Northeastern orders five-day furloughs

Northeastern Illinois University will close its operations during its spring break as it begins a furlough program for its employees beginning Monday, March 20, interim president Richard Helldobler announced.

The furlough program will require nearly all employees, including all administrators, to take five unpaid days of leave during the spring break. The program will affect about 1,100 employees.

The Northwest Side university, which has an enrollment of approximately 10,000 students, is initiating the program in response to the state budget impasse. Without additional state funding, additional furlough days will be imposed, according to the university.

All university services, including instructional services such as computer labs, the writing center and the library, will end with the exception of minimal staffing by University Police and engineers, according to the university. Classes and operations will resume on March 27.

Approximately 300 student appointments will be ended under the furlough, in accordance with a new civil service furlough rule which provides exceptions for student appointments required for health and welfare or public safety or appointments that are part of a student’s financial aid or for academic credit. Extra-help workers’ employment also will be terminated at the start of the spring.

"No matter how you look at it, any furlough program would result in a harmful interruption in the academic lives of college students — whether it involves classroom instruction or university life — and this is unacceptable," Helldobler said. "Students rely heavily on the stability of their colleges and universities. They need reliable access to faculty members. They need libraries, computer labs and other services to be open when they need them. If not, they fall victim to falling behind — or not reaching their academic goals at all. We cannot let this happen."

The furlough program for the university’s second in the past 12 months. Last March Northeastern implemented a program that required employees to take one unpaid day off for each of 6 weeks.

During the summer of 2015, Northeastern eliminated 65 non-instructional positions to prepare for an expected cut in state funding. The university also imposed a hiring and travel freeze, spending reductions and maintenance delays.

"The implementation of a furlough program coupled with a prolonged state budget impasse has caused unnecessary fear and worry among a vulnerable group of students, many of whom already struggle to balance significant family and financial responsibilities while seeking a better quality of life by obtaining a college degree," Helldobler said. "This heightened anxiety is a burden to these students who should instead be laser-focused on achieving their academic goals and becoming productive tax-paying members of the state."

Northeastern will hold its commencement ceremony as scheduled in May, and students currently are registering for summer and fall courses.

"Northeastern is committed to doing everything it can to stay open and continue serving its highly diverse student body, many of whom are first-generation students," Helldobler said. "Now more than ever our elected officials in Springfield must recognize the operational and reputational damage done due to our financial starvation, the value and importance of public higher education and how our graduates contribute to a strong state economy."

Northeastern was founded in 1867 in Blue Island as the Normal School, Cook County’s first teacher training institution. The university will celebrate its 150-year anniversary this fall.