WIUM Tristates Public Radio

An Open Letter to WIU's Board of Trustees

Dec 14, 2015

Dear members of the Board of Trustees,

An attack on faculty is an attack on students, the regional economy, and the brand of Western Illinois University. 

Last Thursday before dinner I opened my email and the lives we have worked hard to build for over a decade began to unravel. The dog must have smelled pain and betrayal because he ate our son’s book report.  One block west and one block south, similar stories of devastation were unfolding. Who will buy these houses on Macomb’s historic streets?

Students vow to transfer when they hear their professors are laid off.  Regional community leaders worry.  Even deans most likely can’t stomach full compliance with these ruthless layoffs.  You can end this destruction at the BoT meeting this Friday.

Students do not accept “Higher values” that mean WIU will take their money, but rob them of diverse curriculum.  Hispanics are the fastest growing group of students at WIU, but the administration just fired almost half of our trained Hispanists.  WIU must serve Hispanic students by offering them courses in which they are represented.  I created a general education class called Hispanic Women, which I will teach next fall, but if layoffs proceed, the course will die.  At a time when religious tolerance is of upmost importance, they have fired our only scholar of Asian Religion.  By defending faculty, you can promote diverse curriculum and stronger enrollment.

Holly Stovall
Credit Rich Egger

As I write, 25 faculty have come out as laid off and 17 of them are women— that’s 68 percent.  Because people of color are heavily hit as well, it is the women of color who suffer in greatest disproportion.  How will you face our students if you vote for the discrimination inherent in the faculty reduction plan?

When you lay off women professors, you are silencing us and depriving our female students of the mentors who are most likely to choose curriculum that represents women as half the population.  Without strong women faculty to model excellence, female students are less likely to persist and complete, so in addition to harming enrollment, these layoffs violate the intent of Title IX, which is to protect equal opportunity for women.  Students are angry and will file Title IX complaints if you vote for this plan of female faculty reduction.

The president and provost have performed a double mastectomy on some departments, like History, while leaving others untouched.  The only consistent explanation for these erratically distributed layoffs is that the administration has been conniving to turn the university into an expensive trade school that discriminates against women and people of color while penalizing faculty who have earned seniority.  This is a tyrannical move, likely coerced by the Governor of Decay. The administration has delivered repeated shocks, as if the intention were to scare and divide us. Naomi Klein calls these neoliberal tactics “The Shock Doctrine” and it’s not supposed to happen in the land of the free.  But the Board of Trustees can act bravely to defend faculty. 

WIU’s president and provost have attacked the historical system of seniority in which faculty earn protection through years of hard work.  Some of WIU’s strongest faculty are attacked. This administration has acted unethically in its repeated and intentional violations of the collective contract, which has always represented faculty as a whole, and has never represented us as individual departments.  Breaking many rules, institutional leadership has picked on some programs while leaving others intact.  This is a weak excuse for laying off faculty who have worked to exceed all tenure requirements, while those with minimal investment stay. Students want a strong faculty and they will not enroll in an institution with untrustworthy leaders. 

Illinois citizens want a Western Experience of intellectual quality and diversity.  They demand genuinely higher values.  Students will not come here for a Rauner-style degree—they want the depth and breadth of a real university education, and--don’t be fooled—if the administration does its job of enrolling students and managing budget, we can afford to offer them that.  But if you vote to throw faculty under the bus, it will the beginning of the end to this historical institution and the regional economy it supports. 

Holly Stovall is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.