By CARL GREEN
Moline, IL – On June 14, Governor Bruce Rauner paid a visit to Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, claiming credit for the new state budget that was designed to start making up for his years of underfunding Illinois schools.
But on June 28, the bill came due. Western Illinois, based in Macomb and now extending to Moline, announced it is laying off 24 union faculty members, including seven with tenure, as it copes with lingering effects of the funding crisis. Another 62 teaching positions – union jobs either vacant or soon to be vacated – will be eliminated, and two academic affairs staff jobs are being cut.
The WIU board cited declines in state funding and enrollment to explain the layoffs. Because of protections built into the teachers’ union contract, the layoffs will not take effect until June 30, 2019. The teachers are represented by University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.
Local 4100 President Bill Thompson said university administrators have let down their faculty and students. Negotiations on a new contract have languished, he said, and union members have authorized a strike.
“The faculty and academic staff are paying the price for the administration’s failure to stop or even stem the enrollment decline these past 12 years,” Thompson said. “And there’s also no denying that this board has failed to address that decline or to hold the administration accountable for the decline.”
MORE ‘REALIGNMENT’ COMING
Western and other state universities went two years without state funding under Rauner, resulting in enrollment declines as students found better prospects and cheaper tuition in neighboring states.
While WIU President Jack Thomas spoke of making “greater investments in high-demand programs,” Board President Cathy Early described it more in terms of “realignment,” adding that more cuts may follow.
“We are realigning resources to further build upon Western’s programs that are highly sought after by our students and employers,” Early said. “Throughout the institution’s history, Western has readjusted according to the times. The current realities facing public higher education call for realignment.”
In his appearance at the school, Rauner claimed university enrollments have been shrinking “for decades,” but the numbers show the most substantial declines came after he took office.
For instance, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s total enrollment hovered between 20,000 and 25,000 for many years, then edged down to 18,000 in 2014, the year Rauner was elected. Under Rauner, it dropped to 17,292 in 2015, dropped to 15,987 in 2016 and dropped again to 14,554 in 2017.
Those last two drops were over 10 percent each –– the two largest percentage drops on record.
UPI Local 4100 isn’t the only union whose members are feeling the strain.
AFSCME Local 417, which also represents staff at the university said, “Because of Rauner’s budget crisis, WIU was forced to lay off more than 100 employees in 2016 as it grappled with a drastic decrease in state support and uncertain funding for the coming years.”
As a result of the cuts, Local 417 said, the school saw freshmen enrollment plunge by 21 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017.
Jordan Abudayyeh, spokesman for Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker, said, “Western Illinois University was devastated by Bruce Rauner’s budget crisis, and it will take us years to repair the damage he’s done. With students fleeing, employees getting laid off and programs being cut, this failed governor leveraged our future and made WIU students and teachers pay the price.”