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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 Details Academic Realignment

TSPR's Rich Egger
The realignment announcement on WIU's Macomb campus.

Western Illinois University laid out its plans for restructuring and realigning its academic offerings during a much anticipated news conference on Monday.

The announcement comes less than a month after two dozen faculty received layoff notices. At that time, Western also eliminated 62 vacant or soon to be vacant positions.

“This restructuring is in light of what we see in the future for Western Illinois University,” President Jack Thomas said. “Eventually, once we start growing and we see growth in particular areas, we have to invest.  We have to invest in terms of faculty, to make sure we have the appropriate faculty to teach those classes and whatever else we would need in terms of growth.”

Western administrators are working to move past the two-year state budget impasse, better market current academic offerings, and attract more students to campus. 

Thomas said the University’s institutional areas of strength are:

  • science and technology
  • business
  • education
  • community service
  • areas that meet regional and state needs

He said the University’s Honors College will also be at the forefront and the program will be moved into Simpkins Hall, which will be renovated to meet its needs.
When it comes to defining future investment in academic affairs, Thomas said 37 different academic areas have been identified as Centers of Excellence.

Credit Western Illinois University

“Students, faculty, and staff in ‘Centers for Excellence’ must have optimal learning environments,” said President Thomas. “We are a preeminent institution in terms of quality and we will have a new academic structure, state of the art equipment to support our leading edge instruction.”

Realignment Plan:

The University will maintain four academic colleges. Under those umbrellas, many programs and departments will be folded into newly developed schools.  

Interim Academic Provost Kathy Neumann will oversee the academic alignment, which the administration predicts will position Western for the future.

“These are strategic changes in realignments that are designed to foster collaboration and synergies that will allow, what are now, considered different departments, to advance together versus protecting territory be being in separate departments,” Neumann said.

Neumann said there will be no changes in staffing levels due to the reorganization affecting administration or teachers.

Credit Western Illinois University

The reorganization includes:

College of Arts and Sciences

  • With the exception of biology, nursing, and psychology, all areas will move as part of the reorganization to form two new schools: the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the School of Natural Science and Mathematics.

College of Business and Technology

  • Economics will join accounting and finance to form the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance. Engineering technology will merge with the School of Engineering to form the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

College of Education and Human Services

  • Emergency Management will join the School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. Social work will return to a department dedicated to that discipline with additional discussions underway about how best to support the remaining disciplines in health sciences.  The various areas dedicated to education will merge to form the School of Education.

College of Fine Arts and Communication

  • Graphic design and graphic communication will be brought together.

Neumann said all of Western’s programs must be “...built on a solid foundation of general education to enhance and reinforce the importance of critical thinking, solid communication skills, the pursuit of knowledge, the difference among people, and the importance among all forms of wellness."  
Neumann said there are also efforts underway to streamline general education offerings and increase the number of degree programs offered online.

Neumann said the realignment announcement does not change the fact that Western has 12 signature programs.

No timeline for the implementation of the realignment was announced during the news conference.  

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