University News

2016 Faculty Assembly Remarks

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Thursday, August 18, 2016

Good morning, and welcome to the 2016 Western Illinois University Faculty Assembly. I want to welcome our new and returning faculty and staff to Western Illinois University.

This year, we are proud to celebrate 117 years of existence. Our University has proud traditions and a long legacy of providing excellence, but yet, we still have many goals, dreams and aspirations for this University.

While these are fiscally challenging times, the University continues to move forward and achieve greatness as illustrated through the large graduating class this past spring, our many alumni who are making great contributions all over the world, and our many accolades, noted in U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, GI Jobs Magazine, Military Times EDGE Magazine, and many others. Together, we will continue to build an even stronger and better University. Our vision remains to be the leader in quality, opportunity, and affordability among regional public universities.

As we look ahead for this academic year, let me remind you that we were appropriated some measure of funding for WIU from the State of Illinois on June 30, 2016. This includes $31.4M for state appropriation and $5.1M for Spring 2016 MAP funding. The State will disburse a certain percentage of the state appropriation each month to our University. While we were certainly relieved to receive some funding, it is but a fraction of our state appropriation. We remain hopeful for additional funding for this fiscal year, and for adequate funding for public higher education. We will again cover the MAP funding for our students for this Fall Semester.

It is our hope that the legislators continue their promise and provide adequate funding for higher education for the long term. We continue to work closely with our legislative leaders and partners in education to ensure a fair and adequate budget for Western Illinois University, and to ensure a timely budget for higher education.

As many of you are aware, Western Illinois University's state appropriation has declined dramatically over the years, and this reduction in state support has had a significant impact on our University. The state's fiscal crisis has forced our institution to make some very difficult decisions in terms of layoffs, furloughs, contract changes, hiring and travel freezes, and program realignments. We have been forced to reduce expenses and reallocate funds. We anticipate that further decisions may have to be made if we do not receive adequate and sufficient appropriations from the state of Illinois.

Earlier this year, I provided testimony to the Illinois House and Senate higher education committees. In those testimonies, I informed them about the impact of the budget impasse on our University. One of those impacts of the Fiscal Year 2016 impasse, and the ongoing uncertainty for this fiscal year, that continues is what I call "the crisis of confidence in the State of Illinois." Out-of- state institutions are taking this opportunity to recruit our faculty, staff, and students. The public perception of the lack of support for public higher education in Illinois has had an impact on our enrollment. Our students, parents, alumni, donors, employees and community members, question the State's commitment to higher education. But note that we will get through these difficult times. We will continue to advocate in Springfield and throughout the state. Our government liaison, Jeanette Malafa, continues to provide strong leadership in getting us to the table where we are able to have a significant impact on the Governor and legislators throughout the state. As the newest member appointed to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), it gives me another platform from which to advocate for Western Illinois University and higher education in general.

I would like to thank each of you here today for your confidence in Western Illinois University. Whether you are a new faculty or staff member, or a returning employee, you have demonstrated your belief in this University by being here at this assembly and preparing for a new academic year. Western Illinois University will prevail, and we will emerge as an even stronger institution of higher learning because of our employees' commitment and our students' dedication. To our wonderful faculty and staff, thank you for all that you do for our students and for this University despite the adversity we face. I extend my gratitude to all of you for your many contributions.

At last year's assembly, I pointed out that the challenges we have faced have driven us to change. We will remain a strong and viable University. However, Western Illinois University cannot be all things to all people. We must look ahead at our future and continue to build upon on our strengths, including those programs that are unique to our University, but also those that are based on supply, demand, and need in our region. Rest assured, our students will have a firm foundation through the quality of the education that we provide.

Your work and your efforts are why Western Illinois University will continue to remain focused and why we will continue our vision of success and excellence. Thank you, and I wish you a successful academic year.