Should WIU consider a new president?

Courtney Dalton, Courier Staff

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to President Jack Thomas about some of my specific thoughts towards the recent layoffs at our University. I was extremely disappointed in his response and lack of action taken after my letter, so I have decided to rewrite it and have it published here.

I think we can all agree when I say that disappointment is a familiar feeling in regards to the current administration. I am involved and passionate about my education and place here at Western, and I am concerned, specifically about the layoffs in the University Counseling Center.

The nature of mass layoffs is never a comforting experience for anyone involved. I believe that every individual tied to this University is hurting due to the layoffs that we have all adapted to. Mass layoffs are now a norm for this University. Ever since I have attended Western Illinois University, the budget issues have loomed overhead, especially for students like me: poor students. I have always questioned my permanence here because I have feared my department would become diminished, I would no longer receive MAP Grant funding or I would not have the resources necessary to succeed here.

While I understand the constraints that come with considering who to lay off and what programs to cut, I am now unable to sit by and watch some of these cuts happen without voicing my concerns. A little over a month ago, 132 faculty and staff members were laid off. Of those 132 layoffs, four of them came from the eight current counselors at the University Counseling Center. This is absolutely unacceptable and disastrous to the students of Western Illinois University. These layoffs will affect me and my ability to continue as a successful student. Cutting one of the most effective and vulnerable departments in half is the worst decision I have ever seen this University make during my time here.

Coming back to Western for my graduate degree would not have been an option for me if the UCC did not exist, or if its services were drastically cut in half. In fact, its existence was a major factor in my decision to return after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. As a student who suffers from mental illness, I feel completely disrespected by this decision. I am one person; I cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of this decision on students who are lower functioning than I, mentally speaking. It is unclear if I will be able to continue counseling in the fall semester due to this decision.

The problem I am having with this specific decision is that it is putting those who are most at risk – non-white students, students plagued by poverty, mentally ill students and overworked students at more of a disadvantage than they already are. I study how groups who are significantly disadvantaged in society are the groups targeted in these matters. These are the people who have less political power and are typically unable to voice their concerns and advocate for better treatment. I never imagined that a university, a place that is supposed to be safe haven for disadvantaged groups, a place that is supposed to help disadvantaged groups take steps to remove themselves from that cycle, would make a choice that further puts them down.

I hope this decision is revisited and given the thought it deserved before it was made. I have never been more disappointed with a decision in my life. I believe there are voices that have not been heard, and that is why I am writing this. The students and hard workers of this University deserve more care, consideration, compassion and thought than they are being given in these times. I think the majority of the students, faculty and staff can agree with me on this one: we deserve a new administration. We deserve an administration that cares about the students of this University first.

For far too long, students and the hardworking people of Western Illinois University have been thought of last when it comes to making budget cuts and keeping this University open.

The newly appointed Board of Trustees members will guide us to a better future for Western, I hope. But I do not think a new board is enough. I think it is time we consider what is next: a new president for Western.