Western Illinois University faculty members will cast ballots this month on whether they have confidence in the administration. Western's president and the chair of the Board of Trustees told Tri States Public Radio that they are taking the vote seriously.
As TSPR previously reported, the vote comes at the request of about 24% of the faculty who signed a petition asking for the referendum.
The petition’s language is critical of declining student enrollment at Western as well as the administration’s decision to lay off tenured faculty and eliminate academic departments. It also accuses the administration of deviating from the university’s public mission of supporting critical thinking, research, and creativity by supporting academic programs on the basis of programs’ student enrollments and vocational applications.
The Faculty Senate will administer the vote via mail ballots and plans to have the results by the end of the month. The vote is largely symbolic, but Cathy Early, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said she is interested to learn the outcome.
“We value our faculty and always want to consider their opinion. It’s definitely something we take seriously and will have discussions over,” Early said.
Early said the BoT supports the administration and stands by the difficult decisions that have been made during the last several years as a result of declining student enrollment and the state budget impasse.
“As far as the board is concerned, the administration has done what we’ve asked them to do during the most difficult times of financial crisis,” Early said. “Our concern is for the entire university, for the good of the university, and we have charged the administration to do everything they can to keep us moving forward.”
But Early said she recognizes that other people may feel differently, “I think it’s always very important to listen to what everybody says.”
This is the first time Western’s faculty has submitted a petition to administer a no confidence vote. President Jack Thomas told TSPR that news of the vote is disappointing.
Dr. Thomas said the last few years have been tough for Illinois and higher education.
“These are unprecedented times and we had to make some very unprecedented decisions as well. We know some of the decisions were not popular. We have tried to minimize the effect they have had on our faculty, students, as well as the university community,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he tries to be transparent and keep the lines of communication open. He said, for example, he has hosted many town hall meetings, brown bag lunches, and round table discussions with faculty, staff, and students.
Thomas said the administration has been taking furlough days for three years and the faculty has given up portions of their salary to help save money. He said he knows some people are at the point where they’re just not happy.
Additionally, the administration is in contract mediation with the union, University Professionals of Illinois, which represents the faculty. Thomas said, "It has been a long, drawn out process." Negotiations have been ongoing for more than year, and the administration called in a federal mediator last September.
Thomas said when he is asked about how Western is faring, he responds that this is a tough time but the university will get through it.
“We have a great vision and goals for this university. Western Illinois University is a great university with outstanding faculty and staff and some excellent students. I’m proud of the university of which I serve as president,” Thomas said.