MACOMB — Western Illinois University’s academic realignment proposal to merge departments continues to spark ongoing discussion and concern in the Faculty Senate as evidenced at its bi-weekly meeting Tuesday evening.
The realignment proposal, which was introduced at a July press conference by Interim Provost Kathy Neumann, involves the merging of academic departments with certain similarities in order to reduce costs.
Faculty Senate Chair Christopher Pynes explained the process by way of an example.
“The proposal the provost gave in July was to take many of the departments from the College of Arts and Sciences, and merge them into a Department of Humanities and Social Sciences,” Pynes said. “So, you’d have one big Humanities and Social Sciences Department, you’ll have a Nursing Department, a Biology Department and you’ll have a Psychology Department.”
Pynes explained Interim Provost Neumann’s plan was to take all of the departments from the college and have basically three departments and a school at the end.
Some faculty believe the university administration’s proposal for academic realignment to merge departments may not resolve its declining enrollment rate and economic woes, such as Senator Susan Czechowski who commented during discussion that academic realignment is only tangential, a “smoke and mirrors thing.”
“We keep talking about this again and again, but really, when it comes down to it, the president has said that realignment is financial,” Czechowski said. “So, why don’t we focus on that problem? Why we don’t we focus on how much is financial, what are we going to save and let’s work on solving that problem?”
Czechowski went onto say that academic realignment through merger of departments is not a significant portion of the university’s budget, and that in two or three years when finances are still bad, the university will still be facing the problems it currently has, which is declining student enrollment and laying off faculty and staff to cut costs.
Senator Marjorie Alison believes university administration should communicate their intentions more clearly.
“If more people in my department are going to be fired, I want to know it, and I want to know it now,” she said. “The job list is out now. Hiring in English happens between October and March. If we get laid off in June, there’s nothing.”
Interim Provost Neumann said there is no additional list right now of any cuts to faculty. “We have to buckle down and bring in more students. I mean, we have absolutely got to make sure this institution remains viable and that we remain as optimistic as we can in helping to attract students to get here.”
One of the challenges to luring more students to Western will be convincing them that their degree will be valuable. Students who rack up thousands in debt want to be assured that their degree will lead to well-paying jobs.
President Jack Thomas is looking to cut $5.5 million from the non-academic side of business. The end goal of the overall realignment plan is to save $10 million in total. The underlying theme of the night was declining enrollment, but the administration remains focused on increasing the appeal for future students.

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