When the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees met on May 6, Chairperson Polly Radosh warned the COVID-19 crisis is saddling Western with a new set of budget challenges.
“While we had been on track for a budget that did not include any of the cuts that had deeply wounded the campus in recent years, we will once again begin austerity measures to get us through,” Radosh said.
In an interview with TSPR, WIU Interim President Martin Abraham cautioned it is still too soon to know what austerity measures might be necessary.
“The first step in this process is to try and find out what is feasible and what is possible. We’ve already instituted a very hard spending freeze so we’re not spending a lot of money at the moment,” Dr. Abraham said.
“We really don’t know what the situation is going to be and at this stage we’re looking to gain more information from our employees, from our unions, to see what might be possible in terms of potential budget savings.”
He said the administration is not asking employees to commit to specific cuts but rather it is asking what might be possible. He said that will prepare WIU to take action -- if necessary -- once the state finalizes its spending plan for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Abraham said state lawmakers from the region have told Western to prepare for the possibility of anything from no budget cut to a reduction of 35%.
“That’s a huge range, obviously. We’re hoping for zero but we don’t really know at this point,” he said.
Abraham is urging people not to panic. When it comes to next fiscal year’s budget, Abraham said Western is planning for the worst while hoping for the best. He emphasized the problem is not specific to WIU. He said higher education institutions throughout the state are facing the same challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Letisha Trepac, WIU’s Budget Director and Vice President for Administrative Services, also participated in the conversation with TSPR. She said Western can finish the current fiscal year in the black if everyone continues to follow the current spending guidelines.
“All expenditures require approval so that they’re being evaluated at the vice president and president level to determine whether they’re truly essential,” she said.
Trepac said spending in some areas has already slowed to a near halt because of the pandemic.
WIU received around $8 million from the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus relief fund. Half was supposed to go to students, and Dr. Abraham said about $3.25 million has already been put toward students.
He said some of the other $4 million has been used to cover the cost of reimbursing housing and dining fees to students for the second half of the spring semester. No decision has been made on how to spend the rest of the money.
“We’re looking at investments in technology but we haven’t expended it yet and we are looking at what we absolutely need at this point in order to be prepared for the fall semester,” he said.
This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio. TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.