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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.

Tentative Cost Saving Agreement between WIU & UPI

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall is the main administration building at WIU

The University Professionals of Illinois, which represents many faculty and some other workers at Western Illinois University, announced a deferred compensation agreement with the administration that will help the university save money the next two fiscal years.

UPI @ WIU Chapter President Bill Thompson said the two sides have been trying since last month to work out details of the plan.

“It takes a while to figure out how a deferred compensation plan is going to work. It’s complicated,” Thompson said.

“There has been goodwill at the table and both sides have bargained hard for their sides.”

UPI members will be asked to approve two proposals:

  •  Rescind the 1% pay raise scheduled to take effect July 1, 2016
  • Reduce salaries by 3% in each of the next two fiscal years, which begin July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017 (Fiscal Years ’17 and ’18)

Thompson said the two proposals will be voted on separately and are not tied together.
Paying Back the Cut Pay

The salary reductions are considered deferrals. UPI members currently making $40,000 or less are exempt from the deferral plan. The deferred money will be paid back in equal amounts in Fiscal Years ’19 and ’20 if two conditions are met:

  • The amount of General Revenue Funds (GRF) WIU eventually receives from the state for the current fiscal year is at least 60% of last year’s (Fiscal Year ’15) appropriation
  • In Fiscal Year ’19, enrollment and GRF must meet at least 90% of the levels for Fiscal Year ‘15

Credit Jonathan Ahl
UPI @ WIU Chapter President Bill Thompson (right) and WIU President Jack Thomas in the TSPR news studio in January, 2016.

“It’s what I call a hopeful thing because it assumes that reason at some point will prevail,” Thompson said, though he noted Fiscal Year ’15 was not exactly a great year for higher education funding in Illinois.

If both conditions are not met by the 10th day of the Fall 2018 semester and the Legislature’s approval of the state’s FY ’19 budget, the deferred money will not be repaid. Thompson said if both conditions are met, salaries will be returned to their current levels for Fiscal Year ’19 (which begins July 1, 2018) in addition to the deferred money being returned to workers.

“We definitely want to get paid back. But we also recognize that this is a time of fiscal uncertainty and so you want to be careful that the payback does not create a crisis all of its own,” Thompson said.

The Administration’s Concessions

Thompson said if UPI members agree to give back next year’s 1% pay raise, terminal/compassionate care leave will be increased from 10 days to 15 days for each of the next two fiscal years.

“(It’s time) that you can spend with someone who has a terminal diagnosis. And the people who have used this leave have been really grateful for it,” Thompson said.

Other concessions are tied to approval of the salary deferrals, one of which is the waiver of one course of tutored study per faculty member per academic year.

Reviewing and Voting on the Proposal

UPI and the WIU administration will hold joint meetings this week to discuss the agreement with workers:

  • Tuesday, April 19, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in QC Complex 2406
  • Thursday, April 21, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Morgan 109 in Macomb
  • Friday, April 22, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the University Union Capitol Rooms in Macomb

Voting on the proposals could take place next week.
Thompson believed the plan will save the university $1.5 million each year.

The administration has said its goal is to reduce spending by a total of $20 million over the next two fiscal years.

The school is also trying to slash spending by another $4 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the administration announced last week that 110 employees will soon receive layoff notices.  Those layoffs will take effect in 30 days.

The agreement with UPI does not address the current fiscal year.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.