The Western Illinois University Board of Trustees passed a resolution that allows Interim President Martin Abraham to make decisions regarding refunding or crediting mandatory and special Spring 2020 student fees and the student health insurance fees.
The board was forced to hold a special meeting via teleconferencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic that prevents them from holding their regular meetings.
The meeting began with public comments and refunds were by far the biggest topic of discussion. The vast majority of the comments brought up the fact that students have been unable to stay in their dorms and use the money they paid for food services and various other student fees. Multiple comments brought up the fact that students have lost jobs around campus and have had their one stream of revenue completely halted due to the lockdown.
Some other concerns that were raised during public comments were the status of the search for the next president of Western Illinois University and the transparency of leadership during this pandemic when the Board of Trustees is unable to meet under regular circumstances. At the last Board of Trustees meeting, the board decided to begin a nationwide search for the next president of Western Illinois. Other questions about the search wanted to know about the details about the search committee and even called for the stop of the search for the time-being.
Chairperson Polly Radosh responded first to the search of the next president of Western Illinois University. The three leaders of the search committee are Radosh, board member Patrick Twomey and Faculty Senate chair Christopher Pynes. Radosh said that the board has gotten three bids from various search companies. Those companies had presentations scheduled for the scheduled Board of Trustees meeting in May, but were unable to present due to its cancellation. Radosh said that everything has been halted for the moment and that everything is in a “holding pattern.” Radosh also brought up some emails that she and the board have gotten about the possibility of making Martin Abraham permanent president of Western Illinois University. Radosh said that Abraham did not want to move forward with this decision in times of crisis and wanted to discuss the decision during the next in-person meeting. Board member Kisha Lang said that she wanted the search to continue and is still looking forward to the process.
The first resolution that was discussed was one that allowed Interim President Martin Abraham to make decisions regarding refunds to students. Board member Greg Aguilar first wanted to discuss the extent of the refunds and their influence on the budget. Abraham said that they are in unprecedented times and said that they are unable to provide numbers at this time due to the current state of the world. Abraham also said that they are cautiously optimistic about enrollment but that there is plenty of uncertainty regarding the incoming class. Budget Director Letisha Trepac said that the early projection in loss of revenue and additional expenses could cost the university $5 million to $6 million for the remainder of this fiscal year. Abraham said that a big factor in the financial health of the university is potential state appropriated funds that may be coming to universities across the state of Illinois.
When it comes to refunds, Abraham first brought up where many universities are standing when discussing the student fees. Abraham said that not many universities have announced refunds publicly but that there is plenty of agreement across the board that students will most likely be refunded for room and board and meal plans. He also said that tuition will most likely not be refunded to students. The refunds for room and board will come from the auxiliary fund, which is the same place where the money goes when paid for room and board.
Board member Carin Stutz wanted to discuss the logistics of how the refunds would work when it is time to refund students and if students would have to apply individually for refunds. Abraham said that there will most likely be an automatic refunding process when they get permission to move forward with the refunding process.
The board also discussed an amendment that would require tracking throughout the refunding process so that they would stay updated on the financial standing but ultimately decided to go against it due to the fact that it would slow the entire process down.
Twomey said that it was imperative that the board give Abraham this authority during this time and said Abraham and Western Illinois University have done an exceptional job in McDonough County when it comes to the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Twomey, superintendent for Macomb schools, was also given similar authority that was given to Abraham and said that the board did not need to tie his hands when making decisions.
The board unanimously approved the resolution as it was written and it will move into effect as soon as possible.
The second item up for discussion was student insurance. The resolution said that the insurance options for students at Western Illinois will remain level and that it will be implemented on August 1. There was little discussion regarding this item and it was unanimously approved by the board.
To close the meeting, the board discussed the schedule of the next meeting date but were unable to land on an exact date yet.