My Testimony to the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee in Springfield, IL

My Testimony to the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee in Springfield, IL

On Thursday, March 23, 2017, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois to testify in front of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee. I spoke about how the budget impasse is negatively impacting Parkland students, faculty, and staff. I asked for the committee and the legislature to pass a budget and re-invest in higher education in the state of Illinois. My prepared statement is below.

How did committee members respond? See below.

House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee
Public Hearing on FY 18 Higher Education Budget, CSU, ICCB
March 23, 2017   |   8:00AM   |   Room D-1 Stratton Building
Testimony Regarding House Bill HB 103 and HB3928

Good morning, my name is Rochelle Harden. I am an associate professor of Developmental English at Parkland College the local community college in Champaign, Illinois.

I want to thank Chairperson Kelly M. Burke, Vice-Chairperson Cynthia Soto, Republican Spokesperson Dan Brady, and fellow members of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about House Bill 103 and House Bill 3928, two bills which I believe will benefit students and impact students’ success in Illinois’ system of higher education.

House Bill 103 calls for the funding of public institutions of higher education including community colleges and awards MAP grants that were promised to students.

House Bill 3928 calls for the funding of Illinois community colleges through the Illinois Community College Board.

The lack of a state budget and the lack of financial support to higher education and community colleges, specifically, is destroying access to higher education.

The land of Lincoln is no longer the land of opportunity.

I teach developmental education classes at Parkland. Sometimes it is referred to as remedial education, but remedial education assume students simply are missing parts of their education and once given the missing part, the students will be ready for college-level classes. Developmental education models depend on student development theories and pedagogy that focuses on adult learners. A better understanding of the students I teach explains why developmental theories work better.

My students overwhelmingly have a variety of learning disabilities; overwhelmingly qualify for financial aid grants; overwhelmingly take out student loans to supplement their travel, housing, and food expenses while in college; and overwhelmingly they must work at least part-time to support themselves financially.

Fewer and fewer of my students are straight out of high school. The average age for my students is 25. Many of my students are parents with school-aged children. And a larger portion of my students are African American and Latino when compared to the rest of the college.

Without significant emotional and financial support and personal resilience, my students often get bogged down in the terrifying juggle of college and life.

The students who most need a college education are watching their opportunities for a better life through education disappear. When tuition costs rise because the state is not funding higher education, my students have to take out more loans or work more hours at their part time job. The more hours they work, the less time they have to study for classes. The less time they devote to studying, the less likely they will be successful, the less likely they will progress through their classes, the less likely they will earn a degree or certificate, and the less likely their investment in their education at the expense of their future career earnings will pay off in the long run.

The state budget impasse has impacted these students in the most profound way. By not supporting higher education, we are telling my students that college is not important. Education is not important. Community colleges and universities around the state are laying off faculty. In the case of Parkland College, we are laying off dedicated, talented faculty because their contracts were the most vulnerable, not because they were not working their hardest to educate our students. Colleagues and coworkers have left the state for better opportunities because they got the message that higher education in Illinois is a bad investment for their family, their future, and their career. Dynamic and wise leaders and faculty are being pushed out by early retirement incentives. Programs like Adult Education have been cancelled indefinitely. Art programs and theatre programs have been significantly reduced. Student services that my students rely on such as disability services have been cut to the bone.

Because we are not supporting higher education, the students with the money, means, and opportunity, are leaving the state. Committed faculty and administrators are leaving the state for better opportunities and taking their talent and tax dollars with them.

Without state funding, equal access to higher education becomes a myth and open door policies become an act of fraud. When the amount of money students have decides whether or not they can attend and graduate college what results is a gentrification of higher education, pricing poor students out of the market.

While I agree that college is not for everyone, for poor and working class students, it is the only path to some degree of employment stability and a livable wage.

I believe in the power of education, and I believe in the community college mission. For the past 13 years I have dedicated my professional life to teaching developmental students, despite being qualified to teach higher levels. I chose to teach developmental students. I chose to teach at a community college because I saw a proud tradition in the state of Illinois that once championed the community college movement and made great efforts to set up public colleges throughout the state, ensuring access for all residents. However, due to the lack of state funding, we are witnessing the destruction of higher education in Illinois. We are witnessing the demise of one of our greatest assets.

I beg of you, members of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee, senators and representatives from around the state, the entire 100th General Assembly, and Governor Rauner, please, please fund higher education in the state of Illinois. Please, pass House Bill 103 and House Bill 3928. Please, support developmental students, community colleges, and all the public colleges and universities in the state of Illinois.

Thank you.

Rochelle Harden

How did committee members respond? 

Several representatives had encouraging message for me and my students.



Parkland Needs a State Budget

Parkland Needs a State Budget

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?

Find the names and phone numbers of state representatives at the Illinois State Board of Election website.

Parkland Professor as Trustee Issue

Parkland Professor as Trustee Issue

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.

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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.


Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

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