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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.

Breakdown of Western Illinois University Layoffs

Rich Egger

147 employees are losing their jobs as WIU grapples with a drastic decrease in state support for the current fiscal year and uncertain funding for the coming year.

Western started the school year with 2,403 employees (that includes 492 graduate assistants). 

All of the job cuts on are on the Macomb campus. Western said there are no layoffs at the Quad Cities campus because the staff size there is much smaller.

Those being let go include 113 of the school's 781 civil service workers, 30 of its 679 faculty members, and 4 of its 311 administrative/professional employees.

Credit Emily Boyer

The WIU administration estimated the civil service layoffs will save $300,000 in the current fiscal year, which continues through the end of June.  The figure might change because the state’s civil service system allows for bumping rights.  Under bumping rights, a civil service worker being laid-off can replace a less senior civil service worker for a position for which he/she is qualified.

Credit Emily Boyer

The faculty layoffs will yield an estimated savings of $1.3 million, which will be realized next fiscal year or the year after that.

In addition, members of the University Professionals of Illinois, which represents faculty, will be asked to vote on a proposal to decline a 1% pay hike for next year and take a 3% pay cut in each of the next two years.  The tentative agreementwas announced in mid-April and voting is scheduled for May 5 and 6.

The cuts to administrative/professional staff will save an estimated $300,000 next fiscal year.  No savings are projected for the current fiscal year because of payouts.  Administrators include directors, vice presidents, etc., while workers considered professionals include library faculty, coaches, some health center staff, and other positions. 

Western is also saving money through a furlough program.  Non-union employees were told to take 6 to 15 unpaid days off depending on their salary. The higher a worker's salary, the more furlough days he/she is expected to take.  The workers also have the option of choosing a pay cut instead of taking unpaid days off.  The administration estimated furloughs will save $1.5 million in the current fiscal year.

In another cost-cutting move, Western offered an early retirement program in November. 59 people took the retirement package, including administrators, faculty, and civil service workers.   Budget Director Matt Bierman said the upfront pay-out was around $1.7 million, but the program should save the university that much or more every year hereafter.

WIU and other public universities in Illinois went nearly ten months without any state financial support while Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remained in a stalemate over the state budget.  An agreement was finally reached in late April to provide $600 million to higher education.  Western received approximately $21 million as part of that deal, but that’s only about one-third of what the school expected for the year.

There’s no indication whether more money will be provided for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and lawmakers have yet to agree on a state spending plan for next fiscal year.

In a letter released to the campus community Tuesday, President Jack Thomas said, “If we do not receive additional state appropriations for FY'16, the University will be forced to utilize restricted (Auxiliary Facilities Systems) funds in late summer.”  He said Western still has a goal of cutting spending by $20 million over the next two fiscal years and he will release more details about budget cuts as decisions are made.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.