University News

Board of Trustees Remarks

President Jack Thomas - August 24, 2018

Good morning. Thank you for being here today and thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions with us. It is my hope that we can channel this passion in positive ways to move Western Illinois University forward.

As many of you are aware, at the July 16th press conference and at the recent University Assembly, my leadership team and I presented budget-, program-, and enrollment and recruitment-related announcements. At these events, we outlined Western's current budget situation, the need to reduce programs, services, and personnel, and our plans for moving forward through strategic investments.

One of the changes recently stated was that Tri States Public Radio will no longer receive appropriated funding from the institution after March 1, 2019. We are not eliminating Tri-States Public Radio. We do understand the importance and the need of having a public radio station in the community. The station will continue to be housed at Western Illinois University. Like WQPT, which is housed at the WIU-Quad Cities campus, Tri States Public Radio will not receive appropriated funding for its personnel expenditures. Furthermore, similar to the WQPT partnership with the University, the WIU Foundation will continue to provide nonprofit status for Tri States Public Radio.The University will try to help find ways for the radio station to be self-supported so that it can survive this budget crisis and any future budgetary challenges. I have charged Brad Bainter, Vice President for Advancement and Public Services to work with Dean Billy Clow, General Manager Jonathan Ahl and others to help find sources of funding for Tri States Public radio.

As we reflect on the budget situation, this is one of the most difficult periods in the history of higher education in this country and most certainly one of the most challenging times for the State of Illinois and Western Illinois University. The decisions that have been made, in large part due to the State budget impasse and the many reductions since 2002, are extremely painful. We agonize over decisions and try to do everything in our power to limit the harm done to individuals and programs. However, there comes a time when difficult decisions, which I understand are also unpopular decisions, have to be made so that we can deal with the fiscal realities facing our institution.

Illinois public higher education is the only major sector in the state’s appropriated budget that received less funding in Fiscal Year 2018 than it did in Fiscal Year 2002. As I stated at last week’s University Assembly, since 2002, Illinois Public Higher education funding has declined by 27 percent which does not account for inflation. In an era of change, we have become an increasingly tuition-dependent University.

In fiscal year 2016, Western received only $14.9 million from the State. Prior to that point, we were able to build our reserves. However, because of the budget impasse and decreased appropriations, along with declining enrollment, we had no choice but to use those reserves to continue operating.  Now, in the aftermath of the historic and unprecedented statewide budget impasse, the Illinois public universities are still recovering from the effects of this major reduction and the subsequent decreases in state appropriations. On many occasions, we have implored legislators to restore the funding we should have received for  FY16 & 17, but that has not happened.

Last year’s state appropriation was 10 percent less than the amount received in FY15. Additionally, this year’s appropriated funding is 8 percent less than what we received in FY15. Taking inflation into account, the 2 percent increase in this year’s appropriation is basically level with last year’s funding. We have experienced almost two decades of decreased state funding, which is forcing us to change the way we operate. This is a fact we cannot alter. We are changing to adapt to this new reality. When resources are this scarce, we have to act accordingly and know that the University cannot be everything to everybody.

Everyone at Western Illinois University has sacrificed and must continue to sacrifice to keep this University strong and viable. I ask each of you to please come together in solidarity, even with those of us who are making difficult decisions with which you may disagree. At a time when we need to grow our way out of the financial challenges forced upon us, we need to do all that we can to join forces to meet these challenges. Please bear with us. We are doing the best that we can.

We all have rights, freedom of speech and expression granted by our glorious Constitution. However, with these rights come great responsibility. Your expression, your speech, and your rights will never be stifled, or curtailed.  I simply want to point out that we sometimes do the greatest harm to ourselves. Every negative comment that is made in private conversations or in public settings may have an impact on the reputation of the University. Every negative story or anecdote harms the reputation of this University and makes recruiting and retaining students much more difficult. Last year, several negative situations affected our enrollment efforts. I am asking that each of us exercise our Constitutional rights in a responsible manner and channel our passion in ways that demonstrate to our current and prospective students that Western Illinois University is the right choice.

We may disagree, but at the end of the day, I think it is fair to say that each of us loves this University and our students. If we did not, we would not be sitting here today. It is in our students’ and in the University’s best interests to move forward in a spirit of civility and mutual respect.

There are some who may say that the administration does not consult with others in making decisions. This is not accurate. Last year, we met with advisory groups, held 15 town hall meetings, hosted 2 brown bag lunches, and I met often with the President’s round table for students, the President’s round table for staff and the President’s round table for faculty. These are all opportunities for individuals to voice their concerns and express their ideas. We have listened, and we appreciate the participation in these events and meetings. We must make decisions that are best for the overall fiscal health of Western Illinois University. This year, I will continue to host the President’s round tables for students, staff and faculty. We will also continue to host town hall meetings with every college, the Quad Cities stakeholders and the library, and hold brown bag lunches.

We can and must have healthy dialogue. Nevertheless, we will not always agree and sometimes difficult changes still must occur. Because of budgetary influences beyond our control, we have been cut to the bare bone and will have to cut more. We know that each reduction hurts. They affect people. I ask, what would you have us do? Where are we to make reductions? This is what we face every day. I understand and respect the diverse perspectives of our University community. However, at the end of the day, as the president of this institution, it is my responsibility to make the tough calls.

I am reminded of the story of the minor league baseball umpire who was criticized constantly by a fan sitting high in the stands. The fan loudly criticized every call the umpire made through five innings. Finally, the umpire halted the game, walked up into the stands, sat next to the critic and yelled, “Play Ball!” Then, people said, “you can’t call the game from the stands.” At which point, the umpire stated, “this appears to be the best seat in the house to make the calls.”

The point of this narrative is that everyone has his or her own unique perspective. As the umpire on the field, the leadership team’s perspective is unique because we can see the whole field. We have been told on multiple occasions by multiple University groups–not just the Board of Trustees, but by our own University constituency groups–to right the ship, chart the course, and make the calls. But when we do attempt to right the ship, chart the course and make these calls, we are criticized and people react as if this is the first they have heard of the need for changes.

Again, as I stated at the assembly, we must all do our part to focus on all the wonderful things that have taken place at our University recently. We should highlight and share the positive aspects of our University and the accomplishments of our outstanding people.

It is my pledge as President, on behalf of my leadership team, we will continue to communicate and do so in a positive and constructive manner. We will invest in our programs and services that will further place WIU on the leading edge and position our university for growth. We will continue to provide a world-class, high-quality, and well-rounded educational experience. We take pride in the academic excellence, value and affordability that we provide. We will work with the appropriate constituencies to implement innovative academic restructuring.

We are beginning to witness the success of our innovative thinking and efforts. As Interim Director of Admissions Jason Woods recently reported, enrollment trends for fiscal year 2019 are outperforming the expectations from this past March. This is good news.

While we expect to have more new students than originally predicted, we are still projected to deficit spend again this year, assuming we receive no additional state funding.  Last year, the University’s appropriated expenditures exceeded revenues by approximately $4 million. This is not sustainable.

Yesterday, our Budget Director, Letisha Trepac, sent a letter to the University community outlining measures to help the University decrease the amount we will deficit spend this year. I am repeating Ms. Trepac’s statements, asking each of us to limit spending as much as possible, so that we can invest more resources into growing our way to prosperity. Decreasing expenditures must be accompanied by increasing revenue. We must grow enrollment, and increase retention and graduation rates. We must enhance and diversify our revenue streams. I will be going to Springfield in the coming weeks to continue advocating for increased funding, including appropriated funds, deferred maintenance and capital projects.

In light of the current funding model from the state, we need more students. To contribute to enrollment growth at Western Illinois University, we need to compete to keep students from leaving the state, and we must have premier, unique and high demand programs to draw even more high-quality, diverse students, faculty, and staff to this University.

All of us have to share the responsibility of recruiting and retaining students. Recruitment and retention must be our top priorities. Let us remember that we are here because of our students and all of us play a role in ensuring student success.

For 15 consecutive years, Western has been recognized among the "best of the best" by The Princeton Review. Western is one of 159 regional universities, and one of two Illinois public institutions, named to the "Best in the Midwest" list.

For the second consecutive year, the Western Illinois University chapter of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars has been recognized as a Certified Gold Star Chapter.

School of Music graduate student Gwangwon Park was recently named the winner of the prestigious Atlantic Music Festival's annual piano competition in Maine. 

Recently the College Media Association named WIU's NEWS3 finalists for Pinnacle Awards for Best Television Newscast for "Live at 4" and for Best TV Entertainment Program for "Good Morning Macomb."

For the second time in the last 10 months, Western Illinois University has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to boost the laboratory capabilities for students across academic majors. On July 30, the University was awarded a nearly $300,000 grant to buy a mass spectrometer to benefit academic research and educational programs in major areas, including forensic chemistry, chemistry, biology and agriculture.

Western's Zeta Beta chapter of Beta Alpha Psi was recently recognized internationally by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) as a Superior Chapter for its efforts during the 2017-18 academic year.

These noteworthy achievements and accomplishments persist in spite of the fiscal challenges we face. While changes at Western Illinois University are inevitable due to the state's ongoing fiscal challenges, what will not change at Western Illinois University is our tradition of providing a quality educational experience.

To celebrate the new academic year, please join us at the CUPP Block Party from 5-7 p.m. on September 5, and WIU Founders' Day on September 24 at 1 p.m. We are also pleased to announce that our very own graduate, Representative Tony McCombie will be this year’s Founders’ Day keynote speaker.

Turning to personnel, this fall, we will start the search for the following positions:

  • Provost and Academic Vice President
  • Vice President for Administrative Services

Thank you for your hard work, passion, and dedication.