Decade-long cuts to higher education, as well as the budget impasse and declining enrollment, caused Western Illinois University to eliminate 50 faculty positions.
According to the Western Courier, Kathy Neumann, Interim Provost and Academic Vice President, said several administrative positions and support staff positions will either be eliminated or have changes made to their contracts.
The cuts will be put in effect next fiscal year on July 1st, 2016.
In a budget address to faculty, staff and the media, Western President Jack Thomas said they are looking at possible furloughs and maybe a reduction in wages as well.
The nine public state universities in Illinois, including Eastern and Western, have gone without state funding for the last six months.
Eastern began laying off employees at the beginning of July to offset impending budget cuts from the state and low enrollment.
According to Northern Public Radio, Western’s chapter president of the University Professionals of Illinois said the elimination of jobs was a tragedy and the UPI will make sure the administration will not violate the UPI’s contract with Western.
“We’re going to be keeping a very close eye on the process,” Thompson said in Northern Public Radio. “We’re going to be doing everything we can, of course, to keep people employed. Unions don’t exist to let people lose their jobs, and we will make sure the administration is abiding by the contract.”
Eastern President David Glassman said the challenges Western is going through are similar to what Eastern has experienced.
“A multi-year trend of decreasing state appropriation levels and lower enrollments yielding less revenue have placed financial pressure on several public universities in the state,” Glassman said. “(Western’s) main challenges are in determining which positions to cut and what effect they will have on the overall operation of the university.”
Glassman said he hoped seeing more schools impacted by the budget will encourage the state to fund public universities.
“State funding of the public universities is an investment in the state’s future,” Glassman said. “Not only are the public universities producing the next generations of leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, healthcare professionals, workforce professionals, etc., each university is an economic engine for their region.”
Eastern UPI President Jon Blitz reached out to Thompson the morning he heard about the layoffs and asked if he wanted to talk. Blitz was happy to help Thompson out.
“You think you know what you’re in for,” Blitz said. “But you don’t, really. Emotionally it’s wrenching for a lot of people, then it becomes emotionally wrenching for you because people are looking to you to save their jobs. It’s a tough spot.”
Blitz said to make sure people’s contracts were not violated, the UPI would find out what the administration was doing.
He gave an example from the summer, when Blitz said the annually contracted faculty were not given the the lay-off notice that they were entitled to.
“We negated that by extending their jobs for a semester, or more in some cases,” Blitz said. “The first job of the union is to save people’s jobs. You look to see if there are any violations in the contract and you fight.”
Blitz said he felt sorry for the employees at Western.
“We’ve been through it,” Blitz said. “I kind of figured it was coming.”
Blitz said the news was still shocking though.
“As long as we’re not getting money from the state, it’s only a matter of time until every one of these (state schools) has to do this,” Blitz said. “I think it’s a shame we have a state that won’t fund higher education and all of this is a result of that.”
Blitz said for now, he did not think anything was going to happen at Eastern until there was a budget.
“Right now, we’re in a waiting game, because nobody knows what we’re going to do,” Blitz said. “People are worried. It weighs on us. It’s hard on people, and it’s hard on the institution.”
Nicholas Ebelhack, the assistant news editor of Western Illinois University’s newspaper The Western Courier, said they were expecting drastic changes, as higher education in Illinois reached its sixth month without a budget, and Thomas had a budget address explaining what was going to happen to media outlets.
“I think the main reason was to quell rumors that the school was closing and to make sure people knew exactly what was happening,” Ebelhack said.
Ebelhack said before, the president had addressed various organizations such as student government and faculty senate about the situation, but it had been a vague picture of what was happening.
“The budget address was the first time he was gave a clear picture of what he was expecting,” Ebelhack said.
The local radio station, broadcasting and other journalism outlets were present, and the administration, including Thomas and the vice president, talked to the media.
Ebelhack said along with faculty positions, the school was also cutting the men’s tennis program.
Erika Ward, who was recently named the editor-in-chief of the Western Courier, said they had mainly been getting in touch with administrators and trying to sort out who is getting laid off and how many people are at risk.
“It’s sometimes hard, because they don’t want to comment, but we just write that they didn’t want to comment at this time and update it when they do,” Ward said.
Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]