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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 Faculty Wants Board of Trustees to Release Closed Session Minutes

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University's Faculty Senate is asking the university's Board of Trustees (BoT) to make public numereous closed door meeting minutes and audio recordings. The request comes after the BoT was found to have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). 

Some WIU faculty members say it is unusual for the BoT to go nearly three years without releasing meeting minutes from closed session gatherings.

The BoT did release the audio recording and minutes from one meeting held over the summer. But that was because the Illinois Attorney General’s office ordered the Board to do so after ruling the late June gathering violated the OMA.

The paragraph long meeting minutes from the June 28 gathering provide little detail. The audio recording paints a much better picture.  For nearly an hour, BoT members and some of the university’s top administrators, including President Jack Thomas and Interim Provost Kathy Neumann, discussed budget issues, layoffs of groups of employees, and academic program elimination.

Previous coverage: Dark Days for Transparency and Shared Governance at WIU

“Given that they [BoT] discussed things that they should have been discussing openly, we would like to know if they made decisions and engaged in this activity repeatedly,” said Faculty Senate Chair Christopher Pynes.

According to the resolution, the Faculty Senate is asking for both the meeting minutes and the verbatim recordings of all closed session meetings of the Board of Trustees dating back to July of 2017.

Dr. Pynes said he hopes the BoT and administration comply with Faculty Senate’s request and that they are able to show their behavior has been above board.

One of the reasons that we decided to ask for the verbatim recordings is in an effort to have transparency and to restore the relationship between the faculty and the board,” Pynes said. “If the board can demonstrate their behavior has been good throughout by releasing these closed session minutes that would be great.”

Pynes said discussions behind closed doors hinder the Faculty Senate's ability to participate in shared governance and be engaged in university operations and budget discussions.

Western Illinois University Spokesperson Darcie Shinberger did not provide any comment, but did confirm the Board of Trustees had received the request.

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