A President on the Floor with Ruby, the Dog

When I started studying at Western Illinois University in 1987, the administration was integrated into the community.  What do I mean by that? Well, when President Ralph Wagoner came to our house to pick up his son, who was friends with my brother, he sat on the floor and played with Ruby, our giant schnauzer.  That was when the Samaritan Well was the church parsonage where we lived.

21-Century President Al Goldfarb went into a sixth grade classroom every year, even after he retired, to tell his family’s holocaust story.  He helped organize seders and invited the community.

Now, when I attempt to write about the current administration’s distance from the community, my bones and joints, even my heart, feel brittle, as if they will break.  My prose feels awkward.

The hardest administrators to face are the ones with whom I cross paths when I attend school and sports events for my kids.

The first time I saw the Budget Director at a school event, we had just stepped off the bleachers in the gym.  It was Back to School Night.

I stood and stared at him while a crowd moved around me.  I had served WIU for more than 10 years and I was just so dumb-founded and confused that he deemed his choice an appropriate one.  He did have choices.  Many folks “in the know” believed that the Budget Director had reduced me to a line on a spreadsheet and then put me on the layoff list.  The administration was never transparent about how the list was composed or by whom, so who knows.

The Budget Director said “Hi, Holly.”  I managed a “Hi” back, because that’s what you do in this town, right?  You say hi.

I don’t know anymore.  Sometimes, they will say, “How are you?” and I remain silent.  You lay me off and ask how I am–  stab me in the back and then smile to my face.  Chose one.

As it turned out, My path would keep crossing with the Budget Director’s.   Our sons would keep getting the same teacher.  Our sons are friends.  My kids participate in a lot of sports, choir, and band, so I cross paths with many folks who have aligned themselves with the administration, folks who have sat across from me in hearings and testified against me.

It was even more traumatic when the WIU President was charged with comforting the families of the WIU employees who had died during the 2015-2016 academic year.  Laura had died.  The President shook my hand and said he was sorry for my loss, but his eyes were empty.   6 employees died that year–more than any other years since 2003, when the tree grove memorial was established.  Laura was in pain from cancer, and in pain from the choices WIU was making.  We needed a president who could understand that.

Some say it’s not personal.  Really?  Because we’ve got medical bills to pay and groceries to buy.  With health insurance and the pay cut the UPI agreed take, my husband’s salary, now our only income, has also taken a hit.

It’s personal.

I’m looking forward to the day WIU chooses an administration that can move with ease within the community and who can care about us.  I want them to be able to ask me how I’m doing while not all hurting me.  Don’t allow WIU to be reduced to an “economic engine.”  We’re kinder than that.  Our purpose is much greater.


This is why I was so thankful for all the union supporters who came to the public hearing at the courthouse last week.  I don’t know what the arbitrator will decide after Tuesday’s hearing, or if this administration will  comply, but I am heartened by all those who are taking a stand for the university and the community.




Judge agrees with UPI. On Every Single Argument.

Thanks to all the Union supporters who filled the court room today!  You are brave and wonderful.

The  attorney for Western Illinois University, Roy Davis, argued that the administration was too busy Tuesday to attend my arbitration hearing and that Tuesday’s hearing is meaningless.  Davis also claimed the arbitrator did not have the authority to subpoena the administration.

The UPI attorney, Stephen Yokich, reminded everyone that the UPI and the administration work under a binding contract.  Yokich cited two Supreme Court decisions (Compton and Warren, if I wrote them down correctly) that concluded that the circuit courts should stay out of the arbitration business.

The judge summarized arguments and counter arguments from each side (7 or 8 in all maybe), and then, for every single argument, backed up the union! (Well, maybe he felt a little sorry for the admin because they will have to endure the hardship of walking through the breezeway to Garwood Hall in January.)

I let out a sigh that would have impressed a yoga teacher.

An administrator next to me said, “Well, that was a waste of a Friday afternoon.”

No.  It was a waste of two years.


Relief for now.  Maz is happy too!

Why tear apart a community? For what?

Western Illinois University’s current administration is using (abusing?) its power to attempt to crush the union and crush people like me who’ve been members of this community for decades–much longer than they have anyway.  They will bring their attack to the geographical heart of McDonough County:  the courthouse.

The administration has hired yet another law firm– this time, to file a motion with the McDonough County Circuit Court to  block my arbitration hearing that is scheduled for Tuesday, January, 16, and to rescind the subpoenas for administrators to testify at the hearing.

The hearing at the Court House, to block the hearing for next week, is scheduled for this Friday at 2:30.  The university must believe that they will “lose” next week’s hearing and be forced to correct their contractual violations.  Why else would they risk the embarrassing press attention and the ill-will that they are generating with a dramatic court hearing?  Do they care about low morale among faculty and the community?

This time, the administration chose a local firm, Flack, McCraven, Stevens . . . .  At least these attorney fees will benefit Macomb’s economy.

As my readers know, Macomb is a very small and interconnected community.  I’ve known people at this law firm since they hung out with my brother Chad in the early 1990s.  I am connected to them through other close relatives as well.  We have known each other’s families for decades.

The University’s decision to hire these community attorneys is divisive and disappointing.

Why tear apart a community?  For what?  What is more important than our shared history?

Maybe the current administration wants to distract folks away from its failures:  the Thomas administration has allowed enrollment to drop 25%–this is THREE times greater than that of other Illinois public universities during the same time period.  The Faculty Senate is meticulously following the enrollment decline.

The Thomas administration has damaged WIU’s reputation by laying off tenured faculty and belittling all WIU faculty in front of the media.  They have pushed women and people of color further into the margins of the professorate and curriculum.  All of this is embarrassing.

So, we have an administration that both tears apart the community and fails to keep up the enrollment rate with other Illinois universities.  How dismally do they have to fail before we see a change?

I don’t know what will happen Friday, but I don’t have any illusions about my relative powerlessness.  What I do have is an appreciation for telling the truth even when it is risky.  I value truth for truth’s sake.  I learned that in church.  And from my WIU professors in the 80s.  Fortunately, the UPI and a handful of faculty senators also value the truth for the truth’s sake.

The University is fighting against the truth (they failed to correct contractual violations) and their move to hire a local firm to fight against its own community is desperate and sad.


The hearing to block my arbitration hearing that is scheduled for Friday, January 12, at 2:30.  P.S.  Tom Sadler and I met on these Court House grounds in 1987.



Career Opportunity for You!

Someone recently asked me if maybe I was laid off simply because these are hard times with the state austerity and all.  If we have to sacrifice one tenured professor, it’s because we don’t have any choice, right?  Wrong.  WIU is not broke.  I get new professional/teaching announcements every single week–and many of them are newly created positions.

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I have 157 professional and teaching position announcements for new hires in my “Career” folder. I started saving them in October, 2016.

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I received a new “Career Opportunity for You” announcement yesterday. The teaching and professional positions keep coming.  WIU is not broke!

Arbitration–2017 and 2018

After my Arbitration hearing last April, I took this selfie in my office.  On July 6th, the day Illinois passed a budget, I got word that the arbitrator found a contractual violation.  That violation has yet to be corrected, so another hearing is scheduled for this month.

Today, author and teacher Ariel Gore told her online manuscript class that we had to sketch ourselves.  In my self portrait, I dug the jell pen into that wrinkle to the right of my mouth.

Arbitration Hearing II is scheduled for the week of Martin Luther King Day.  MLK loved the humanities and was a fierce defender of public sector unions.  He would be with the UPI. Indeed, when he was assassinated, he was engaged in union organizing.