A committee at Western Illinois University is working to review a list of academic programs being considered for elimination. Its report isn't due until the spring semester. But an audio recording from a Board of Trustees meeting in late June indicates there might already be a plan in place.
18 Programs Considered for Elimination
As Tri States Public Radio previously reported, the list of 18 programs was created by the university’s leadership and includes a variety of majors, even those that are deemed “signature programs” at Western. All of the majors on the list are "low producing" according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s metrics.
The Academic Program Elimination Review (APER) committee is designed to give faculty a chance to weigh in before any academic programs are cut and teachers are subsequently laid off. The APER committee's review is required under the university’s contract with the faculty union.
When the APER committee was convened a few years ago, it reviewed eight academic offerings and recommended keeping most of them with some reorganization. It was suggested that Public Health major be consolidating into the curriculum of the Health Services Management bachelor’s degree. It was also recommended that the administration support a plan to make Religious Studies an option within the Philsophy major.
But, the findings are only advisory and it is ultimately up to the university’s leadership to decide what happens. In the end, four majors were cut: African American Studies, Women's Studies, Religious Studies, and Philosophy.
During a September meeting of the Faculty Senate, WIU President Jack Thomas discussed the last APER committee report and said doing nothing in light of declining state appropriations was not an option.
Thomas said this time around he has been asked what's planned. He said, “No, there is not a preconceived plan, and yes, the APER report matters.”
But it’s a different story when administrators meet privately.
Program Elimination Discussed Behind Closed Doors
An audio recording of the WIU Board of Trustees' June 28 closed door meeting was released to the public after the Illinois Attorney General's office ruled the BoT violated the Open Meetings Act.
For nearly an hour, trustees and some of the university’s leaders discussed budget cuts, layoffs, and program elimination.
During the meeting, Interim Provost Kathy Neumann detailed Phase II, which she said includes identifying and moving forward with the APER process for eliminating entire majors. “We anticipate the outcome to be that they don’t recommend eliminating anything and at that point we will just have to make the decision to move forward,” Neumann said.
Trustee Carolyn Elhert-Fuller then asked, “When will the decision be worked on? Will you have to go work on it once you hear from them? Or are you going to begin working immediately and decide what we need to have?”
Dr. Thomas responded, “What we have talked about is that, I have asked Kathy to come to the retreat with those programs that have low enrollment. If we can, you and I talked about that, if we can where we will have nobody there to talk about those programs that we see that are low enrolled that we want to eliminate."
Elhert-Fuller interrupted. “So you’re right on top of it?”
Dr. Thomas continued, “So that, once they give us a report, whether they agree or dis… – whether they make a recommendation or not, then we will go ahead and invoke and then we’ll go ahead and give the announcements of the layoffs as well.”
Someone in the room asks, “So we already have an idea, a plan?”
“We do,” replied Thomas.
WIU Associate Professor of Art Duke Oursler is the point person on the APER committee. He said the committee, which is made up of five people (four faculty and a member from the library), will meet with representatives from each of the 18 programs on the list.
He said the committee has the ability to do more than just check a box on whether to keep a program. He said there are a number of recommendations the group could offer.
“The committee has committed itself to reviewing these programs and doing our due diligence to understand these programs and the changes they are going through and the proposed mergers and changes that may happen in the future,” Oursler said. “We are trying to learn the stories of these programs so that we can make a thoughtful recommendation to the administration and the Board of Trustees.”
Ourlser said the recently released audio recording will not affect the committee’s work.
“What the administration has planned or wants to do or thinks of what direction the university should go is outside of what the APER committee’s job is. It’s the committee’s goal to do the job of the APER committee and do a good job at that.”
Interim Provost Neumann previously said the APER committee would submit its findings by early December and the administration would make decisions by early spring. But, Oursler told Tri States Public Radio that timetable was not realistic because the committee was not convened until after the start of the fall semester.
The APER committee is now expected to submit its report by March.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the last APER report did not recommend any program elimination. That information has been revised in the above story.