Western anticipates layoffs as budget issues persist

‘Approximately 50’ faculty positions face elimination

Nick Ebelhack, Assistant news editor

 President Jack Thomas, among other Western Illinois University administrators, presented the university’s plan moving forward while funds for higher education still have not been appropriated for FY16.

 Moving into the next school year, Interim Provost and Academic Vice President Kathy Neumann said “with regret” that reductions in faculty will be made for FY17.

 “At this point, I anticipate that it will be necessary to inform approximately 50 faculty of the elimination of their positions,” Neumann said. “Additionally, several administrative positions and support staff positions will either be eliminated or have modifications made to their contracts.”

 In his opening remarks, Thomas said that the university has received less funding each year since 2002. Western received $64.3 million in FY02, and it only received $51.4 million in FY15, resulting in a defecit of nearly $13 million over the last 13 years.

 Thomas said that the university will have to make necessary, but difficult, decisions in order to balance the university’s budget during the spring semester, and they have and will continue to evaluate different programs for cuts in funding and staff.

 The task forces Thomas created have not reached a final decision, but are expected to engage in bargaining soon.

 “We’re looking at possible furloughs and maybe reduction in wages and those kinds of things,” Thomas said. “But those are the kinds of things that have to be bargained before we actually really go into that but those are things that we are considering.”

 One way the university is making cuts is asking faculty members who are eligible for retirement to retire prior to the Spring 2016 semester. If they accept, they receive an additional 25 percent of their annual base salary.

 Budget Director Matt Bierman said that many faculty members have already taken the offer.

 “To date we have had just over 50 people that have signed up to take advantage of that,” Bierman said. “Some of those we’ll need to replace, but not all of them. So, there will be savings in the ones that we don’t replace, as well as savings that we do replace at a lower salary.”

 He further said that many of the people that have decided to retire fall under civil service rather than instructors. Nevertheless, the offer still stands and the program will continue up until right before the Spring 2016 semester.

 However, the university will not be able to offer the incentive to all staff. While Bierman encouraged faculty to take advantage of this opportunity quickly, he said there is no way that every eligible employee will be able to retire with this incentive.

 “We have to monitor cash very closely through the spring semester,” Bierman said. “We want to provide the incentive we want people to take advantage of, but only to a certain extent so we have enough cash to make it through the spring semester.”

 Through the retirement program, Western is expecting to save between one to two million dollars. Bierman said that the university is on track to meet that goal.

 In addition to budget cuts, the university also said that they need to find new ways to stabilize and increase enrollment as the value in an education from an Illinois public institution continues to lessen.

 One of the initiatives that Thomas announced was plans to make tuition at Western for domestic students the same as what in-state students pay in order to encourage more out-of-state students to come to Western.

 “It will be for the entire time they’re here when we actually move into that,” Thomas said. “We haven’t done that yet but those are our plans.”

 Thomas also said in his presentation that they would be looking for new ways to attract high-achieving students to Western as well to increase both enrollment and retention.

 One thing that the university has already done in order to retain enrollment is float MAP grant funding for eligible students.  Thomas said they are hoping that the state will appropriate funds for MAP grants soon, but in the mean time they are going to continue to float funding for the spring semester.

 “Its going to be tough for us but hopefully, based on our discussion with the legislatures and with the governor, they will come through so that we can have the MAP funding that affects about three (thousand) students who are eligible,” Thomas said.

 When asked about whether or not students that received university funds in replacement of MAP grants this semester will have to pay that money back after they graduate if the state still has not passed a budget, Thomas said that they are hoping the state pulls through so that they don’t have to make that decision.

 “That’s something were looking at, but right now we’re just very hopeful that the state will come through prior to that,” Thomas said. “We thought that we would have a budget before this point, but right now we don’t and we’re just very hopeful that we’ll get a budget prior to that.”

 Looking forward to the future, Thomas said that it has been difficult to tell faculty that their positions may be in danger, but that these necessary cuts will only make the university stronger.

 “I want to put a positive spin on it as much as possible, our university has been here 116 years we will continue to be here 116 years more,” Thomas said. “So I just tell individuals to be encouraged that we will get through these difficult times.”