More Layoffs Hit Western

Erika Ward

Earlier this afternoon, Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas announced an additional 110 layoffs, this time hitting noninstructional staff, along with other cost-saving measures, due to the current budget impasse.

“Despite the ongoing furlough/ voluntary pay reduction program and the drastic reductions to spending, these layoffs are necessary to protect the University’s cash resources,” reads a letter to the community released earlier today. “In spite of our best efforts to conserve financial resources, without an appropriation from our state government, the University will face even greater financial challenges.”

This announcement comes in the 10th month of the fiscal year without a budget or any funding from the state. Thomas also announced other plans to reduce spending.

“As of this week, all appropriated budgets have been swept and funds from those accounts are being held at the vice presidential level,” reads the letter. “To further limit spending, all P-Card purchasing is suspended, unless authorized by the division’s respective vice president. We must conserve all cash resources.”

P-Cards, or Procurement Cards, are credit cards that can be issued to university personnel for small purchases up to $5,000. Before the announcement, 50 employees had already received layoff notices.

“To date, for Fiscal Year 2016, the University has made appropriated budget reductions of over $6 million. More than 500 employees are participating in the mandatory furlough or pay reduction program, resulting in cost savings over $1.5 million.

“However, we must continue to reduce our FY 16 expenses,” the letter continues. “We will fall short of our $4 million savings goal for Fiscal Year 2016, as we have been unable to achieve furlough agreements with all of our employees.”

Thomas continued in the letter, saying that if a budget passes they hope to bring back some of the non-instructional employees; however, they may need to add more layoffs and extend the furlough/pay reduction program if the state does not release appropriations.

According to Darcie Shinberger from University Relations, noninstructional employees are the support staff, such as civil service and administrative personnel.

“The possibility of layoffs announced when we released the $20 million in cuts is for the next two fiscal years,” Shinberger wrote in an email. “The layoffs announced today will go into effect this fiscal year.”

The mandatory furlough program, which affects non-negotiated personnel, began on April 1.

“Without further action to reduce expenditures, such as furloughs and holding positions open, our monetary reserves that serve to bridge the revenue gap will be depleted by the end of this fiscal year,” Thomas said in a release on March 1.

Western also implemented a retirement program at the end of 2015 to alleviate costs to University. The program approved of 59 retirees, saving a total of $1.5 million annually, but costing $1.7 million now.

Western is not alone in its suffering, as other state-funded universities have been struggling to get through the year. Chicago State University, arguably one of the universities in the worst situation, announced earlier this year that all 900 of their employees, including the president of the university, would receive layoff notices. Not only that, the school cancelled their spring break in order to end the school year on April 28 instead of May 13 to reduce operating costs.

Eastern Illinois University has also felt the effects of the lack of a budget and announced March 11 that 177 employees were being laid off, due to “the lack of any bipartisanship and compromise,” according to Eastern President David Glassman.

In what seemed like a glimmer of hope for the public universities, earlier today the Illinois Senate passed a bill that would allocate $3.9 billion for human services, higher education and back wages for state workers. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner has already announced that he will veto this bill.

Higher education has seen a drastic cut in appropriations since FY 2011, seeing a reduction of $107 million (8.2 percent).

At the end of the letter to the community, President Thomas asked readers to reach out to legislators.

“Please write and call your legislator and the state’s governmental leaders to help them understand how important regional public universities are for this state,” he said. “We will continue to work with legislative and state leaders to urge an end to this impasse and to pass a budget that adequately supports higher education.”

Thomas also reassured the public that Western would be staying open.

“While the end to the budget impasse is uncertain, what is certain is the future of Western Illinois University. Our doors will remain open, and we will continue to serve students and provide an affordable, accessible and quality education.”