A crowd of members of the Macomb community gathered outside Sherman Hall to voice their concerns about the recent layoffs at Western Illinois University.
Organizers planned the protest in the week leading up to Friday’s layoff announcement, which ignited further doubt that the university is heading in the right direction. Western student Dannie Kyle helped organize the event and said that the petition surpassed the initial goal of 2,000 signatures.
“The more signatures we have, the more people power we have and the more support from local and statewide leaders,” Kyle said. “We finally have government attention and we’re hoping the administration listens, too.”
Kyle talked about the importance of maintaining Western’s prominence in the community, along with Spoon River College, since they are among the largest employers in the region.
“I’m optimistic that we have enough passionate people within the faculty and community that we might be able to make a defense,” Kyle said. “We knew the layoffs were coming and we know how the university has treated us in the past. The released transcripts from the meetings didn’t help.”
Byron Oden, a building service employee at Western and candidate for Macomb School Board, shared his thoughts of how to turn the moral around. “Looking around at people’s faces, I can see how they are stressed out,” Oden said. “It’s a lost feeling. We have to protect ourselves and protect each other. All we have is each other. What I would ask you to do is stick together, reach out to each other and stand up for each other.”
Matthew Medley, a graduate student at the protest, encouraged everyone invested in the Western community to get involved in the rally. Medley shared his thoughts about the administration’s decisions.
“Since the BOT transcripts have been released, it’s become harder and harder to trust what the university says at face value,” Medley said. “The petition is the public action we can take this point to try and mobilize as many people as possible to put pressure on the political system and to refund the university.” Medley decided to stay at Western for grad school even after the university eliminated his major. Despite recent events, he is still hopeful.
“I have a firm belief in the capability of this university and the people who work here,” Medley said. “If the state government gives us a chance, this university can do amazing things.”
Write-in candidate for Mayor of Macomb, Kristen Pollock, was vocal about her concerns during the protest.
“I don’t believe the current Board of Trustees or the president is doing their job to save this institution,” Pollock said. “We need a new BOT completely and a new president. There’s a lot of dishonesty going on, a lot of corruption and a lot of d— cover-up going on, too.”
Pollock was disappointed in the lack of local leaders in attendance at the rally and is skeptical of their passion. “There’s a lot of talk, talk, talk and not a lot of action, action, action,” Pollock said. “If I’m elected, the first minute I’m going to instruct the staff to be on the phone all day. Western is too valuable to the city of Macomb not to save.”
Heather McMeeken, President of the Democratic Women of McDonough County, said that she is encouraged by the turnout, which is critical for saving Western.
“We have a very traumatized campus right now,” McMeeken said. “We’re trying to reach and make sure that all the faculty and staff know that we haven’t forgotten about them. We’re also going to work hard for our students because they deserve no less.”
McMeeken said that the general vibe around campus is devastation after the layoff announcement.
“We knew that the news would be bad, but we didn’t think it would be that bad,” McMeeken. “This is decimating the opportunities for our students.