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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.

Taking Action amid Layoffs

Courtesy WIU

Organizers of the Buy into Western Illinois University petition drive feel their effort has taken on greater urgency in the aftermath of the latest round of layoffs at the institution.  Western sent 132 layoff notices to faculty and staff from across the university on March 1. 

John Miller, President of the University Professionals of Illinois, said the petition drive will continue for another week or two.  Then the petitions will be submitted to the governor’s office. 

Credit Rich Egger
UPI President John Miller

Miller said WIU is struggling and, as a result, the entire western Illinois region is struggling.

“We want to make sure that a lot of folks have the opportunity to say and ask the governor for an emergency appropriation for this institution to save it, in essence, in many ways.  To highlight the greatness of this institution as well as get a new Board of Trustees appointed as quickly as possible,” Miller said.

Six of the eight seats on Western’s BoT are open, three due to terms expiring and the other three due to resignations.

Miller is concerned that the March 1 layoffs – the third round of layoffs at WIU in recent years – will dissuade students from attending the university, further hurting the institution and the region. 

He also said those laid off might be feeling angry, frustrated, and stressed out, but should know they have support.

“This community cares about you. We care about you. Buy into Western Illinois University cares about you.  And we’re going to continue to fight to try to do everything we can,” Miller said.

He said UPI’s goal is to reverse some -- if not all -- of the layoffs.

UPI represents faculty, academic staff, and other employees at seven public universities, including WIU.

Credit Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas

In a statement emailed to journalists on Friday, WIU President Jack Thomas said in regard to the layoffs:

“As a result of the current budget situation, including decreased enrollment, it is necessary to reduce our expenditures, including position reductions across the University. We have pledged to work with employees to provide career counseling and assistance with employment searches.”

But Miller feels it is a mistake to lay off workers and slash programs at WIU, which he called a regional comprehensive university.

“I’ve heard too many times over the last years that ‘Western can’t be everything to everybody,’” Miller said.

“We have to be everything to everybody. That’s the nature of what a comprehensive institution does.

“The value of these degrees is based on the quality of this education. We have alumni who’ve been incredibly successful. And when we start to tinker with it and narrow it down, eliminate programs, (and) start cutting things out, we start questioning the value of that degree.”

Rich is TSPR's News Director.