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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 Program Elimination Review Committee Makes Recommendations

Western Illinois University

There is a list of 18 academic programs at Western Illinois University being considered for elimination. A report reviewing each of them has been turned over to the administration and decisions are expected soon.

Western’s administration created the list of 18 programs citing the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s criteria for what qualifies as a low producing program. The administration said these programs have either fewer than 40 majors or fewer than 9 students graduating over a three year period:

  • Anthropology
  • Art, BFA
  • Bilingual/English as a Second Language
  • Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Dietetics
  • Economics
  • Emergency Management
  • French Teacher Education
  • Geography & Geographic Information Science
  • Geology
  • Graphic Communication
  • Hospitality Management
  • Meteorology
  • Musical Theatre
  • Nutrition & Foodservice Management
  • Physics
  • Public Health
  • Spanish Teacher Education

Before programs can be cut, they must first be considered by the Academic Program Elimination Review  (APER) committee as part of the agreement with the faculty union. The APER report [.pdf] was turned in to the administration last week.

Duke Oursler, an Associate Professor of Art, served on the APER committee. He said the four person committee spent the last several months meeting with each of the departments on the list.

Oursler told Tri States Public Radio that student enrollment was just one factor the APER committee considered when developing a comprehensive analysis.

“The enrollment numbers are important, but they weren’t the main driving factor on how we made these recommendations,” Oursler said.

“It was really about understanding these programs, the strengths of the program, (and) how they are moving along as a group. Were they organized? Did they have a plan for the future? Did they recognize the fact that they were in a situation where enrollment was low? Those hard questions had to be asked and those conversations were often difficult.”

He said some of the programs had good reasons for being under the enrollment benchmark. Musical Theatre, for example, is a signature program at Western. Oursler said it’s highly intense, “The students are the best of the best,” and there’s a maximum enrollment of 30 because there are not enough faculty in the program to support more students.

“They’re turning students away. If they had the faculty they needed, we would have more students here,” Oursler said. The APER report recommends that the student enrollment cap be pushed to 40 and that the administration invest in the Musical Theatre program so it can grow.

Additionally, the APER committee found that many of the programs on the list reach across the university and have a significant impact on other programs at WIU.  One example is Geographic Information Science (GIS).

“GIS has its fingers spread across the university. Law Enforcement uses GIS. Agriculture uses GIS. Geology, of course, uses GIS. Geographic Information Science is something that is needed all over the place.”

The APER report states that several programs should be kept as is and reviewed again in a couple of years. The committee did not recommend eliminating any programs outright but rather suggested some become academic options under a larger degree program umbrella.

The APER Committee recommended to make:

  • Bilingual/English as a Second Language an option within the College of Education
  • French Teacher Education and Spanish Teacher Education options under the B.A. in Foreign Languages and Cultures
  • Clinical Laboratory Science an option in Biology.
  • Graphic Communication be consolidated into the Graphic Design program in the Department of Art
  • Nutrition and Foodservice Management an option under the Hospitality Management degree
  • Combine Public Health with Emergency Management and Health Services Management under the Health and Emergency Management program

“By making it an option, those students can still go in there and get this degree. But it’s not its own degree program. Since they're so close and similar it works best to have them be together,” Oursler said.   
The APER committee report did not evaluate how much money the university would save if these changes are made.

“We weren’t out there to make savings,” Oursler said. “It was never about providing savings for anybody or anything. It was about understanding the programs and how they work with the university as a whole and trying to make recommendations that were thoughtful and helped us move forward.”

The report is only advisory and ultimately it is up to Western’s administration to determine if any programs will be cut.  As we previously reported, WIU administrators can be heard on tape during a closed door meeting last June saying they plan to make cuts regardless of what the APER report recommended.

Western’s provost office told the Faculty Senate that it is in the process of reviewing the report and plans to make recommendations soon to WIU President Jack Thomas and the Board of Trustees.


This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the important issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

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