University News

Letter to Campus Community: Update [12/15/15]

December 15, 2015

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Dear University Community,

In recent meetings and email communications, I have shared with you the difficulties facing Western Illinois University regarding the challenges we face in meeting our financial obligations. With no state appropriated funds released in this fiscal year and no clarity of when the budget impasse will end, coupled with decreases in state funding, unfunded mandates, and statewide declining enrollments, we are at a point where extremely difficult and painful decisions must be made. A number of factors have contributed to declining enrollment, including demographic shifts, increased competition, and students' financial difficulties.

In recent years, we have saved money through attrition, selective hiring freezes, zero-based budgeting that reduced significant amounts of operating dollars, and our faculty union agreeing to a delay in pay increases. Despite these efforts, we are at a point in which drastic action is required. The budget impasse at the state level has put us in a situation where we must consider significant budget adjustments to cover potentially devastating reductions. Our intention has always been to sustain our institution's excellence, despite major sacrifices, to ensure that we can continue to serve our students at Western Illinois University.

With no state appropriated budget to date, the lack of funding for higher education at adequate levels for more than a decade, and declining enrollment at Western Illinois University, my administration recently proposed faculty and staff reductions to lower personnel-related costs so that the University can continue to fulfill its mission. These decisions have been difficult to make, and certainly painful both economically and personally to the individuals directly affected by the reductions forced upon us by the budget impasse. In many cases, contractual obligations required early notification to those whose positions might be eliminated. In addition, we felt it vital to provide those possibly losing their positions as much time as possible to search for future employment. We have been open and inclusive in making these decisions through our meetings and other forms of communication to affected units.

With the current budget situation, it is highly unlikely that we can balance our budget without a reduction in positions, particularly in areas that have declining enrollment. I have heard how much pain these decisions are causing our University community, and I know that there are many asking if there are alternative strategies that might save any of these positions. The Provost and I have listened, and we are willing to pause and consider additional suggestions on how we can meet our budget obligations and keep our doors open. Informal conversations have been initiated with employees, and we continue to be willing to listen to alternative recommendations that might save some of these positions. As has always been the case, we continue to be willing to work with UPI and other University constituencies. We also must keep in mind during these discussions that the University has already reduced numerous operating budgets, including the layoff of several civil service and non-academic personnel. Furthermore, members of my leadership team and I will take a temporary voluntary salary reduction beginning January 1, 2016 to help offset the costs of the budget impasse.

In the past, we have worked successfully with our unions, and our entire University during budget crises. I will delay these actions if I have a firm commitment that we will all work together across the University so that savings can be found. We will meet with union leaders, and other faculty, staff, and administrative leaders immediately to search for possible alternatives out of this difficult situation. We will continue to work with the faculty and University community to save as many positions as possible, while ensuring Western has the appropriate resources to fulfill its academic mission. I now call upon our collective strength and, if needed, sacrifice, to identify ways to address higher education's unprecedented budgetary crisis in Illinois. We are committed to working together to find the best solutions possible to allow Western Illinois University to continue its historic commitment to academic excellence.

As such, I have asked the Board of Trustees to table the vote on the staff reduction recommendation resolution to allow time to identify additional possible solutions. A special Board of Trustees meeting will be held at 10 a.m. January 12, 2016 in the University Union Grand Ballroom to address this resolution.


Jack Thomas
Western Illinois University

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