The president of Western Illinois University has resigned after eight years in the role.
Jack Thomas, who has led the university based in Macomb and the Quad Cities since 2011, announced his decision to step down at a board of trustees meeting Friday and later issued a statement confirming his departure.
Thomas, 58, said he will leave office June 30. Trustees later said Thomas will go on administrative leave through June 30, 2021, during which Western will continue to pay him his base salary of $270,528.
Thomas' departure comes as trustees were scheduled to discuss a performance review and the terms of his contract. The board also was scheduled Friday to hire a new provost, Martin Abraham, who instead will serve as temporary president until trustees can appoint an interim leader.
Before becoming president, Thomas was provost and academic vice president from 2008 to 2011.
"At this pivotal time in our history, I believe the university would best be served by new leadership," Thomas said in the statement.
"It has been a privilege serving as president, provost, and as a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education during this historic period. Despite the difficulties our state has faced with regards to the budget and loss of population, our university remains resilient. We are a world-class university, and during my final days as president, I will work to ensure everything is in place for the new leadership to begin the next chapter in Western's history."
After his leave, Thomas will be able to join the faculty as a tenured distinguished service professor, effective July 1, 2021.
"President Thomas has been dedicated and committed to serving our students," board Chairman Greg Aguilar said in a statement. "He has mentored countless students and impacted tens of thousands of lives for the good. Again, we wish to thank President Thomas for the leadership he has provided."
As with many of the state's universities, Western has struggled in recent years with falling enrollment and financial problems that resulted in layoffs and furloughs of staff and faculty, falling credit ratings and elimination of programs.
From a high of 13,602 students in 2006, enrollment plummeted to 8,502 students last fall, a drop of more than 37 percent.
There also have been multiple rounds of layoffs, including in March, when 132 employees were let go.
Thomas said reduced state funding, the state's budget impasse, population declines in the region and increases in students leaving Illinois for college all have contributed to Western's woes.
"Without a doubt, I have had to make some difficult decisions -- including ones that have sometimes been very unpopular, but nevertheless were always made with the best interests of the overall University's future at heart," Thomas wrote.
Thomas' departure is the latest in major leadership shifts at the university. In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed an entirely new board, ushering in seven new trustees.
"The new board will focus its efforts on revitalizing WIU's student recruitment and outreach efforts, focusing investments on core programs, burnishing the university's reputation and brand throughout the state, and strengthening relationships with its surrounding communities," the governor said at the time.
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