MACOMB, Ill. (WEEK) — A state lawmaker is urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to release emergency funding and appoint a full board for Western Illinois University as the school prepares to lay off 132 employees.
“Western is struggling, as most state universities are right now, and having a full board in place would help to ensure the university’s success,” said Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb). “I am asking Governor Pritzker to take immediate action to fill six vacant positions on the board so Western can move forward. Additionally, I am asking him to release funds in an effort to reduce the negative impact not only to the university, but our area.”
In an interview on Monday in Peoria, Pritzker said his budget proposal would boost funding for all public universities and colleges, including WIU. Pritzker did not mention any additional emergency funding for WIU specifically.
The university has suffered from enrollment declines and funding cuts for several years. Total enrollment in spring 2019 was 6,656 students, down from the 10,368 attending in spring 2009. The two-year budget impasse also took a heavy toll on the university’s bottom line.
Last week, WIU President Jack Thomas announced 29 faculty members, 89 civil service members, 12 academic service personnel and two administrative employees were receiving layoff notices. The bulk of the employees work at the Macomb campus, though the Quad Cities campus was also impacted.
“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,” said Thomas in a statement issued last week.
The #BuyIntoWIU movement, driven by the University Professionals of Illinois union representing many WIU employees, is holding a rally in support of the university on the steps of Sherman Hall at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, 20 years of state disinvestment and 12 years of unimpeded enrollment decline have brought Western Illinois to the point we are today. In order to avoid a potential catastrophe in the fall when the university may be unable to meet payroll, WIU caused a catastrophe now, the largest layoff in its history,” said Bill Thompson, president of the WIU chapter of UPI in a statement last week. “This announcement is devastating on all fronts. We encourage the university to rediscover its mission and head toward a future that does not include layoffs and all the havoc they will bring to our community. Our union will protect our members’ rights during these layoffs and, as always, help lead the way into the future.”
A study conducted by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at WIU released a study in May 2016 showing the university had a $473 million impact on a 16-county region in west-Central Illinois in fiscal year 2015, including Fulton, Mason, and Knox counties.