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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Faculty Union Fighting Lay-off Plan at WIU

Rich Egger
The teachers union hopes faculty and staff will wear black armbands in response to the administration’s proposed lay-offs. The green patch signifies the color used by UPI statewide.";

The administration at Western Illinois University announced a plan last week to lay-off 50 teachers plus other staff members next school year.  The faculty union is now calling the plan a violation of its contract.

Bill Thompson, Chapter President of the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, which represents WIU faculty, said the administration failed to follow provisions in Articles 24 and 40 of the contract.  He said those articles deal with lay-offs.

“The way I look at it, the administration rewrote the articles -- in a sense, bargained the articles without us at the table,” Thompson said.

“From our point of view, the contract has been violated multiple times.”

The administration developed the cost-reduction plan in response to more than a decade of cuts in state funding combined with more recent declines in enrollment.

Credit Rich Egger
Bill Thompson said the armbands were created to let the public know “something bad has happened here” at WIU and that there is solidarity with those who’ve been told they will be let go.

“The way the administration has gone about doing this has been fundamentally flawed. That’s not to say that WIU is not facing financial difficulties. But the contract needs to be followed and it needs to be applied fairly and transparently and that has not happened in this case,” Thompson said.

He also believes the process of developing the plan should have been initiated by the WIU Board of Trustees, not the administration, and he said the plan must still be approved by the BoT, which will meet Friday in Macomb.

“We’re certainly encouraging everyone effected to make use of their rights as citizens to see a public body do its job in public and to see if there is any explanation forthcoming from the administration as to why it violated the Board’s responsibility to initiate the process,” Thompson said.

“I think people who are being let go should be there in the room when the BoT makes whatever decision it makes.”

Faculty members on Sunday created black armbands to be worn by faculty, staff, and other supporters.  They were joined by Molly Selders, Co-President of the Macomb Education Association, which represents teachers in the Macomb School District.

“We’re here because this is an issue that affects Illinois students. The vast majority of students who attend WIU come from the state of Illinois and we’re invested in making sure that our students have the best education possible.  Cutting faculty and staff at WIU completely undercuts that goal,” said Selders.

She called the proposed faculty cuts “a travesty.”

Selders said the administration should honor its contract with UPI and work with the union to deal with the financial issues facing Western and higher education in Illinois.

Thompson hoped the armbands make a strong visual impact.

“Black armbands are traditionally worn in times of mourning or in times of crisis,” Thompson said.  

“This is both of these things.”

Rich is TSPR's News Director.