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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 Ends Furlough Program for Administrators

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University is still trying to secure its financial footing due to the two-year state budget impasse and declining student enrollment. President Jack Thomas has said repeatedly that everything is on the table when it comes to making cost saving measures. But it turns out there is one exception:  the furlough program.

During a news conference following the WIU Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Thomas said they are making cuts across the entire institution.

“We have to just be strategic and look at everything. It’s not just one or two things. It’s everything because we have a shortfall and as I stated, we are experiencing a deficit and we cannot continue to do deficit spending.” Thomas said.

Thomas said the university ran a $4 million budget deficit last fiscal year and will deficit spend this year, though the university declined to estimate by how much until 10 day student enrollment figures are in.

When asked by Tri States Public Radio if the administration would again take furlough days, President Thomas said they would not.

“We have about 250 individuals who are identified as being administrators, and we’re not just talking about the single level administration.  And those administrators have talked to me and the leadership team and all of us,” Thomas said.

“We want to make sure we are fair. When one group is not on furlough or no reduction, then I have to consider the other group as well to make sure we are treating everyone fair in this situation.”

Western first announced furloughsin March of 2016 for all administrative employees and civil service workers earning more than $40,000. At the time, it was a way to realize quick savings given that Western was about three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year and had yet to receive any money from the state.

That first year, the program required administrative and civil service employees to take between 6-15 unpaid days off depending on their salary level.

  • Fy'16 - 502 employees (administrative and civil services) furloughed for a savings of $1.5 million.

Non-negotiated civil service workers were included in the first year of the program due to a temporary emergency rule tied to the state budget impasse. But the exception was not renewed by the Illinois State Merit Board, removing civil service workers from future furlough programs.
The WIU furlough program was altered for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. It only applied to administrative employees (earning more than $40,000) who were required to take either six or eight unpaid days off depending on their salary level.

  • FY’17 – 255 administrative employees furloughed for a total savings of $530,000
  • FY’18 – 223 administrative employees furloughed for a total savings of $434,328

The university's administration also discussed the possibility of furloughs with negotiated employee groups at Western.  The proposal came up during contract negotiations last fiscal year for faculty and staff represented by the University Professionals of Illinois.
For the last two years, UPI members agreed to give up 3% of their salaries to help the university save costs. Ultimately, teachers did not agree to take furloughs, instead opting for a permanent 2% pay cut beginning next year.

It was a contract, President Thomas called sustainable during an interview with TSPR. Still two-dozen faculty were laid off this summerand another 62 vacant faculty positions were eliminated as a means of cutting costs.  Those cuts take effect next fiscal year.

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