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The forced resignation of an African-American President at WIU

On July 1st, 2011, Western Illinois University (WIU) hired Dr. Jack Thomas to be the 11th President of their institution. Dr. Thomas was the first African-American president of WIU, and he was forced to resign on June 30th, 2019. During Dr. Thomas’ tenure at WIU the school continued to receive the “Best Regional Midwestern College” award by the Princeton Review.

His forced resignation matters because Macolb, Illinois -- the town WIU is located -- is 90% white and most of the diversity comes from the university (Stripling, para 6). Macolb’s white population helped influence the forced resignation of Dr. Jack Thomas. Reviewing this resignation invokes conversations about race even if that is not what the town or Dr. Thomas wanted to transpire from this incident.

Before resigning, Dr. Thomas received backlash from the local community about his priorities of bringing in more diverse students over other academic matters brought forth by the faculty members of this institution. For example, a local high school guidance counselor expressed their concerns about all the “inner city kids.” This phrasing seems to imply that people of color are a problem for the institution, and ultimately infers that inner city kids were stereotyped as urban and ethnic, by the additional account of a WIU Trustee who also worried about “ethnicity” of the institution (Stripling, para 7).

Many white residents of Macolb felt that Dr. Thomas was an interloper. For example, the Macolb community became outraged over the firing of Brad Bainter, who was a former basketball star for WIU, and the Vice President of Advancement. Dr. Thomas cited an article to explain why Bainter was fired; in which it said that Bainter was fired due to administrative costs. However, because Thomas had fired a favorite son of the community, the community called for Thomas to be fired and Bainter to be reinstated.

There were a plethora of factors that led to Dr. Thomas’ forced resignation. Some influences affecting his forced resignation are as follows: enrollment was down by 35 percent, academic majors were being eliminated, 100 faculty members lost their jobs (including many who were tenured or on tenure track) in addition to residential halls closing (Stripling, para 3). As Dr. Thomas valued diversity & inclusion, some of his critics worried that he valued diversity and inclusion more than academic excellence.

In addition, other influences were financial and operational budget components. From 2015-2017, the Illinois legislation performed budget cuts. This led to the state of Illinois making budget cuts to its institutions of higher learning (Stripling, para 18). Due to these budget cuts, this impacted smaller universities like WIU and their operations. Though this was not Dr. Thomas’ fault, individuals of the community and university stakeholders held Thomas at fault. When Thomas fired Bainter, the people of Macolb blamed him for how he handled the budget fight and felt this move was the last straw.

Thomas was the 11th president, and the first African-American president of WIU from 2011-2019. The people of Macolb who petitioned for the resignation of Thomas due to his race and professional values makes you want to ask, why was this necessary? Could one say that Thomas was forced to resign because of community rhetoric? His values as the President? Or forcing out Brad Bainter? I would argue all three.

Thomas states, “For some people, the stereotype of a university president is a silver-haired white male”(Stripling, para 16). Thomas valued diversity and inclusion as university president over all other things because he recognized the importance of equity in higher education institutions. Considering the budget cuts from state legislation this helped turn people against Thomas, even though it was not his fault that budgets were cut by the state of Illinois. In my opinion, there seems to be a sense of white privilege in the forced resignation of Dr. Thomas, and this makes me wonder how likely this is to be happening at other institutions around the country. Stay tuned for more topics pertaining to social trends in our communities as folks from marginalized identities.

Sincerely,
Keiron

Work Cited

Stripling , Jack. “Fear of a Black Campus .” The Chronicle of Higher Education , The Chronicle of Higher Education , 1 Nov. 2019, Dr. ive.google.com/Dr. ive/u/1/folders/1ORF83Qp6N-nxqlcMgpSJ61RuxZPDDdUF. “President Announces Organizational Changes.” President Announces Organizational Changes - Western Illinois University News - Office of University Relations, Western Illinois University , 28 May 2019, www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=16481.

On July 1st, 2011, Western Illinois University (WIU) hired Dr. Jack Thomas to be the 11th President of their institution. Dr. Thomas was the first African-American president of WIU, and he was forced to resign on June 30th, 2019. During Dr. Thomas’ tenure at WIU the school continued to receive the “Best Regional Midwestern College” award by the Princeton Review.

Feb 12