MONTICELLO — After 30 years in a profession about which she is passionate, Parley Ann Boswell is counting the days until her May 31 retirement.
Unlike many in her shoes, however, the 63-year-old Monticello woman is not gleeful. She felt she had to leave her position as an English professor at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston because of the broken financial condition that Illinois is in.
She made her break in a “Dear John” letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner about a month ago that’s been published in at least three newspapers, including The News-Gazette on March 12.
“I’m breaking up with you. Because ours has been a committed relationship, you deserve to know why I’m breaking up with you,” began the open letter.
In it, she spelled out her three main reasons: a lack of mutual respect, a lack of communication and a difference in values.
The daughter of a state circuit judge, Boswell articulated plainly how she felt disrespected and alarmed when the governor called state workers “overpaid” and said “there’s a bunch of baloney going on.”
She wrote that she didn’t understand what he means by his oft-repeated phrases such as “structural reforms,” “layers of bureaucracy,” “collectivist economy” and “opportunity zones.”
“Because I’m a scholar, I’m too little and I don’t have any power, but I know how to study and began to study other governors who talk like he does,” she said.
What she realized was that she had more questions than answers for Rauner.
“What do you mean when you say ‘business-friendly?’ Is my work at a public university ‘business friendly?’ Who are ‘job creators?’ Am I a ‘job creator?'” she wrote.
Jim Thompson was governor when Boswell joined the EIU faculty in 1987. She said what she knows for certain is that previous administrations “did not portray state workers as villains” and “did not blame us when things went wrong.”
“I love my work and I love my students. I’m coming to terms with this. I think I made the right decision,” said Boswell, who is ready to pursue other work.
Although she’s heard nothing from Rauner or his office, Boswell said she’s had “almost all positive feedback” from folks thanking her for saying what they felt.
“I was angry,” she said of the thought process that brought her to publicly challenge the governor in her letter, first published online March 8 on Reboot Illinois.
A year earlier, a number of her junior and senior students had traveled to Springfield to participate in rallies to get legislators’ attention about the painful effects of not having a budget.
When they brought it up in class, “they were very worried and frustrated and angry. They didn’t understand and I certainly didn’t. A couple of them burst into tears and within 10 minutes we were all crying,” she said.
“This is unacceptable for the people who employ me to behave in such a way that this is happening to a public state university,” she said. “It horrified me.”
Worse, she feared that the uncertainty of continued funding for her and hundreds of other EIU employees would start to take a toll on her health.
“I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I couldn’t concentrate on my students. It was just too hard,” said Boswell, who’s grateful to be in a position to retire.
“Last year at Eastern was such a difficult year for us. We’ve had no funding in a year-and-a-half. They laid off 300 employees, some of them instructors,” she said. “We don’t even have garbage pickup in our offices or classrooms. We have communal places in the hall where they pick up every couple of days and the people doing it are working really hard. People are so good-natured about it.”
A prolific publisher of academic articles and books on film and American literature from colonial America through the early 19th century, Boswell said she had never written a letter to the editor before her “Dear Bruce” missive.
“My friends are all stunned because I love a low profile. I don’t want people to know what I’m thinking. But it was almost like auto-pilot,” she said of her cathartic letter. “I thought about it for months. I had written it in my head.”
Boswell said she fantasizes about sitting down over a sandwich with Rauner in her office in Coleman Hall.
“I will be happy to provide lunch, no baloney,” she wrote.
“I want to ask him questions about his approach, his strategies for being governor and the ideas behind what he said,” she said, adding, “I am a doctor of language. If I don’t understand, who does?”