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Updated: Moline mayor: Time has run out for Western Illinois University

Updated: Moline mayor: Time has run out for Western Illinois University

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Two weeks after officials in Moline disclosed they have been in talks with state universities that might perform better on the riverfront than Western Illinois University, the mayor now says WIU's time is up.

In a written statement, Mayor Stephanie Acri said she met Tuesday with Western's new president, Guiyou Huang, who asked for more time to "make things right with Moline."

Acri listed examples of growth opportunities that WIU has not acted upon and said the university has broken promises they made that were geared toward growth, including failing to make investments in the riverfront campus.

"I informed the president that Moline could not afford any more time to wait," Acri wrote. "As Moline looks to recover from the global pandemic's devastating economic impact and prepare for development following completion of the I-74 Bridge project, we can't be led down a path of broken promises for one more day."

Among the disappointments by WIU, Acri said, are the promises made to achieve a Quad-Cities campus enrollment of 3,000 students. It has enrolled only 168 students ("with just four freshmen") for the spring semester.

Guiyou Huang, Western Illinois University's new president introduces himself. He starts in January.

Darcie Shinberger, executive director of university communications for WIU, emailed a statement Wednesday in response to Acri's announcement. She did not address any of the mayor's specific concerns, including enrollment, nor did she acknowledge the possibility another university could fly its flag on the riverfront. 

"Under the direction of WIU's 12th president, Guiyou Huang, and university leadership, Western Illinois University-Quad-Cities remains future-focused and committed to the regions we serve," she wrote. "WIU will continue to serve students in the Quad-Cities region, continue vital community-outreach initiatives and further strengthen the University's partnerships with Quad-Cities area leaders, businesses, organizations and area schools."

Acri first publicly revealed her concerns with WIU in a letter to Huang on Feb. 16, which was posted to social media. Huang's appointment was announced last fall, and he took over the office of president in January.

The mayor was responding to Huang's letter to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in which he said he'd been made aware of discussions in the city about possibly transferring the riverfront campus to another public university.

Acri wrote that she already had made Huang aware of her concerns and those of others that some WIU decisions have "hurt Moline's economy."

The next day, Quad Cities Chamber president and CEO Paul Rumler acknowledged that he has spoken with other state universities about the possibility of bringing their four-year programs to Moline.

Asked Wednesday why neither official disclosed the ongoing problems to the public until two weeks ago, Acri declined to comment.

"At this time, I don’t have anything to add beyond the statement I issued," she wrote.

Rumler referred to the timing of the public disclosure as "a normal progression," saying WIU's issues have been "well covered in recent years."

He wrote: "I expressed concerns privately to university and state officials to drive improvements. I respect our relationships, and I wanted to give them a chance to consider the feedback and respond accordingly. This is very much an ongoing discussion."

No one has supplied details, yet, regarding the process that would be required to bring a different university to Moline or who has the authority to broker such an arrangement.

"Illinois’ public universities frequently engage in discussions about joint programs and collaborations, and the state supports those institutions exploring new and innovative ways to best serve the students of Illinois in every region of our state," wrote Jordan Abudayyeh, press secretary for Pritzker.

In the mayor's statement that followed her meeting with Huang, Acri also revealed that the university "rejected" a gift from the Robert E. Bartlett Family Foundation to build a performing arts center on the riverfront campus. The Bartlett money instead went to Moline High School, which completed construction on the $12 million center two years ago.

Shinberger, the Western spokesperson, declined to say Wednesday why the university took a pass.

Acri also reiterated what she previously referred to as Western's disappointing lack of engagement and marketing for a student-housing component that was built to help increase enrollment. The housing development has since been redesigned to attract a non-student population.

Neither Acri nor Rumler has said what other universities may be in the running.

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