Letter to the Editor

The Editorial Board

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Two interesting articles appeared in the April 23, 2018, edition of the Courier, a front-page article by Nicholas Ebelhack and a page 4 letter by Ken Speegle. Both articles concerned the ongoing contractual dispute between UPI, the union representing the faculty, and the administration charged with the solvency of the University. The administrative side, faced with an as yet uncorrected loss in student population, just 8,599 total students across the Macomb, Quad Cities, and online campus enterprises, seems primarily focused on fiscal savings. The faculty side has a different view, instead, asking for raises, creating the crux of the nearly 18-month long contract negotiation battle, which as of April 20, 2018, has resulted in faculty voting to support an intent to strike that could take place during “dead week” and semester finals.

A few pertinent points need to be made. For the past three years, all employees without union representation have received 0% in raises. While non-negotiated Civil Service personnel have been exempt from furloughs, except for a few at the end of FY16, all other non-union personnel, including administrative staff and support professionals making more than $40,000/year have also been forced to take unpaid furloughs beginning the last three months of FY16. In FY16, the mandatory furloughs were especially painful because they had to be taken over the three months of April-June, resulting in roughly a 6.0-28.8% reduction in pay during that period, with higher salaries being impacted at the higher levels. At the same time, UPI-represented faculty received a 2% annual increases, boldly refusing at the December 2015 Board meeting to concede anything to resolve the impact of lack of State budget. FY17 and the current FY18 again saw mandatory furloughs for administrative staff and support professionals, but less painful by requiring fewer days and being spread across the entire year. Again, depending on salary level, these furloughs represented a 2.1-3.1% reduction in salary for both years. The lesser impact resulted from Western’s UPI recognizing that faculty at other state public universities were participating in budget cuts, leading WIU faculty to accept a 2-year period of 3.0% salary reduction. Western remains the only state university mandating furloughs for all administrative staff and support professionals.

Moving forward into FY19, which begins July 1, 2018, the lower financial support received from the State legislature combined with smaller tuition revenue generated from a declining student population, has reached a critical tipping point. The administration is asking for a permanent faculty salary reduction, an effort that should help offset a loss of faculty positions. UPI is requesting salary increases, claiming that Western faculty are underpaid compared to other public universities within the state. Rather than accept the UPI picketing language, I chose to look at cold, hard documented evidence. The Illinois Board of Higher Education provides a sortable and downloadable list of all FY17 (last year’s) salaries for all academic ranks: full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, and lecturers, for all 12 Illinois public universities supported in-part by Illinois tax dollars. If you analyze the data, you will find results I found quite interesting. Base FY2017 Full Professor salaries as per IBHE: Chicago State University, $84,221; Eastern Illinois University, $89,996; Governors State University, $103,340; Illinois State University, $92,168; Northeastern Illinois University, $81,148; Northern Illinois University, $83,392; Southern Illinois University Carbondale, $83,367; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, $82,538; University of Illinois Chicago, $129,900; University of Illinois Springfield, $93,347; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, $138,768; and Western Illinois University, $102,335. So out of 12 state universities, WIU is 4th highest, nearly $16,000 over the average of the remaining eight ($86,879) and above the overall net average $98,409 for full professors from all 12 schools.

Of the 8,599 total WIU enrollment for Spring 2018, the Spring 2018 senior class has 2,695 students, most of whom would be expected to graduate before Fall 2018. If the Fall 2018 new freshman remains constant, rather than continuing to decrease, only some 1,206 new freshmen and 823 new transfer students will replace graduating seniors. Incorporating the 67.8% retention of new freshmen and 79.4% retention of new transfers reported in the WIU Fact Book, Fall 2018 holds little hope of achieving the 9,441 composite total in Fall 2017, more likely being in the 8,000 student range, considering graduate students to remain even. How the University can sustain itself comes down to the desire of the administration to cut costs, but save jobs, or UPI’s desire to increase faculty salaries that most likely will result in the loss of jobs for lower-paid, non-tenure track instructors and lecturers. It is an ethical dilemma, but one that should be considered with real data, not extremism. I hope that Western’s students have learned during their higher education careers to seek evidence, not follow blindly, as a steep precipice confronts us.

Tere North, Macomb IL

Former WIU faculty and administrative support staff

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