Officers on the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees serve one-year terms that run in conjunction with the school’s fiscal year, which begins July 1. The same officers who served the past year were elected for another year, though the process of reappointing them demonstrated the deep divisions on the board.
Polly Radosh served as chairperson, Doug Shaw as vice chairperson, and Justin Brown as secretary for the year that began July 1, 2019.
The vote on a motion to reappoint that slate failed, 4-4. The balloting was done in secret so we don’t know for certain how individual board members voted.
Once the motion on reappointing the slate failed, the board agreed to vote on each position individually, leading to a lengthy deadlock over whether to reappoint Radosh or promote Shaw.
Trustees Greg Aguilar and Kisha Lang were the most vocal board members in opposing Radosh. Lang accused Radosh of failing to be inclusive.
“I think there were times that leadership was needed and it wasn’t there,” she said.
Lang also accused Radosh of sharing information with some board members in a timely fashion but failing to do that with others.
“I send a memo about every 10 to 14 days. I do text messages at the same time to all trustees so that no one has been left out of the communication chain,” she said.
She then engaged in this exchange with Lang:
- Radosh: I send the same memos to all trustees. You have indicated that you often don’t read them because you don’t like how long they are. I can’t make you read what I’ve sent.
- Lang: Don’t put information in my mouth. Please don’t do that.
- Radosh: I’m saying what you have said.
- Lang: No, don’t do that. Please don’t.
Radosh said prior to December she often called trustees but she could not always reach Lang.
- Radosh: It is true, sometimes you did not take my calls Kisha. That is true.
- Lang: Yeah, you’re right. And the other side of that is information that is given is not the same information because I clearly talked to some of the other trustees and they have way more information than I was given. So yeah, you’re right. I did stop taking your calls.
Aguilar — who served three months as the board’s chairperson before being replaced by Radosh – said he feels he’s not always listened to and he does not like the way business is being handled.
“We need inclusive leadership now more than ever. And to be excluded is very hurtful. But I’m still here and I’m still standing. And that’s why I want stronger, better leadership so that we can unite as a board,” he said.
Trustee Erik Dolieslager suggested everyone on the board strive to improve communication, which he called a two-way street.
“For those individuals that feel that they want to know more information, we’ve got to reach out and we’ve got to be asking those questions. For those individuals that think they should be sharing more information, then they need to step up and be sharing more information,” Dolieslager said.
But Aguilar had other complaints.
He said some board members were treated poorly during December’s closed door meeting on Western’s presidential search. He is upset that there is no recording of the meeting. He said now no one will know what happened.
Radosh said it is unclear whether the recording of that meeting was erased by human error or mechanical failure. She said the recording device has been replaced.
Aguilar also questioned whether there was an underlying reason why some board members supported Radosh, who is white, instead of Shaw, who is black.
“I’m just going to throw it out there. Are we afraid of leadership of color? Is that what it is? Because I feel that we never give that an opportunity,” Aguilar said.
That suggestion did not sit well with Trustee Patrick Twomey.
“If you were sitting at my family’s holiday dinners, you would see an extremely blended family. I take great offense to that question,” Twomey said.
And Radosh replied with a question of her own for Aguilar:
- Radosh: I’d like to ask: are you uncomfortable with women leadership?
- Aguilar: Not at all.
- Radosh: So then why are you trying to displace a woman leader?
- Aguilar: Because we haven’t experienced through the communities what we just experienced over the past 12 months of obvious acts of prejudice.
Aguilar then went on to criticize what he perceived as a lack of leadership from Radosh.
Twomey spoke in favor of retaining Radosh as chair, saying continuity is important as the university goes through the search for a new president and works on the Higher Learning Commission accreditation process.
And Trustee Carin Stutz praised Radosh, saying she’s given it her all.
“Polly, you have done a fantastic job as far as being dedicated to the university, answering our questions, and all of that,” Stutz said.
At one point, Radosh and Shaw were asked to explain why they would be the best chairperson.
Shaw said he would be transparent and would expect to be held accountable.
“When you’re making decisions on the fly, only time is going to tell whether that decision was the right decision to make or the wrong decision to make. But I’m always willing to walk you through the rationale and the logic that I used to make that decision,” Shaw said.
Shaw said the board will function more efficiently if members can get past their personal differences and focus on the issues.
Radosh said she has tried to heal some of the wounds on the board and would continue to do so in the coming year.
She said her top priority is to find a permanent president for Western. She said she has learned an immense amount during her 15 months on the board.
“And I will use what I have learned to improve for the next year and to move us forward to get to the end of the search and hopefully to have a permanent president in place,” she said.
Radosh also said she would help Western through the accreditation process. She said she has previous experience with the process.
The board broke for lunch after several deadlocked votes. When they returned, Radosh called for another vote. This time it came out 5-3 in favor of Radosh.
Board members then voted in favor of retaining Shaw as vice chairperson and Brown as secretary — the same slate proposed some two hours earlier.