Interim President Martin Abraham addresses the future of WIU

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

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Western Illinois University Interim President Martin Abraham met in the University Union Grand Ballroom to address the current state as well as the future of the university on Monday afternoon.

The event was live streamed on Facebook for those unable to make it and the video remains on the university’s official page.

Abraham began the Spring 2020 State of the University Address with what he considered a “bold statement.”

“Western Illinois has turned the corner,” Abraham said. “We’re headed in the right, and I believe positive, direction and setting a strong future for this outstanding university and the tremendous communities that it calls home.”

“We continue to benefit from outstanding faculty and staff dedicated to the success of the students,” Abraham said. “We will succeed because the people here embody incredible spirit and fortitude, as do our students. We outperform others’ expectations. We dig deeper, work harder and get the job done.”

Abraham continued to praise Western and said that as long as people continue to believe in the success of the university, that we have a “tremendously bright future.”

Abraham acknowledged the efforts of the faculty, staff and students who work side by side with the Admissions staff on Discover Western as well as other events. He said these people set the “best possible image of Western.”

“Everyone admitted to Western has a good chance to succeed,” Abraham said. “This year we have developed new programs that identify, early on, students who are struggling and then we’ve provided support to assist these students to help them succeed.”

Abraham said that work has already paid off because Western’s fall to spring new freshman retention rate is about 85 percent, a nearly five percent increase from the year prior. This statistic garnered the loudest applause from the audience throughout the whole event.

“We still have a long way to go, and changes do not happen overnight, but the preliminary enrollment numbers are showing some positive results. Our spring enrollment appears to be relatively strong,” Abraham said.

He also announced that on March 23, the university will host an “Admitted Student Day” where those admitted students will be connected with academic departments through a series of college based activities. He also brought up a buddy system where each prospective student would be partnered up with a current student.

After announcing the new event, Abraham went on to list and set a number of goals for the university.

“I have said since I took over in July that our target was to have a larger incoming class for the fall of 2020 than we did in the fall of 2019,” Abraham said. “This remains our goal and a goal that remains well within our reach.”

He also set a secondary goal that was to have a greater enrollment in the fall of 2020 than the spring of 2020. He wanted to clarify that while usually that does happen, it doesn’t here at Western. The university’s enrollment has steadily declined for six straight semesters now.

After setting a few enrollment goals, Abraham quickly transitioned into the topic of the university’s diversity challenges. He said that the university is taking crucial steps to overcome these difficulties in both Macomb and the Quad Cities.

“We’ve been heavily engaged in Macomb, working with the mayor and community leaders to ensure that our diverse populations are welcomed into our community,” Abraham said. “There is a strong commitment in both Macomb and in the Quad Cities to support our institution’s diverse population to the benefit of our faculty, staff and students.”

Abraham then switched gears to talk about the budget, saying that for the first time since the fiscal year of 2017, the university has the opportunity to end the year in the black [positive].

“Our ability to achieve this goal ultimately depends on our diligence to hold the line on spending for the remainder of this current fiscal year,” Abraham said. We must continue to spend under our departmental budgets both operating and personal.”

That may have worried some people at first but Abraham was adamant that no faculty layoffs would occur when asked after the event.

Moving on from the budget, he continued to talk about how the university can increase retention rates.

“Also on the list of things to do is continue to invest in retention efforts. We need to bring all of our resources together to ensure that a student that enrolls at Western will in fact graduate from Western,” Abraham said.

He said that he plans on staying around to try and implement his action plans in the future, but stressed that it’s up to the board when asked if he wanted the job after the event.

“I am committed to the success of this institution and hope to remain here for many years to come,” Abraham said. “The board and the search committee will do their work, but we will continue to work together to shape the future of Western Illinois University.”

Abraham began to wrap up the address with some good news about the budget which generated yet another round of applause.

“Our facilities management team has some important work to do, since we just heard from the capital development board, that they have released $8.9 million to restart the construction and planning effort of our new performing arts center,” Abraham said.

After delivering the news of the new construction project, he finished with a closing statement.

“We still have a lot of work to do and we must continue to move deliberately, vigorously and quickly to implement the changes that are required to get better,” Abraham said.

Our continued success over the coming months will allow us to engage in even greater opportunities to continue to grow as an institution and to continue to serve the people of Illinois. We’re here for the long haul, and I appreciate the opportunity to be on this ride with you.”