Community speaks at BOT meeting

Nicholas Ebelhack, editor-in-chief


A lengthy public comments section opened Monday’s Western Illinois University’s Board of Trustee, as numerous campus community members approached the podium to speak to the board in relation to different struggles.

Patrick MgGinty, professor of sociology and anthropology, approached the podium first to read a message from Mark Bernards, associate professor of agriculture, who said that Western needs to allow faculty to make moves to be successful.

“Circling the wagons in a time of crisis is a prudent response,” Bernards wrote. “However, if the wagons remain circled, the wagon train does not move forward. It often feels like at WIU that the wagons are still circled, the faculty and their chairs are dedicated and talented, please provide them the freedom and resources to be creative and look for ways to improve programs.”

Laura Barden-Gabbei, professor of biological sciences, also commented with her views the ability for faculty to work, stating that practices are affecting opportunities and go against the university’s strategic plan.

“We are now inhibiting faculty from doing interdisciplinary work with our graduate students by saying only faculty within a department may work with a student from their department,” Barden-Gabbei said. “Really? That’s not our strategic plan, our strategic plan is interdisciplinary, our strategic plan is moving us forward in a positive direction that opens up doors for all of us, and yet we are seeing those doors closed by the very people who say this is of value to us.”

People also came to the podium to discuss ongoing contract negotiations between the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) Local 4100 chapter and Western. Transfer history major Allison Anderson spoke in support of UPI.

“I am here to support the faculty and professors in their negotiations for a fair contract,” Anderson said. “The only reason I came here was because of my family connections to the university, and as soon as I got here I could see the net of established faculty and how impressive the faculty is.”

Shortly after, Associate Vice President for Student Services John Biernnbaum came to voice support in the administration, which has received scrutiny from a no-confidence vote from Western faculty members this semester.

“We can’t be everything that we have always been, we have to redfine ourselves before they define us,” Biernnbaum said. “You would be surprised at the number of people that support this administration, and this board, that you never hear from because we are not at the front page of the newspaper, and they are not at this mic. Stay strong.”

UPI President Bill Thompson also approached the podium, though not to talk about contract negotiations, which according to a UPI-Western joint are “close” to a tentative agreement. Thompson spoke with a proposal for President Jack Thomas, who said that he was supposed to have a meeting with but was canceled.

“This meeting was supposed to be a reset meeting to establish a better relationship,” Thompson said. “I want to propose that the union can help the administration with its retention problems, and we we’re going to meet to propose how we are going to do this.”

He said that UPI wanted to establish a group of volunteers that can work to keep students at Western. In Thomas’ remarks, he spoke on the frustrations that many people at Western have aired following the multi-year long state budget impasse and declining appropriated funding for higher education, stating that “we have to make the best decisions with the hand that we have been dealt,” even though the decisions could be difficult.

“We are trying to do the best that we can and make the best decisions that we can within our leadership roles,” Thomas said. “We will continue to do that, but we can’t give what we don’t have, if we agree on a certain contract and it requires a lot of funding, how will we fund it? We have to look out for the best interests of this institution.”

Following remarks, Interim Provost Kathy Neumann gave updates on progress for dual high school credit, which is in progress at a number of high schools, and online programs, which she said were an opportunity for Western to reach new markets in response to declining enrollment.

She also addressed new academic programs that will be available in the fall, such as an integrated program for general studies majors to receive a master’s in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, as well as minors in Broadcasting and Journalism and in Instructional Design.

Vice President for QuadCities and Planning Joe Rives also spoke on programs offered on military bases, stating that they need to do it right the first time to succeed unlike previous attempts from other institutions.