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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.

Four Majors on Chopping Block at WIU


Western Illinois University’s administration wants to eliminate four academic majors due to declining student enrollment. Those majors are African American Studies, Philosophy, Religious Studies and Women’s Studies.

Western’s Interim Provost Kathy Neumann said the programs will continue to have a presence on campus as college students will still be able to minor in those disciplines or take classes through general education offerings.

Neumann said only those classes specific to just the major will be dropped.   

“When it comes to the number of majors, we have to look at enrollment trends, we have to look at our best use of resources as we face declining enrollments and our budgets and resources and we have to make the best use of those as well,” Neumann said.

Neumann said staffing will be evaluated if the elimination plan is approved. She said layoffs are possible or faculty could also be freed up to teach in other areas. But, she does not expect any immediate staffing changes.

Students majoring in these four disciplines will be able to finish their degrees.

There were eight majors in total identified through a university-wide review of programs with low student enrollment.

“I know these particular disciplines do have a lot of job opportunities, but students have obviously selected that these are not necessarily the programs they want to major in. Lots of minors in these programs, but obviously the number of majors is low,” Neumann said.

A committee made up of faculty from each of Western’s four colleges was commissioned to review them.

Majors up for elimination

  • African American Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Religious Studies
  • Women’s Studies

Majors to undergo modifications

  • Bilingual/Bicultural Education
  • Public Health
  • Geography
  • Musical Theatre

In most cases, the committee did not recommend elimination, but rather provided strengths and weaknesses of each program and highlighted opportunities for improvement ranging from curriculum modification to the merger of some programs.
Neumann said she is aware of the petition that is circulating online. So far, nearly a thousand people have signed on in support of keeping philosophy and the other majors targeted for elimination.

“We appreciate all types of feedback. But again, we just became aware of that this morning [Tuesday] so we haven’t had time to see anything except the initial petition that was posted,” Neumann said.

While Western’s administration is recommending the elimination of these four majors, the decision ultimately lies with the Board of Trustees which plans to take up the issue at its June 10th meeting at Western's Quad Cities campus.

Neumann said the Academic Program Elimination Review (APER) Committee will remain in place for a while. She said there will definitely be more reviews of academic program offerings going forward and the next round will get underway closer to the fall semester.

Interim Associate Provost Russ Morgan said the academic trends change over time.  "The things that were popular 20 to 30 years ago aren’t so popular today. A lot of that is as a university as an institution we need to be flexible that way. If we eliminate some programs we need to look at other places where we might invest, where student demand is where jobs are occurring, that type of thing,” Morgan said.

Neumann said there are several ideas in the works to add new majors to Western’s offerings. But she said it is too early in the curriculum development process to share any details.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.