, J. L. (1999). Illinois Community Colleges: Their History and Systems. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 23 (1), 19-41.