MACOMB – A number of WIU faculty members are circulating a petition pushing for a  confidence vote in the University administration.
The petition comes at a time when the university is in the midst of negotiating with UPI 4100 under federal arbitration.
Professor of Sociology and Faculty Senator at-large Robert Hironimus-Wendt told the Voice that on Feb. 28 during a meeting of the Executive Committee, faculty member and senator Shazia Rahman presented a petition to the Faculty Senate on behalf of faculty who want to have a confidence vote on the university administration.
“And so she presented it, and because there were 20 percent or more, it is the obligation of the Faculty Senate to conduct the vote for them,” Hironimus-Wendt said.
The Executive Committee is an agenda-setting body who meet once a week to set the agenda of the Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate meets bi-weekly in the Union Capital Rooms. Faculty Senate bylaws stipulate that if 20 percent of faculty have signed a petition, then the senate will administer a secret ballot to all faculty.
“One of the points made in the pitch at the Executive Committee was that 40 percent of the College of Arts and Sciences had voted in favor of the petition,” Hironimus-Wendt said. “That being the case, it suggests that less than 10 percent of the rest of the faculty voted in favor of the petition. So, probably 90 percent of professors not in arts and sciences did not support this petition. That’s how they came up with the 23.6 percent group, so that needs to be said.”
Assertions &
Responses
Amanda Silberer, an assistant professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department, expressed her opinion that the petition calling for a vote of no confidence in university administration is “misguided.”
“I think we are focused on blaming the administration when this goes much deeper, and is at the state level. There are many reasons things are needed to evolve here at the university,” Silberer added, “and it is not to be blamed solely on our administration, that’s for sure.”
Silberer, who attended the Tuesday Faculty Senate meeting as a spectator,  went on to to say the trending issues facing the university at the moment are a decrease in high school graduates and the out-of-state migration. “Students are leaving Illinois in droves, but unfortunately, the petition is based on falsehoods.”
When asked for an example of what she meant by falsehoods, Silberer referenced language from the petition and said “the departments that were targeted were to decrease women and minorities at the University. That’s one example.”
The circulated petition asserts “the administration has eliminated academic departments whose effect was to marginalize and remove women and minorities.”
Silberer said the Departments of Women’s Studies and African-American Studies have seen eliminations, but she rebutted the accusation when she said: “We have an African-American president, an African-American vice president, a woman provost and a woman African-American lawyer.”
The administration in its rebuttal to the accusation of marginalizing and removing women and minorities stated: “This statement is untrue and misleading. Western has a commitment to diversity, and has demonstrated such in its programming, resources, and support. It is ironic that under the leadership of an African American president, a female provost, an African American vice president, a vice president who is a member of the LGBTQA community and an African American female attorney that the petition declares that the administration has marginalized minorities and women.”
“As part of the required program review per Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) policy, decreased enrollment in specific majors and the limited number of students majoring in/graduating from these majors led to the elimination of certain departments.”
“These programs remain as minors. To speak only of these programs as eliminated, strips those continuing in these programs of voice and, literally, existence, possibly doing further harm to student numbers that might eventually contribute to future renewal. These programs are essential to the University's general education and support the newly formed Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Mathematics and Philosophy. This realignment reflects a commitment to retain these disciplines even in light of low enrollment with the hope that, in the future, they may grow.”
The petition also asserts President Jack Thomas and university administration through mismanagement have seen a decrease in student population three times that of other Illinois public universities during the same period.
“I don’t think any institution except for the University of Illinois has flourished,” Silberer said.
“I have not seen the numbers for them to know if they decreased but I know (University of Illinois) is probably one of the only institutions that hasn’t decreased.” She said that U of I has managed to flourish in part due to their location, what they have to offer the community and a new building worth millions for the Gies College of Business.
“And at Western Illinois,” she said, “we’re struggling to get students, and when we compare ourselves – to other schools – when it costs about the same to go to choose one of those schools, we’ve got to be really good at what we do.”
Declining enrollment and changing demographics are not unique to Western or to any school of higher learning in the state. In a recent article published by the Chronicles of Higher Education, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point administrators cited a $4.5 million deficit and declining enrollment as justification to close 13 academic programs and could possibly layoff tenured faculty.
Silberer said University of Wisconsin might make the decision to start shutting down programs because “the future looks bleak for higher education. Why? Because of online programs. Whether we like it or not, it’s happening. And fewer people are enrolling in universities. Period. The competition is stiff, and we can’t get along with each other. That’s just the truth, unfortunately.”
Another assertion in the petition claims the administration has made a public statement to the Board of Trustees, reported in the news media, that faculty are rude to students, which it later acknowledged was exaggerated, and caused negative publicity about the institution…”
The administration responded: “Students share their experiences with their peers. A negative experience with a faculty or staff member may be shared among students, which, in turn, causes negative publicity about the institution and has a deleterious impact on retention and recruitment.”
“All efforts to recruit, retain, support, and connect with students are explored. In a professional environment where we are stewards of predominantly young adults and their success, we need to be able to discuss unhealthy patterns of behavior. Title IX requires that we “are legally required to respond and remedy hostile educational environments,” and we take this commitment seriously. (https://www.knowyourix.org/college-resources/title-ix/). As is his legal responsibility, the vice president for student services (VPSS) (Ronald Williams) raised the issue of hostility towards students as a problem that we need to address as a campus community by reporting what some students indicate when withdrawing from the University. Stating that this public comment created negative publicity and media attention is overstated as the only reference appears at the end of a lengthy story about the overall Board of Trustees meeting.”
“Nowhere in his commentary does the Vice President ascribe blame only at faculty. The quote from the McDonough County Voice story, available here: http://www.mcdonough
voice.com/news/20171006/bot-approves-budget-eyes-declining-state-funding-and-enrollment, is: ’Through this process, we have learned that retention hinges on how students are treated when they are here at this university, whether by faculty or staff. We are a student-centered institution, but I as well as many people on my staff and people on the enrollment management team continue to hear from students that students who have to leave the university may leave for various reasons such as the academic profile or (a financial) inability to stay here. But students who choose to leave the university in many cases leave because of the way in which they are treated. Each member of the faculty and staff must do their part to treat students with dignity and respect.”
“On a personal note, in my role as an administrator and a faculty member, I try to do my best to treat everyone with dignity and respect; I treat students as adults, as they should be treated. I say that earning a terminal degree does not give persons the right to be uncivil, rude or unwelcoming to our students, and this is something that I’ve heard often in the last year.
The enrollment management committee is engaged in very meaningful work; however, we need everyone’s help to ensure that students have a desire to remain at Western, and graduate from this fine institution.”
WIU UPI Local 4100 President William Thompson has told the Voice the union is not behind the circulation of the petition. Merrill Cole, professor of English, confirmed with the Voice on Wednesday that he and other faculty members have circulated the petition and stated the faculty union has not directed the petition.
Another item in the petition language asserts the administration during the 2015-2016 academic year laid-off tenured faculty, which has “damaged the university’s reputation.”
A rebuttal from the administration states tenured faculty were not laid off.
“However, two faculty members were allowed to complete the tenure process after the notification of layoff to aid in the search for future employment opportunities…Layoffs do create unrest,” a statement provided by the administration reads. “However, the layoffs are not the cause of the most significant damage to the university’s reputation. Public defamation and misinformation regarding layoffs contributes to, and further increases, the damage to the institution’s reputation. The university’s administrative team has worked diligently to create and highlight positive initiatives.”
President Thomas released this statement regarding the petition: "The goal and mission of our university for 118 years has been to serve students, and the direction and course of the University did not change in spite of the recent challenges imposed by the state. We do understand that our employees may have felt unsettled and wary during the challenging economic times that faced our state and University. We were forced to make difficult decisions, yet we tried to minimize the impact on all of our faculty and staff. We were charged by the Board of Trustees, without a budget allocated by the state of Illinois, to keep Western Illinois University's doors open, to continue to provide a quality education to our students, and to meet the institution's payroll obligations. We did exactly as charged. We are not looking back and we will not be deterred by some who may be disgruntled because of past decisions and actions that were put into place to ensure WIU's viability.”
“The university is in the midst of contract negotiations, and tactics to discredit the administration may be put into play to undermine the process and to undermine the university as a whole. Continued negative rhetoric and inaccurate information harms recruitment, the employee search processes, and more. We are moving the university forward and charting our course for the future. We will continue to work with WIU faculty, staff, and students to continue the mission of this great institution."
Board of Trustees Chair Cathy Early said in a statement on behalf of the Board: "While the Faculty Senate has not met to even consider a vote, and a comment seems premature, the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees supports the university administration. When reviewing the university's accomplishments and leadership over the years, including the Board's charge to continue to maintain the university's viability in spite of the budget challenges imposed by the state, it is the board's opinion that the university administration has provided the strong direction needed to move WIU forward."
The official statements by Thomas and Early were provided Tuesday morning prior to the Faculty Senate meeting.

The Process
Faculty Senate Chairman Steven Rock confirmed the Senate will administer the voting process. Rock said the entire process has a 30-day turnaround period. Since next week is spring break, ballots will be sent out to faculty members on March 19. Faculty will then have seven to 10 days to turn in their secret ballots to the Executive Committee.
The committee will then on March 29 count the vote for and against confidence in the administration based upon the language presented in the original petition. Rock said the results may be posted online. On Friday, Rock was not certain of the ability to place the results online because — to his knowledge — this is the first time the Faculty Senate has had to administer such a vote. The results will be announced at the Faculty Senate meeting the Tuesday following the ballot count, and the results will also be provided to the Board of Trustees as part of its advisory role. Rock said members of both the greater Senate and Executive Committee maintain the right to vote on the secret ballot as individual faculty members.
The complete PDF detailing the confidence vote petition and a point-for-point rebuttal by the administration to the petition’s language can be found online at: http://bit.ly/2FxVPbp

Reach Voice Correspondent Christopher Ginn by email at cginn@mcdonoughvoice.com. Reach Voice Editor Jared DuBach by email at jdubach@mcdonoughvoice.com.

WIU Administration's Confidence Vote Petition Response by McDonough Voice on Scribd