Founders' Day at WIU: The Past, Present and Future

WIU President Jack Thomas gives his state of the university speech.

Hundreds of people made their way to Western Illinois University for the 19th annual Founders' Day celebrations Monday.

The school was founded in 1899, three years before it officially opened its classrooms to students.

Monday's ceremony at the Student Union welcomed WIU students, staff, alumni and state lawmakers.

The ceremony ended with a state of the university speech by WIU President Jack Thomas. His message focused on the school's history and the people who impacted the university during the last century.

"The history helps us appreciate where we are today and predict where we want to be in the future," Thomas said.

Thomas also spoke about projects he hopes to accomplish in the near future, including a new welcome center on the north side of town and a new competitive science complex for students.

A project sitting high on the to-do list at WIU is the construction of a performing arts center on campus. The university held a ground breaking ceremony back in April of last year, but not much else has happened since.

Budget Director Matt Bierman says the budget for the project just isn't there without state funding.

Just this year, the state cut $3.4 million from WIU's funding, which created an issue for operational costs.

"We continue to be very conservative during these tough times and plead with our legislators to make good decisions in funding our education going forward," Bierman said.

Meanwhile, the school will have to look elsewhere for capital improvement funding.

"Generally what happens when the state cuts us, is we put it on the backs of students. That's why you see tuition going up at a rate higher than inflation, because of the state's choices and how they're funding education in the state. At some point, that has to stop. We also have a crisis as to financial aid, because we raise tuition and they don't increase financial aid for students which makes it more difficult for students to come to college," Bierman said.

If WIU receives enough money to build the new performing arts center, the $68 million project will create about 400 construction jobs. The university initially expected it to open for concerts and performances by 2014, but that date is yet to be determined.