Faculty Senate discusses realignment plan

Steven Barnum , Assistant News Editor

The Western Illinois University Faculty Senate discussed the University’s realignment plan on Tuesday night.

Introduced by the administration in a July press conference, the plan is designed to combat a continued decline in enrollment and a lack of financial stability in the budget. Part of the plan counts on school districts across the state of Illinois to partner with Western. This could help provide a smoother transition for high school students once they become Leathernecks.

A teacher shortage is perhaps the biggest concern among the faculty senate. At-large senator Virginia Boynton believes money is a factor.

“The reason we have this shortage is we don’t respect teachers or pay them appropriately,” Boynton said. “If you want more teachers, you pay them.”

Some believe the shortage could also be reduced through lowering requirements in areas where instructors don’t need to be skilled in; for example, those looking to teach English would no longer have to score as high in math or science. Strict qualifications may discourage or prevent students from becoming educators.

Another key element to the plan involves combining certain programs, like humanities and social sciences, which could give students more paths to a degree. Other universities use this strategy, and according to Interim Provost Kathy Neumann, traditional courses and programs only limit opportunities.

Neumann also believes that the open discussion about the alignment plan is healthy.

“There have been a lot of suggestions and I can say with 100 percent certainty that there will be modifications on the realignment based on that feedback,” Neumann said.

While faculty senate members seem to agree that the state’s financial woes put Western in a tough position, Neumann says the administration will still try to fix the issue on its own.

“We all have to put our collective heads together to solve the problems,” Neumann said. “We have to remain as optimistic as we can.”

Western has offered programs like Ethics and Contemporary US Studies (CUSS), which combined history and political science; however, the college axed those programs because so few students signed up. Western has also had difficulty with interdisciplinary fields, while fields like graphic design lack depth.

While offering more fields improves the diversity in options for students, under enrolled classes may reflect poorly on the instructors teaching those courses. Some of proposed fields, like Caribbean Studies, may fall into this category since the University is located in rural Illinois.

While some argue that the University doesn’t market its fields effectively, Chairperson Christopher Pynes believes that the bottom line is a lack of students.

“There isn’t one example of a program that will increase student enrollment,” Pynes said. “It’s not that students don’t know what’s going on; it’s that there aren’t enough students, and that’s problematic.”

Marjorie Allison echoed Pynes’ point.

“The problem is not how we are aligned; the problem is we don’t have the students,” Allison said. “I don’t know how realignment addresses any of the concerns.”

Some believe the University should communicate the plan more clearly, including Allison, who questioned whether it would ultimately lead to more faculty firings.Neumann says that is not the intention.

“There is no additional list of firings right now,” Neumann said.

One of the challenges to luring more students to Western will be convincing them that their degree will be valuable. Students who rack up thousands in debt want to be assured that their degree will lead to well-paying jobs.

President Jack Thomas is looking to cut $5.5 million from the non-academic side of business. The end goal of the overall realignment plan is to save $10 million in total. The underlying theme of the night was declining enrollment, but the administration remains focused on increasing the appeal for future students.