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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 Administrators Finalizing Plans for University Realignment

Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas, BoT Chair Cathy Early, and Interim Provost Kathy Neumann (left to right) during the June 28 news conference. Early’s term as Chair has since expired. The new BoT Chair is Carolyn Ehlert Fuller.";

Leaders at Western Illinois University said they will unveil details about the school's realignment plans on July 16.  They said everything is being evaluated so it's too soon to discuss what might be included in the plans.

“It’s really premature at this time to make any announcements as we finalize those plans,” said Interim Provost Kathy Neumann during a June 28 news conference on the Macomb campus.  

Earlier that day, the WIU Board of Trustees revealed the school is seeking to “realign educational opportunities” in response to years of declines in student enrollment and state funding, both of which have damaged the institution’s finances. The problems were exacerbated by the state’s two year budget impasse, during which public colleges and universities received little state funding.

“Even when we got a budget, it was still 10% less than what we got in 2015 (the year before the budget impasse). The budget that we’re getting now is 8% less than what we got in 2015,” said WIU President Jack Thomas.

“And with the crisis of confidence that we have in our state, we have no other choice but to do multiple kinds of things to move the university forward.

“We are looking at investing in our signature academic programs as well as doing some restructuring. We will make sure we are as efficient and effective as possible in streamlining certain areas and growing our enrollment, which is a major challenge for us in this state.”

The BoT’s June 28 meeting was held to authorize the layoffs of 24 faculty members and two non-faculty members within Academic Affairs, beginning in July 2019.  The list includes seven teachers with tenure.  The BoT also agreed not to fill 62 positions that are vacant due to either retirements or resignations.

Are layoffs possible for other staff?

“Yes,” Dr. Thomas said. “As Trustee Todd Lester stated (during the board meeting), there are no sacred cows here.  We’re looking at everything. We made a lot of changes over the years in terms of laying staff off and we’re still considering and there still may be some other staff as well.

“We realize how this affects lives, but we’ve been dealt a hand in this state that we have to offset where we didn’t get funding.  And difficult decisions are being made and have to be made.”

He also said “nothing should be a surprise to anyone” because the administration has worked to keep people informed about the state of the university.  Dr. Thomas said he held 15 town hall meetings in the past year and a couple brown bag lunches.

“We are as open and transparent as we’ve always been,” he said.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.