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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.

Jack Thomas Discusses "Unrest at WIU" During Job Interview

Screen capture from Boise State University's website
“I can’t say it here in public, because we are still working, but we are just that close to getting an agreement.” ";s:3:

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas was in Idaho Thursday for a job interview. He is a finalist in the search for the next president of Boise State University.

During a faculty forum, Thomas was asked about the recent "unrest at WIU" including the vote of no confidence in the administration and the strike authorization vote by faculty.

Thomas described the financial hardships Western has experienced, including the two year state budget impasse and declines in student enrollment. He said the Board of Trustees charged him with three tasks:

  1. Make sure we kept the doors of the university open
  2. Make sure we made payroll
  3. Make sure we did not affect the quality of the kind of education we are known to provide to our students

He said that required the university to spend its down reserves, cut departments, lay off employees, reduce salaries, and impose furloughs.  
Thomas went on to address the approval of a no confidence vote. It was the first time he has spoken publicly about it. He noted that the vote was taken by faculty who are members of the University Professionals of Illinois and suggested it was union-driven. 

“There was a vote of no confidence in the entire administration, not just me,” Thomas said. “No one was named, which is symbolic to try and get the contract approved.”

Thomas told the crowd that the union wants raises and a number of other enhancements that the university can’t do.

Thomas then held up his hand toward the audience with his finger and thumb positioned about an inch apart and said, “I can’t say it here in public, because we are still working, but we are just that close to getting an agreement.”   

The University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 chapter represents more than 600 employees on WIU's Macomb and Quad Cities campuses. They’ve been negotiating over a new employee contract for the last 18 months. UPI said it wants a fair contract from the university that will help them attract and retain quality employees. 

Thomas has served as Western's President since 2011. He said in a statement, "He was contacted by search firms and nominated for a number of positions. Like my colleagues across the University, I have been impacted by the unprecedented state budgetary crisis. Therefore, I am exploring those positions for which I have been nominated."

Thomas has also been named one of two finalist in the search for Tuskegee University's next president.

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