MACOMB – At a regular meeting on Tuesday, the Western Illinois University Faculty Senate discussed a recent string of layoffs and the administration’s plan of academic realignment consolidating many colleges into new schools.
Following announcements by Interim Provost Kathy Neumann, Faculty Senator Chair Christopher Pynes opened the floor for discussion asking if there were any questions for Neumann. Senator Betsy Perabo kicked off the discussion.
“I would like to discuss the layoffs, and I at least feel like it’s important that our first faculty senate meeting of the semester, as a representative of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, to note that 26 faculty members were laid off by the administration this June.” Perabo expressed her opinion that 26 layoffs is a “drastic measure by any accounting.”
She placed emphasis on the necessity of having “very clear and transparent and publicly available criteria for when decisions are made about laying off faculty in particular programs. Obviously individual data can’t be made available, but program information can be made available, and has not been.”
Perabo suggested a public presentation saying precisely what the criteria is for choosing programs whose faculty are subject to layoff. “Whatever that criteria is, however complex it is, whatever exceptions there are, this needs to be made transparent.”
Also, Perabo addressed the idea of institutional loyalty concerning academic alignment. She said faculty members who have been there a long time and tenured faculty members should be considered to be a part this institution, “not just people to be dispensed with once their utility is outlived.”
Interim Provost Neumann was asked if there was a reason for the apparent lack of transparency concerning the criteria used to layoff particular long-serving faculty and tenured faculty.
She said, “I am happy to write a presentation at some point to address some of the items that you have bought up. Part of the purpose of giving every person the opportunity to meet is to share what roles they can play. So, I mean, that’s part of the expected outcomes of the meetings with each particular faculty member.”
“But that’s after having laid them off,” Perabo responded. “That’s not prior to having to made those layoff decisions.”
Neumann expanded her answer saying the meetings with particular faculty members who have been notified of their layoffs are “in part exploratory meetings to help tease out some of that information about what other areas may be able to contribute to.”
The discussion next turned to academic realignment, when Senator Shazia Rahman asked, “What problem does academic realignment solve?”
Neumann said that the administration’s academic realignment plan is not set in stone and there will be ongoing discussions at townhall meetings and other similar venues.
“One of the problems that realignment is hopefully going to help facilitate is to break down some of the silos that continue to exist and to gain some efficiency and some additional collaboration among (colleges and programs) that have some natural areas to collaborate,” Neumann said. “But right now, we’re still getting a lot of pushback about being able to combine their energies as opposed to having separate agendas.”
The schools of graphic communication and graphic design will be merged into a new school within the College of Fine Arts and Communications (COFAC).
Neumann said these two schools are stronger together than they are apart.
“So, that is in part why I would like to see some additional restructuring so that we can capitalize on those synergies in those combined collaborative efforts.”
Additional comments and questions were offered by guests to the meeting.
Dr. David Banash expressed his sentiment that the academic realignment, when it was rolled out at the July press conference,  “seems like a radical change for the university from where we are now – creating new schools, potentially undoing department structures – Humanities, particularly, is going to get hit very hard in the way that it has been proposed.”
The English Department is currently operating without a department chairperson. Dr. Kyle Mayborn is the interim department chairperson.
The lack of a permanent department leader affects recruitment of students and the development of culture within the department, Banash said. He spoke about some of the negative consequences that schools have when merged together.
“It’s about losing traditions, losing department names, losing (department) chairs and chair representation. Perhaps losing our best students, not our discovery students who are here to take our general education courses and find us; they’ll be able to find us.”
Banash continued, “But, in fact, the students that we recruit from the outside, the fact that we are a stand-alone department,  that we have chairs who are representing us who are working throughout the year and that we’re able to reach out to those students in so many ways – and create a culture (in) our departments... Our departments are not just administrative units as we live them as faculty. There are cultures that are deeply embedded in those departments in terms of the kinds of events that they have,” Banash said, “in terms of the way they make a world for our students.”
He said the university administration’s academic alignment plan to merge and restructure stand-alone departments towards a collaborative outcome will put those deeply embedded cultures at risk. He also cautioned the outcome of the academic realignment could transform Western into a community college or at least present the appearance of a community college with few stand-alone departments.
Comparing the university to other peer institutions and smaller community colleges, Banash said, “I am particularly worried about what (academic realignment as it was proposed in July) will do to the culture of the departments.”

Reach Christopher Ginn by email at chrisginn1978@gmail.com or find him on Facebook.