Chicago State backs off request that employees turn in keys

Chicago State University backtracked Wednesday from a plan to collect keys from faculty and staff members, instead announcing that it would take an inventory of keys that might have to be collected should layoffs be necessary amid the state's financial crisis.

Administrator Aleshia Renee Terry had asked deans on Monday to begin collecting keys "as soon as possible," the Chicago Tribune reported. The school said the move 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."

However, university spokesman Tom Wogan said the key matter was "clarified" in a meeting that university President Thomas Calhoun held Wednesday with administrators to discuss the key request. Department heads were asked to take an inventory of keys held by employees.

"There was some confusion over what the directives were," said Wogan, who previously acknowledged the university may need to "execute a significant number of layoffs at the end of April."

The 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. Calhoun eliminated spring break and announced the semester will end April 28 instead of May 13 for its roughly 4,500 students.

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."

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.

History professor Bob Bionaz said he and other faculty members were "going to continue doing what we have to do so our students can finish the semester."

"It's unconscionable that the state is not supporting public higher education, not just Chicago State but the whole system," Bionaz said.