MACOMB, Illinois -
Just a day before students start unpacking in their dorm rooms, there's optimism to start the school year. But the university must continue adjusting to the state's money troubles.
"We're trying to limit the hardships as much as possible," said WIU President Jack Thomas, on Thursday, August 17.
Inside the first-ever University Assembly, Dr. Thomas says it's time to move forward. That means looking ahead after what he calls an emotional roller coaster over agonizing decisions.
When classes begin on Monday, August 21, the campus will also have more than $21 million from the state of Illinois.
"There's just a different feeling in our environment right now because we have received funding from the state," said Dr. Thomas.
That's easing some anxiety for students worried about the future.
"Western's never failed before," said Nicholas Ebelhack, a WIU Senior. "It certainly isn't failing anytime soon now that there's a budget in place."
As faculty and staffers pack Western Hall, Dr. Thomas gives a pre-class pep talk. It's cautious optimism that hits home for those in the audience.
"Students come first for us," said Christie Reynolds, a mental health counselor at WIU. "I think everybody has done a good job of coming together and staying positive through everything."
Still, the campus remains uneasy as it forges ahead. Dr. Thomas warns about embracing a new normal of long-term uncertainty.
"We made a lot of reductions, including layoffs, furloughs and all those kind of things, so that we can begin to rebuild," he said.
All seem to agree that it will take time to undo the state's struggles and move on with confidence.
"We see that our university has a good future," Dr. Thomas concluded. "We have a lot of things to accomplish."