Another Illinois campus prepares for massive cuts

Western Illinois U logoThe American state of Illinois continues to experience a political deadlock, and that crisis has claimed another campus.  Running out of money thanks to the state’s paralysis, Western Illinois University is preparing for a harsh set of cuts and other measures.

On the human side, that means cutting 100 people, “(faculty and staff) across divisions”.  I can’t find any information about which units and departments are being hit.  Could be another queen sacrifice.

Described in financial terms, this new strategy aims to make $20 million in cuts over the next two years.

There are other details and further cuts:

reducing contracts from 12 to 11 or 10 months for select administrative positions;
closing and/or combining select offices/units;
reducing 100 personnel (faculty and staff) across divisions;
implementing a hiring freeze (effective immediately);
reducing the hours of various offices/units.

No mention of cuts to campus sports.

These moves will happen in a situation already being strained by reductions.  “To date, for Fiscal Year 2016, the University has made appropriated budget reductions of approximately $5 million.”  As one local source put it, “Last year, Western Illinois University received $51 million from the state.This year, the school didn’t receive any state aid.”

Readers may recall that WIU made queen sacrifice noises a few months ago.

Listen to the language being used in this move.  It’s not a minor tweak, but something ambitious, desperate, even existential:

“[T]here is not a present path toward ending the budget impasse…

“We are making decisions that will preserve the educational enterprise…”
[WIU president Jack] Thomas…:”We must brace for the difficult times ahead. We must protect the cash resources of the University in order to continue to provide services to our students and prepare for Fall 2016.”

“We must protect the cash resources of the University”: that sounds like what some institutions went through during the fall of 2008, at the height (or bottom) of the financial crisis.

On Facebook my friend Lanny Arvan asked me to think about stories like this as being more about state politics than about higher education in general.  I take his point, at least insofar as recognizing that Illinois politics seem unusually broken.  However, we can find similar problems in other states: Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Alaska, off the top of my head.  That adds up to a significant chunk of American public higher education… so many these stories speak equally to both causes or domains.  Perhaps we can conclude that both higher ed (at least state-supported campuses) and state politics (at least some of them) are having issues, to put it mildly.

What do you think?

(thanks to Vicky Scalzitti Romano)

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