Western Illinois University's strategic plan, Higher Values in Higher Education, states, "Western Illinois University's highest priority is to increase faculty and staff salaries to meet and exceed the mean of peer institutions." Faculty members reminded the school's Board of Trustees of that goal during the Board's most recent meeting.
“Either (those words) are an accurate description of a thoughtfully considered conviction, or they are meaningless, cynical tripe,” said Bill Thompson, President of WIU’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI).
Union members are upset with status of contract talks. The administration’s latest proposal is for a 3% annual salary reduction and it wants to impose up to eight furlough days, which is equivalent to another 4% pay reduction. Under the plan, teachers could take the furlough days only on university holidays.
UPI and the administration have been in negotiations for the past year and the administration recently asked to bring in a mediator. The administration on October 4 launched what it called a “Negotiations Update” website.
Thompson said Western should work with all its might to get more money from the state and he said UPI is willing to work with the BoT and the administration toward that end.
“Though we may disagree and disagree strongly about other things, the UPI and the administration are as one in desiring increased appropriations for this school. So let’s lobby together in Springfield on this issue,” Thompson said.
He was one of nine faculty members who urged the BoT to stick by the promise of the strategic plan.
Among the others, Educational Studies Professor Jim LaPrad found it “disconcerting” that Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville are talking about increasing salaries while WIU has proposed pay cuts.
And Amanda Divin, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Social Work, said teachers will be losing money if the university cannot afford pay raises that keep pace with the rate of inflation. She said that could cause teachers to feel less motivated.
“It breaks my heart because energy is contagious and faculty can spread that energy to our students,” she said.
WIU President Jack Thomas said he heard every word said by the faculty members.
“We will do the best that we can as administrators in making sure that this is a great place for everybody to work,” Dr. Thomas said. “Know that we love and care about the people here at this university. We love and care about Western Illinois University.”
During the BoT meeting, the Board approved its recommended operating budget for Western for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018. It includes $1.5 million for salary increases.
But Trustee Steven Nelson cautioned this is just the first step in a long process. The amount of state money Western ends up getting will be decided by the Legislature and governor, and during an exchange with Matt Bierman, WIU Vice President for Administrative Services, Nelson worried about the role politics might play in the state’s budget planning during the next year.
Nelson: The reality is that with 2018 being an election year, there may not be a budget until after the election in November, 2018.
Bierman: I sure hope that’s not true.
Nelson: Well I do too. But they’re already posturing.
Nelson’s fears are based on recent history. The state went more than two years without a budget – from July 2015 to July 2017 -- and state funding for public higher education was scarce during the impasse.
WIU employees made sacrifices because of the budget stalemate. Non-unionized personnel are required to take up to eight furlough days this fiscal year, the third year in a row they’ve taken furlough days. And teachers gave up a pay raise last year and deferred 3% of their pay.
The budget stalemate ended in early July this year when lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto to approve a new state spending plan. But that plan still shortchanges higher education. Western’s state funding will amount to 90% of what it received before the budget impasse.