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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 Considers Eliminating 18 Academic Programs


Western Illinois University is considering whether to eliminate more academic programs as it continues to grapple with falling student enrollment numbers and looks to get back on solid financial footing.

The administration came up with a list of 18 programs:

  • Art (BFA)
  • Anthropology
  • Bilingual/English as a Second Language
  • Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Dietetics
  • Economics
  • Emergency Management
  • French Teacher Education
  • Geography and Geographic Information Science
  • Geology
  • Graphic Communication
  • Hospitality Management
  • Meteorology
  • Musical Theater
  • Nutrition and Food Service Management
  • Physics
  • Public Health
  • Spanish Teacher Education

APER Committee

Before anything happens to the programs on the list, they are considered by the Academic Program Elimination Review committee (APER).

The university is contractually obligated (.pdf p. 72) to have such a committee under its agreement with the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), which represents faculty on campus. The APER committee gives faculty a chance to weigh in before any academic programs are cut and teachers are laid off.

Interim Provost Kathy Neumann told Tri States Public Radio that APER committee members will do a deep dive and report back their findings, suggestions, and recommendations for each program on the list.

“They will look at all kinds of stats regarding enrollment trends, occupational outlook, any information that we want. We’re working with various constituents on campus to make sure they get all the background information that they would like have,” Neumann said. “Last time, they gave us a very thoughtful and thorough response to all the programs that were under review. My anticipation is that it will be the same this time.”

Those statistics could include occupational outlook, possible collaboration efforts with other areas on campus, historic hard numbers about enrollment and enrollment trends over the last few years as well as any other data kept by individual departments.

"Low Producing" Programs

Neumann said all 18 programs on the list have been deemed "low producing" according to the metrics set by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Neumann said these are programs with either fewer than 40 students declared to be majoring in the program or fewer than 9 students graduating over a three year period. But, the IBHE’s websitestates both criteria need to be met for a program to qualify as “low producing” (low producing program report .pdf).

Bill Thompson, President of Western’s UPI chapter, called the IBHE algorithm a "one size fit all" approach for universities across the state. He questions its merit for WIU and said the algorithm shouldn’t dictate what the university does.   

"There’s silliness to this list. The very idea, for example, that they’re going to get rid of the Physics Department is not real. That department wins national awards for the excellence of its education. They’re not going to get rid of that department, so don’t put it on the list," he said.

Thompson also thinks that signature programs such as Musical Theater should not be on the list and neither should Anthropology, which was highlighted during the September Board of Trustees meeting as one of the first anthropology programs in the country to be offered online.

“If you’re actually trying to tell me with a serious straight face that you’re going to eliminate a program that you just used as a point of pride, then that’s a real problem,” Thompson said. “What have you been saying this whole time about the department and then suddenly turn around and say we are going to eliminate it or possibly eliminate it.”

Thompson said these decisions hurt faculty morale. “It terrifies the people in the department. It angers them and demoralizes them,” Thompson said.

Year of Change

University President Jack Thomas said the APER committee was convened this fall because of the economic realities facing the university. Its revenues are down due to declines in student enrollment and reductions in state funding.

He told the Faculty Senate that there’s no preconceived plan about which programs will be eliminated and that the APER committee report does matter.

Just a few years ago, the APER committee spent several months reviewing eight academic programs and recommended no eliminations. But, the committee is only advisory.

Thomas said that put them in a tricky spot. “Doing nothing in light of the reduced funding was not an option. The administration had to make the necessary, but difficult decisions to keep the institution viable. No one should discount the financial position of a university of the state of Illinois."

Ultimately, Thomas and his leadership team decided to eliminate four majors: African American Studies, Women’s Studies, Religious Studies, and Philosophy.

This time around, the APER committee will only have until the end of the semester to consider the fate of 18 academic programs. The APER committee’s findings are subjective. There are no standard metrics by which to judge whether a program is viable or if it should be eliminated.

The university’s administration will then consider the committee’s findings over winter break and make a decision soon after the start of the spring semester.

Any programs slated for elimination will be phased out to allow students currently enrolled to graduate. Thomas said the university will also strive to minimize the impact on tenured faculty.

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