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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.

Faculty Layoffs at Western Illinois University

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU.

Two dozen faculty members at Western Illinois University will lose their jobs as the university contends with declines in student enrollment and state financial support.  During a special meeting of Western's Board of Trustees on Thursday, Chair Cathy Early said the university is repositioning itself while remaining fiscally responsible.

“We are realigning our resources to further build upon Western’s programs that are highly sought after by our students and employers,” said Early.

“While Western Illinois University can no longer be all things to all people, Western’s mission and academic progress are not compromised by the decision to realign the educational opportunities.”

As a result, the BoT announced 24 faculty members will receive layoff notices on Friday, June 29, which is the last day of the university’s fiscal year.  Seven of those faculty member are tenured professors. 

Additionally, two non-faculty members within Academic Affairs will be let go, and the school will not fill 62 teaching positions that either are vacant or will become vacant due to retirements and resignations.

“Difficult decisions have to be made here today, and we know that these are unpopular decisions,” said WIU President Jack Thomas.

“To all, I apologize for the decisions that we do have to make. But it’s in the best interest of Western Illinois University.”

Credit Rich Egger
Bill Thompson addressing the BoT during Thursday's meeting.

Western is contractually obligated to give faculty members a one-year notice of layoffs so the layoffs won’t be effective until June 30, 2019.

Bill Thompson, President of the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 which represents faculty and some staff members on campus, told the BoT there is no denying Western has suffered a demonstrable student enrollment decline. But he said teachers shouldn’t shoulder the burden.

“The faculty and academic staff are paying the price for the administration’s failure to stop or even stem the enrollment decline these past 12 years,” Thompson said.

“And there’s also no denying that this board has failed to address that decline or to hold the administration accountable for the decline.”

Faculty members might not be the only ones facing layoffs and/or program cuts.

“Nothing at the moment at this university is off the table from analysis. I’m going to repeat that – nothing at the university is off the table from analysis.  Nothing is so sacred at the moment that it should not and cannot be looked at to see if we need it, can do it more efficiently, or it can be done in a more cost-effective manner,” said BoT member Todd Lester.

Western will hold a news conference on Monday, July 16, regarding what Dr. Thomas called, “the investment in academic programs that will keep Western on the leading edge and prepare our institution for growth.”

Thomas and Interim Provost Kathy Neumann declined to elaborate on what might be revealed at that time.

“It’s very premature at this time to make any of those announcements. Everything is currently being evaluated,” said Neumann.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.