LINCOLN — For trustee Kathryn Harris, the fact that downstate Illinois’ only predominantly Black institution is closing its doors feels, in some ways, familiar to her.
Harris, a longtime activist in Springfield who has also been president of the Illinois Library Association, has sat on Lincoln College’s board of trustees since 2018. Her position means she was one of the 28 people faced with taking the vote on the 157-year-old school’s future — a vote that ultimately resulted in its upcoming closure on May 13.
“There were tears because it’s hurtful,” Harris said. “It’s painful to the faculty, certainly to the students, to the alumni, to the city of Lincoln and to Logan County. I’m particularly pained by it because… for a lot of students, particularly the Black students, are the first in their family to go to college. I’m proud for them … but for those students who only have one more semester — wow, that’s painful.”
Harris, who’s in her mid-70s, said the whole thing reminds her, a little bit, of the closure of Attucks High School in Carbondale for integration purposes.
“It reminded me of those students — the school they had gone to for three years, they weren’t able to graduate from their school,” she said. “That’s how I look at it.”
Harris said it also reminded her of the acquisition of Sangamon State University, which merged with the University of Illinois system in 1995.
But other than the pain of the decision, Harris declined to say much about the specifics of the vote, including how it was split amongst the trustees.
“I’d really rather not say,” she said. “But it was a difficult vote — a heartfelt vote.”
“There are just a lot of mitigating factors that caused it — it was not like it came out of left field for the trustees; it had been discussed, talked about, before. It would take a tremendous amount of money to reverse the situation. … We could get an flux of money that might sustain this for a couple of years, but we’d need that same influx of money two years down the road.”
Asked whether the college was in a significant amount of debt, Harris said she wasn’t “privy to all of that kind of information,” but knew that COVID and a cyber attack had hit the college in a “terrible” way.
“After you hear and read all of the information that was presented, you do what you think is best, all things considered,” Harris said of the vote. “I’m sad that it came to an end for the students, the faculty, the staff — for the city and the county.”
Harris is the only board member thus far who responded to WGLT requests for comment.