Board of Trustees names Abraham Interim President

Devon Greene , editor-in-chief

The Western Illinois Board of Trustees met on Thursday afternoon in the University Union to discuss various issues around Western. After an almost three hour long closed session meeting, the Board of Trustees agreed to make Acting President Martin Abraham, the Interim President of Western Illinois University.

The first item on the agenda was public comments, and the first to speak was Tom Blackford, a professor in the mathematics department. Blackford thanked the current Board of Trustees for their hard work but wanted to make sure that they did not fall back into their old ways.

“My message to you will be very simple, I want to keep moving forward, I don’t want to go back,” Blackford said. “I’ve been at WIU for 17 years and I can honestly say that the morale from the fall of 2015 until past June had never been worse.”

Blackford supported Abraham and commended the efforts he has brought to the table since taking over as acting president.

Next up was Theresa North, who spoke of the “contentious” board meeting in June that she attended. North filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests that helped to uncover the illegal activities that the previous board was a part of.

Union Leader Bill Thompson spoke next in support of Abraham.

“Martin Abraham is trusted by the faculty and has helped raise faculty from the morass of the past for years,” Thompson said.

Thompson commended Abraham on his intelligence and vision when it comes to running the university. He also said that Western deserves a president that has been thoroughly vetted by a large search committee and said that Abraham was subject to one of the most diverse and thorough search committees in recent history.

“No one is destined to be president, even acting president, and no one has a right to that position. People must earn that responsibility, Martin Abraham has.”

Following Thompson was Admissions Counselor Sarah Gibson. Gibson is a former study abroad advisor who wanted to advocate for the study abroad program and the students who wish to pursue their education outside of the United States. Gibson said that the student population in study abroad has increased by 40 percent but the staff has been reduced to only one worker. She also said that for the first time in the 20 year history of the Study Abroad program, they didn’t hold a fair this fall.

Associate Professor Pat McGinty was up next and he voiced his support of Abraham as well.

“It is my belief, that those gathered behind me today, would agree that Martin Abraham has the full confidence and overwhelming support of the entire WIU faculty,” McGinty said. “Given the past few years we’ve experienced, that’s actually saying a lot. In fact, that should be all we have to say. Not appointing Dr. Abraham would be appointing someone who potentially does not have the support of the academic staff, we’ve been there, we’ve tried that.”

Next was Marjorie Allison, a professor in the english department. Allison has been at Western since 1994 and has been a part of various organizations on campus and was part of the faculty senate. Allison said she has been on sabbatical for this semester, and hasn’t had the chance to interact with Abraham as much as she would’ve liked to, but has only heard great things from her colleagues and members of the community. Allison then warned the Board of Trustees against making a huge mistake.

“What I truly hope does not happen, is you appoint someone inside Western to be the interim president,” Allison said. “The vote of no confidence by faculty just two years ago was not just a vote of no confidence in President Thomas, it was a vote of no confidence in the entire administrative team. That administration damaged WIU. Faculty, staff and students are all still reeling from the decisions that we can not understand.”

A shift from the focus on Abraham came from Elaine Hopkins whose focus was on Tri States Public Radio. Hopkins has attended every Board of Trustees meeting for the past year and has advocated for TSPR ever since. She stressed the importance of the radio station to the Macomb community.

“This is a part of the infrastructure of news in this area which is already pretty thin, to lose that would be tragic.” Hopkins said.

Next up was Christopher Pynes who is the Chair of the Faculty Senate. Pynes ran the search for provost last year and supported Abraham being named as interim president.

Following Pynes was professor Merrill Cole. Cole also voiced his support for Abraham and said that he did not want anyone who was involved in the closed meeting scandals to be named president, acting president or interim president.

Mark Bernards, an agriculture professor, spoke out against the hiring practices that were taking place in the past.

“The hiring processes for senior administrative positions over the past nine years has been as predictable as clockwork. It made me wonder if the ‘I’ in ‘WIU’ stood for ‘Internal’ or ‘Interim’.” Bernards said. “When an administrator would retire or leave for another position, an interim administrator would be appointed from among current administrators or faculty. During the interim’s second year, a search committee would be formed and conduct a ‘national’ search but in nearly every situation, the internal, interim candidate would be hired.”

Bernards voiced his support for Abraham and praised his bringing of new perspective and openness.

Last to speak was Henry “Duke” Oursler, who is an associate professor on campus. Oursler thanked the Board for their efforts during troubling times. He voiced his support of Abraham and his leadership since taking the helm.

“Acting President Abraham has provided the leadership that we so desperately need at this time,” Oursler said. “He has brought forward plans to bring the community and university together to heal wounds, find common ground and lead us toward a future of honest, open, good faith collaboration that will ensure mutual success. There has been a shift in optimism for our beloved Western and there has been positive changes in morale of faculty, staff and the community of Macomb.”

Oursler attended the Town and Gown last week and began to tear up remembering the participation that he saw from the community.

Following public comments, the Board of Trustees went into an executive session. They left the Heritage Room at around 3:40 p.m. and didn’t return until approximately 6:20 p.m.

The Board came back and proposed a new salary for the acting/interim president. The Board was presented with three options and unanimously voted to approve the salary of $269,500 for anacting president.

The second discussion the Board brought back to the table were plans to form a search committee to look for a permanent president. Chairperson of the Board, Polly Radosh said that they hope to start taking steps into forming a committee by the December meeting and said they need to find the pulse of the Macomb community.

The final resolution was the status of Abraham. The Board unanimously voted to make Abraham interim president, effective until June 30, 2020 or until a permanent president was found. They also agreed on a salary for Abraham, stating that he would make $24,500 per month.

After a nerve-wracking day for Abraham, he expressed content when it comes to his new position.

“I was very pleased to get unanimous support from the Board,” Abraham said. “That’s a huge vote of confidence.”

Abraham also found some thanks in the comments made from the public speakers who began the day.

“I was gratified to hear the positive comments coming forth from the speakers,” Abraham said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done a decent job up through here. It encourages me that we can move forward effectively together.”

The Board of Trustees will be meeting again today in the University Union.