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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.

WIU BoT Supports Administration Despite No Confidence Vote from Faculty

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU.

The Board of Trustees at Western Illinois University said it will stand by the administration despite last month's "no confidence" vote by faculty.  65% of faculty members who returned their ballot stated they do not have confidence in the administration.  

The BoT issued the following statement after a special three-hour closed door session:

"We value our faculty’s opinions and have taken their concerns into consideration. The Board of Trustees supports the University administration. When reviewing the University's accomplishments and leadership over the years, including the Board's duty to continue to maintain the University's viability, it is the Board's opinion that the University administration has done what we've asked them to do in these very difficult times. Our concern is for the entire University, and we have further charged the administration to do everything they can to keep us moving forward."

Tri States Public Radio talked to BoT Chair Cathy Early about the statement and its confidence in the administration.  A few of the highlights:

TSPR:  The statement that the Board issued - is the full Board behind that? Was there a unanimous vote on issuing this statement?

Early:  We don't vote in closed session. We're not allowed to ever vote or take action in closed session.  But I can say to you that I saw a uniform consensus among the board members in their different comments. And this statement actually was crafted by the Board itself.  We were in the room by ourselves and crafted this statement. And so there's different phrases and sentences that are in here that everybody participated in.

TSPR: You feel like the full Board is behind this statement?

Early:  I do. I feel that the full Board is behind this statement.  Yes.

TSPR:  What did you talk about (during the closed session)?

Early:  We talked about some different union contracts and negotiations that are going on with several of the bargaining units that we have on campus.  And then we discussed the "no confidence" vote in the administration and what that meant, the ramifications. The fact that it was it was directed toward the administration and not an individual. And that led to plenty of discussion.

TSPR:  What does the Board make of that - that it's directed not at an individual but rather at an administration?

Early:  I think that it would indicate that there's a general dissatisfaction of a number of different issues.  I know that shared governance, communication, direction -- or lack of direction -- perceived by all the individuals involved. And I think there's a whole mix of all of those things.

TSPR: Do you think there is a negative perception or poor perception of Western among parents and their high school age students?

Early:  Whenever there is a broad-based group of people, there's always going to be people that like things and people that don't like things.  Sometimes I think we spend way too much time giving negative people their due.  I want to say, though, that you do need to listen to what people say because sometimes there's some real truth in what they're saying.  Sometimes there are experiences that need to be modified.  But there are also a lot of people who say a lot of good things.  

TSPR:  Do you think that also applies to some of the dissatisfaction that seems to be arising on campus?

Early:  Certainly there's a wide variety. Again, whenever you have a group of people there are always going to be people on different ends of the spectrum.  But I think you need to pay attention and listen because very rarely are there people that do nothing but spread falsehoods.  Ordinarily, there's nuggets of truth no matter where you look in whatever messages there are.  And just as there can be people who are overly rainbow, unicorn -- the other side -- you have to find that mix in there and see what items you can identify that you can change and can you change them and how can you change them.

TSPR:  What do you think the administration has done to maintain your confidence?

Early: Over the last two-and-a-half or three years, we've been faced with a lot of difficult decisions and a lot of difficult situations. The (state) budget impasse coupled with lower enrollment, less high school students coming out and, particularly as the three years have gone on, the exodus of high schools students from Illinois to other states for their college education.  All of those things have combined into a perfect storm, if you would, as far as lowering revenue and support from the state including an absence of revenue from the state for a period of time. 

Early said to weather the storm, the administration implemented a furlough program for administrative and support staff personnel -- a program that is now in its third year.  She said faculty agreed to a 3% salary give-back two years ago. She said many open positions at WIU have not been filled.

Early also said the university's Admissions office has ramped up its efforts, including assigning a full-time admissions counselor to cover a 16-county area in west-central Illinois.

And she said Western is striving to do a better job of promoting itself, especially in regard to student achievements and faculty-led programs that bring high school students to campus.  She said improved internal communication is alerting the Admissions office to those programs.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.