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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.

Staff Cuts Authorized for WIU

Rich Egger
Some students demonstrated before the BoT meeting. “I’m supporting the teachers. I don’t think any of them should be laid off,” said junior Sara Lane.";s:3:"u

The Western Illinois University Board of Trustees voted 5-to-1 during a special meeting Monday to authorize staff reductions for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.  Staff cuts are just one part of Western's plan for cutting spending by roughly $10 million due to declines in enrollment and state financial support.

The administration said it’s still working to determine how many jobs will be lost and how much money will be saved through staff reductions. President Jack Thomas said he intends to remove tenured faculty from the proposed lay-off list, and he called Monday’s action by the board “just the start” of the process. 

Thomas said 59 employees took advantage of an early retirement program offered late last year.  He said that will ultimately save the University $1.5 million per year if some of the positions are not filled.

BoT members who supported the staff reduction resolution are Chairman Roger Clawson, Lyneir Cole, Cathy Early, Carolyn Ehlert Fuller, and Yvonne Savala.  Phil Hare opposed it.  Todd Lester abstained (he was just appointed to the Board on January 15).  The student representative on the Board, Michael Quigley, was ineligible to vote.

The meeting lasted more than an hour, even though the staff reduction authorization was the only item on the agenda.  Notable quotes from the meeting:

Credit Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas read from a prepared statement during the meeting.

My Leadership Team and I have engaged all members of the University community to offer feedback regarding our fiscal challenges, and we have made decisions with that feedback in mind. The decision to lay off members of our University community is not easy. – Jack Thomas, University President

We all feel the pain and the hurt. I want to encourage people, students especially, to take that pain to Springfield. Take it to your governor, who won’t invest in my future and won’t invest in your future and won’t invest in this area of the economy. We can fight amongst ourselves all day but the real fight is with our governor, who doesn’t care about Western Illinois University. – Michael Quigley, BoT member

WIU is not a business. It is not a technical college. It is a university. And a university has to protect and promote the liberal arts. – Ute Chamberlin, Associate Professor of History, who said her name is on the lay-off list.

I think what we are facing now is – after many years, even decades – the state of Illinois has gotten itself into a bad spot. And we are sitting around this table having to manage some of the fallout. It’s very difficult. – Carolyn Ehlert Fuller, BoT member

Credit Rich Egger
UPI Chapter President Bill Thompson addressed the BoT during the meeting.

The president and his administration led us to this moment by failing to stem -- let alone reverse -- enrollment decline, and by failing to retain the students who did enroll. – Bill Thompson, Chapter President of the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100

To the faculty … It’s on you.  We need your support, we need your help. We’re going to do what other things we need to do but we need your support and your help. – Lyneir Cole, BoT member

We are being held hostage by the state of Illinois. Your pension system is being held hostage by the state of Illinois. Our budget, funding for our students, funding for our faculty, funding for our staff – it’s all being held hostage in Springfield. – Cathy Early, BoT member

I do not believe this is in the best interest of the university. I don’t believe this is in the best interests of the faculty and their families. – Phil Hare, BoT member

Rich is TSPR's News Director.