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.
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.