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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.

Illinois Attorney General: WIU BoT Broke the Law

sherman_hall-july_2018.jpg
Rich Egger
/
Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU.

Almost everything the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees discussed during a closed door meeting on June 28, 2018 must be made public, according to the Illinois Attorney General's office, which found [.pdf] the Board violated the state's Open Meetings Act (OMA).

The Attorney General’s office was asked to look into the matter by Bill Thompson, who is President of Western’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, which represents faculty.

The Attorney General’s office said it listened to the verbatim recording of the closed door session. It found trustees spent a bit of time talking about one particular employee, which is permitted under the OMA.

But the office said the overwhelming majority of the discussion dealt with budgetary matters and layoffs rather than the performance of specific employees. The office said trustees are required to discuss budgetary matters and layoffs in public.

Regarding layoffs, the Attorney General’s office cited a previously issued binding opinion:

The elimination of a job or position – even one held by only a single employee – for budgetary or other reasons unrelated to the performance of the employee is a matter relating to budget and management which does not carry implications for an individual employee’s reputation. Thus, a discussion of eliminating a position itself which does not consider the performance of the employee or whether a particular employee should occupy the position, is not within the scope of the section 2(c)(1) exception. Ill. Att’y Gen. Pub. Acc. Op. No. 15-007, issued September 16, 2015, at 5.

The Attorney General’s office directed the Board to make available to Thompson and the public a copy of the closed session minutes and the verbatim recording.

Trustees can keep private the portion of the meeting in which a specific employee’s performance was discussed.