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IWU Trustees Make More Program Cuts; Spare Others For 'Transformation'

Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University
Illinois Wesleyan University trustees have approved plans to discontinue three academic programs, but will keep several others that were targeted for closure.

Illinois Wesleyan University trustees agreed Thursday to eliminate three more majors as part of a long-term restructuring that school leaders say will strengthen its foundation as a liberal arts institution.
The university endorsed plans that were outlined to faculty in Juneto discontinue majors and minors in the Anthropology and Religion departments and French within the department of World Languages Literatures and Cultures. IWU also moved to end a minor in Italian.

IWU President Georgia Nugent said the university still plans to offer courses in those disciplines.

Trustees rejected recommendations to close IWU’s School of Music and programs in the departments of sociology and philosophy. Instead, the university said it plans to “transform” many of those offerings, along with its Education Studies’ department and School of Art, which trustees spared from closure at their meeting in May.

Timothy Szerlong and Georgia Nugent
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
IWU Board of Trustees Chair Timothy Szerlong introduced Georgia Nugent at university president in November 2019.

“There is no question is my mind we are going to see new offerings, new studies, things that reflect some of the challenges in the world today, that could be provided in education for our students,” said Timothy Szerlong, IWU Board of Trustees chair.

The proposed changes prompted the university to send pre-termination letters to 25 tenured faculty in June. In all, nearly one-third of faculty was put on notice their positions could be eliminated.

The changes IWU approved Thursday eliminate nine full-time faculty positions. Nugent said through  attrition and reassignment, that number will be smaller.

Thursday's action follows the board's decision in May to eliminate American Cultural Studies, Design, Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greek and Roman Studies, and International Business. 

The proposed changes caused some alumni to fear the university was straying from its identity as a liberal arts institution that the university has built over 170 years.

Szerlong called it a misunderstanding, saying trustees involved in the program review task forceexamined each program to determine which needed to be revamped to attract more students.

“Once I explained it in terms of the broader context of what we were doing, there was no concern whatsoever,” Szerlong said. “In fact, there was applause for the fact that we are asking those hard questions and trying not to abandon the liberal arts, but to refine it, to make it better, to make is stronger.”

Nugent, who became IWU’s president last November, said liberal arts will remain the university’s mission, but it has to adapt and change.

“The liberal arts will absolutely continue to be prominent at Illinois Wesleyan,” said Nugent, adding the liberal arts are about more than just what programs are offered, but also how they are offered.

“It has much more to do with the way the disciplines are taught, that they are taught in a holistic way, in a way that encourages students to question, to think on their own, to delve into research,” she said.

Nugent said the university hasn’t projected how the changes might impact enrollment starting with the 2021-2022 academic year, but added the university has a good “bumper crop” of freshman coming in this fall. She projected the school’s 2020-21 fall enrollment at about 1,620.

Editor's note: WGLT corrected this story to reflect the university's program review process.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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