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WIU president leaves amid chaos

Friday, Jun 14, 2019

* WIU’s president has had a rough go of it

On the heels of a resolution passed by the alumni council calling on Western Illinois University president Dr. Jack Thomas to resign by June 30 – or be kicked out by trustees – some school employees say he is performing well in the face of tough economic and geographic realities.

“It’s not any one person’s fault, but the leader gets blamed,” said Dr. Rick Hardy, a political science professor and dean of WIU’s Centennial Honors College. “I think our leadership should get credit for keeping this institution open and thriving.”

Most of the alumni council’s 15 members have a different view. By a vote of 15-2 in a special session June 6, the council adopted a resolution insisting that Thomas step down by the end of this month and that the university’s board of trustees terminate his contract should he not do so.

The document, signed by council president John Sanders and made public Monday, demanded other measures, including ramping up efforts to increase enrollment, cutting least-popular academic programs and establishing “tangible metrics” to gauge the effectiveness of changes.

* Faculty have been up in arms

In 2018 the faculty voted no confidence in the university’s administration.

* Townies also wanted him gone

As Western Illinois University prepares for its Summer Orientation and Registration events beginning June 4, a group of local business owners have initiated a sign campaign calling for the WIU Board of Trustees to fire President Jack Thomas.

Photos of signs outside area businesses began appearing on social media Wednesday. Perhaps the most visible was the sign on the marquee of The Forum, which reads, “Fire Jack” on the first line and “Support WIU” just below.

However, other signs have been appearing as well. One wooden sign at an unknown location reading, “Fire Jack Thomas Support WIU” in purple, spray painted stencil lettering was posted on Facebook by The Forum co-owner Roger Ward. Another, yellow sign outside of the old Farm King building on E. Jackson Street reads simply, “Fire Jack.”

* The push to oust Thomas has also created racial tensions

If you have not heard about the recent plot to remove the first African-American president at Western Illinois University, Dr. Jack Thomas, by the incumbent Board of Trustees, listen closely. Diverse: Issues In Higher Education recently covered how the disgruntled community blames President Thomas for the pending financial shortcoming due to low enrollment. In recent weeks, Macomb, Illinois, was showered with signs declaring, “Fire Jack!” and one prominent “Fire Jack Support WIU” on the marquee of a dilapidated theater. According to the 2018 United States Census data, Macomb has a total population of 17,559 with 86.9 percent of the community identifying as White alone. Only 7.5 percent of the population identifies as Black or African-American; whereas, at Western Illinois, as of 2018, Black or African-Americans, and the Hispanic populations make up 18.8 percent and 11.3 percent respectively.

* People were fired

Reorganization of administrative leadership is underway at Western Illinois University following the termination of Brad Bainter, vice president for advancement and public services and executive officer of the WIU Foundation. […]

“This morning I was asked to retire effective at the end of the month. I refused. I was then terminated without cause effective today. I want to thank each and everyone of you for your service to Western. Your friendship has meant so much to me that I could never put it into words. Your service has been invaluable to Western. I am sure I will continue to see many of you throughout the coming years.”

* Battle lines were drawn

Former Western Illinois University Trustee Lyneir Cole is accusing several of the newly-appointed board members of a “plot to fire” WIU President Jack Thomas.

Cole’s accusation is based on a series of email exchanges among trustees, retired faculty and others sent between April 25 and May 10. […]

Also in the email between Balsamo and Thompson are comments referencing concerns about perceived racism. Balsamo wrote on May 7, “I am picking up some disturbing () about the Jack situation and so is at least one other member of the group. My fear is that the Jack predicament cannot easily be separated from race. (My) guess is that right three members of the board, the two African Americans and Aguilar will be at least skeptical about any immediate move on Jack and they may be supported by some in the governor’s office and certainly some in the legislature…. I know certainly that some of the opposition to Jack is racist, but even if he were purple he has been a near total failure here.”

He later wrote on May 9, “Race hangs over this whole situation, but I have the feeling that if Jack were white or even Asian he would have been gone some time ago.”

* Check out the enrollment numbers…

* And now

President Jack Thomas has announced he will serve his last day on June 30, 2019. He said he believes the university will be “best served by new leadership.”

President Thomas has requested to be moved to administrative leave for two years at current salary, with the option to return to his faculty position after two years, which has been approved by the Board of Trustees.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Pick a Name - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 10:53 am:

    Market, market and then market your product some more. Get to high schools and meet with kids.

    The director of admissions at ISU did a TV commercial that I thought was great and had a lot of impact.

    Universities have marketing professors, use them!!

  2. - A guy - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 10:54 am:

    ==President Thomas has requested to be moved to administrative leave for two years at current salary, with the option to return to his faculty position after two years, which has been approved by the Board of Trustees.==

    Not exactly devastating.

  3. - RNUG - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 10:56 am:

    == President Thomas has requested to be moved to administrative leave for two years at current salary, with the option to return to his faculty position after two years, which has been approved by the Board of Trustees. ==

    Pretty nice golden parachute

  4. - Austinman - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:03 am:

    WIU Alumni here, he was never really given a fair shot. With the annual cut to Westerns budget, how he to do recruiting. When most kids aren’t even interested in staying in state for college.

  5. - Anonymous - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    That was a golden parachute studded with rare gems. It isn’t uncommon to see upper level admin placed back on faculty status with most/all of their previous compensation as a “holding pen” to provide a soft landing while finding their next position and in many of these cases the next position is found immediately. This two plus two plan is definitely “giving away the store” and appears to be part of a fleeing from conflict plan by the board rather than fully owning their actions (or lack thereof).

  6. - Name Withheld - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    I’m also a WIU Alumni, and I kind of agree with Austinman. I think he was also boxed in by Rauner in terms of what he could do. That said - he should have been more vocal about it if that was the case. His state rep, Norrine Hammond, kept voting to continue the impasse until she finally stopped with the others. He should have been putting more public pressure on her. I don’t know if that justifies today’s events, in least in my mind, but it clearly does for some others.

  7. - Annon3 - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    Those numbers are very interesting, a side by side with the numbers from the junior college board would be interesting. Honestly isn’t time to close a campus or two and invest in the futures not the past?

  8. - efudd - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:07 am:

    As far as enrollment numbers-
    The last couple of SPIN nights at my kids high school only had Shawnee CC and John A Logan CC along with SIU-Carbondale representatives there.
    Granted we’re at the end of the state, but it’s like the other state unis aren’t even interested in recruitment statewide.
    Meanwhile, SEMO is 20 miles away, and Murray st. is roughly 100.

  9. - Lynn S. - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:07 am:

    Not from Macomb and not a WIU alum, so it’s hard for me to comment on that specific situation. (But I will say it does look bad on both sides– no confidence vote by faculty (possibly related to layoffs), and racism by alumni association.)


    Those enrollment numbers? Ding dang blang (double banned punctuation) Those are brutal (another banned punctuation).

    I was at EIU in the late 80’s, when enrollment was almost 12,000 students. Now’s it sliding to almost 6,000? Yikes (another banned punctuation).

    I’ve been to Charleston a few times over the past few years. On the weekends, the campus feels empty, and the whole town looks pretty run-down and tired. Not like Champaign-Urbana, where I currently live.

    I really feel that Eastern probably should have done a lot more to recruit foreign students. But with a falling birthrate and rural places getting older and poorer, I suspect it’s going to be quite the slog to turn around EIU, WIU, and SIU-C.

    Don’t know if I really have any answers…

  10. - Not a Billionaire - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    Is it pensionable?

  11. - btowntruthfromforgottonia - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:24 am:

    No.Not even close to thriving.

  12. - JS Mill - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:27 am:

    =Market, market and then market your product some more. Get to high schools and meet with kids.=

    They do, they are really good at getting out to high schools.

    Their location with out interstate access makes it a bit more challenging for them.

  13. - lakeside - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:29 am:

    ==moved to administrative leave for two years at current salary==

    I want you all to know I asked this at work just now and got absolutely nowhere.

  14. - JT - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    Alum and former faculty here, his tenure and chaotic style of “leadership” led to the departure of many trusted leaders over the last few years. He also fully participated in the illegal closed session meetings last year.

  15. - Robert the Bruce - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    JT, more specifics on what you mean by his chaotic style please. As an outsider, it seems to me that the job of maintaining a university under Rauner funding cuts plus demographics is not an easy challenge.

  16. - Not a Billionaire - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    Also Cole was on the Board while he worked for the state for 2 years.Also one BOT member worked for a bank with a business relationship. Both are not legal.

  17. - Lynn S. - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 11:38 am:

    Regarding the “golden parachute”:

    In my previous life as a school board member, our superintendent retired. Noticing what I did during that search, I’ll say that either the recruiter or the lawyer representing the chosen candidate saw or heard something that gave them the heebie-jeebies, and that’s how this clause came into being.

    The board, trying to be positive regarding the budding relationship, probably felt this would never be needed, so they were willing to agree to it.

    (But, 4 years? How close is this former president to retirement, and a fat payday as an interim or a consultant?)

  18. - Name Withheld - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    ===He also fully participated in the illegal closed session meetings===

    Dang - my short-term memory loss kicked in on those close session meetings. I completely forgot about them. Not a good thing at all for him to have done.

  19. - Not a Billionaire - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    He is a teir 1 and became President in 2011. Looks like he came to WIU in 2008. He said 11 years.If it pensionable it adds 2 more years. I don’t know his age under SURS I am not sure but I think you can collect at 55. Any age with 30 years. But still be will have a nice pension.

  20. - Downstate Illinois - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    These types of golden parachutes in public education are not defensible. We’ve seen this with Randy Dunn at SIU and with the current president on sabbatical at Shawnee College. Trustees need to find their testicular fortitude and fire these incompetent, ineffectual, and as we are seeing at SIU, ethically questionable leaders.

  21. - Annonin' - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    Noreen must be so proud

  22. - Enemy of the State - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:52 pm:

    Recruiting students is easy compared to recruiting professors to replace the ones who have bailed out or been released.

  23. - Unle Ernie - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    Hammond is a lousy State Rep. for Macomb. She didn’t have the guts to stand up to her fellow R’s to try to protect WIU funding. She was Rich Meyers secretary before he passed away, a fine fellow replaces by a staffer. I have heard all the complaining about President Thomas, in recent months. I really do not know how anyone could sustain a university with Rauner’s cuts, with students leaving the state, more budget cuts, I hate to think that the Macomb locals are that racially charged that they wanted him gone just because he was black…but who knows.

  24. - Raptors Rule - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:19 pm:

    At around $13K in annual tuition and fees (and over $25K when you add in room and board), it’s hard to attract middle class families to pay or, more likely, borrow that kind of money to attend WIU.

  25. - Machiavelli - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    @ Uncle Ernie: You make a good point about Macomb’s political representation in Springfield.

    Here is Norine Hammond’s voting record for Higher Education between 2016 and 2017:
    Jan. 28, 2016. SB 2043. Appropriates Funds for Higher Education. Bill Passed House. Norine did not vote
    March 2, 2016. SB 2043c. Veto Override Failed in House. Norine voted Nay.
    March 3, 2016. HB 2990. Appropriates Funds for Higher Education and Human Services. Passed in House. Norine voted Nay.
    May 17, 2016. HB 4167. Appropriates Funds for Monetary Award Program Grants. Passed in House. Norine voted Nay.
    May 26, 2016. SB 2048. Appropriates Funds for Higher Education. Passed in House. Norine voted Nay.
    April 6, 2017. HB 109. Establishes Stopgap Budget. Passed in House. Norine voted Nay.
    July 6, 2017. SB 6. Establishes Budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018. Veto Override Passed. Norine voted Yea.

    Norine watched WIU twist in the wind for almost two years before finally voting for a budget. It is worth noting that Jil Tracy, the state senator representing WIU never voted to support WIU.

    What does it tell us that the same people calling to “Fire Jack” never said a word while Norine and Jil Tracy stood silently as WIU spiraled downward?

  26. - Nonbeliever - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    Just like incorporate America incompetence is well protected and well rewarded.

  27. - Nonbeliever - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    “What does it tell us that the same people calling to “Fire Jack” never said a word while Norine and Jil Tracy stood silently as WIU spiraled downward?”

    Yes and Hammond came close to losing her seat in what should be a very safe Republican area.

    Does not change the fact that Thomas is a very poor President and should have been fired two years ago. And particularly after illegal ‘closed meetings’.

  28. - Nonbeliever - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:48 pm:

    “Only 7.5 percent of the population identifies as Black or African-American; whereas, at Western Illinois, as of 2018, Black or African-Americans, and the Hispanic populations make up 18.8 percent and 11.3 percent respectively.”

    So? Thomas was a very poor President and should have been fired earlier

  29. - Machiavelli - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    @Non-believer. I am not sure you understand the deeper implications here. The “Fire Jack” movement is not some grassroots uprising. It was orchestrated by the very people who silently supported Norine’s votes against WIU. Now they are calling for Jack’s ouster when a good argument can be made that Norine and Bruce Rauner did far more damage to WIU than Jack’s poor management.

  30. - I Miss Bentohs - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    = Honestly isn’t time to close a campus or two and invest in the futures not the past? =


  31. - Doing Human Things - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 2:53 pm:

    There was plenty of blame to go around for the situation and President Thomas stepping down was just the next logical step.

    The governor was a big problem…got a new governor.
    The WIU BOT appointed by and answering to Rauner was a problem…got a new BOT.
    The university president who answered to the BOT and Rauner and did what they wanted him to do…he’s stepping down

    Our local politicians were also a big part of it, but we’ll have to wait until the next election to try to get rid of them.

  32. - Nonbeliever - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    - Machiavelli - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    I understand the real implications. I taught there from 1977 to 2006 and still know what is going on.

    Of course there is always racism and no one race has a monopoly on it. And I can assure you that there are those who do not like Hammond but very much wan this poor President to go away.

  33. - Machiavelli - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 3:45 pm:

    I don’t think you fully appreciate the behind-the-scenes machinations to oust Jack. That is okay. I also take issue with your point that no race has a monopoly on racism, but that is a discussion for another day. Go ‘Necks.

  34. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 3:47 pm:

    ===and no one race has a monopoly on it===

    I was taught that racism = bigotry + power.

    Maybe rethink your assumptions.

  35. - Nonbeliever - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 4:09 pm:


    I am quite aware of this situation. I was on the AFT bargaining team for three Master Contracts during the last 10 years I was there. I still have many, many contacts. I know enough that it would make your head spin.

    Do not assume you only are aware of what goes on.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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