Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Students feel “abandoned” by chancellor amid potential departure

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When Southern Illinois University senior Dylan Chambers heard the news about another SIU chancellor potentially leaving, he was taken aback. 

“It’s not the first time it’s happened and it probably won’t be the last either, but yeah, I would say [I was] shocked,” he said. “He’s done a lot for the university here so far, but whenever you’re kind of given an opportunity to throw your hat in a different spot, I would say it’s just kind of one of those things where you just see what happens. And if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, you just continue to go back to work.” 

Chambers is the president of the Dawg Pound, the student section and registered student organization that supports Saluki Athletics. While he said he would hate to see Chancellor Austin Lane go, he recognizes Lane has his own family to think about, and supports his decision either way. 

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“I’m curious, just like everybody else, but I’m also nervous for him just because he’s a great guy,” he said. “I’ve seen him as somebody that I would definitely look up to, and I’d hate to lose him, but if it means just trying to go somewhere for [his] family, by all means, you know?” 

David Milley, assistant director of the University Honors Program, has similar feelings.

“I was surprised because I thought Dr. Lane was providing some much needed campus leadership stability, implementing a long-term strategic plan to improve the university,” Milley wrote in an email. “We all have diverse approaches to professional development, so the position at New Mexico State may be advantageous to his desired professional journey.” 

Milley believes that continuity in leadership is “very important to effectively implement visionary ideas and thinking.” He also said Lane “connects well with students, intentionally being very accessible and available to talk, recognize and support them, in a variety of campus settings.”

After a nationwide search for a new president, New Mexico State University announced its five finalists on Friday, February 2, one of which was Lane. 

When asked to comment for this story, Lane referred to his earlier statement to the Daily Egyptian in which he said, ““Me and my team are laser focused on supporting students, faculty and staff. We have been making tremendous progress on our top five priorities in the Imagine 2030 strategic plan and will continue to do so. While I’m flattered that NMSU has recognized me as a finalist, it’s important to note that there are four others going through this process. Until then, I remained focused on our goals we set for this year.”

The Daily Egyptian surveyed 17 anonymous students and found that many feel betrayed by Lane and even worried for the future of the school.

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“I feel a sense of abandonment, as the chancellor was only appointed at SIU within the past couple of years,” one participant wrote. “It certainly seems to me like it’s only about the money, and not any sense of actual loyalty or care for the school or its students/staff.”

Another student wrote, “His [Imagine] 2030 plan has been really strong and really beneficial to the university as a whole – I’m just nervous that it will fall apart once he leaves.”

“I also know that this interview process with NMSU started back around November,” they continued. “He can say he’s keeping his focus here on campus all he wants, but it’s been a couple months that his attention and efforts have been divided. If he doesn’t get that job and he stays, people are going to be hesitant to trust him again. If he gets the job and he leaves, people will be mad that we’re getting our 9th chancellor in a decade.”

Chambers, however, expresses confidence in the school’s future. 

“I think if he were to leave, the Chancellor has a great leadership staff underneath him,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people will still [continue] to work on the plan. I don’t think everything’s just gonna stop and campus is just gonna go back to the way it started…During the next process, I feel like everything will stay the same and will still continue to grow and continue to work.” 

NMSU’s website says “hybrid listening sessions” were hosted throughout New Mexico last summer. The listening sessions, which “provided members of the NMSU community an opportunity to…share their thoughts about the qualities and experiences needed in the next president,” found that community members are looking for a president “who is a key part of [their] recruitment strategy.” 

Lane was appointed Chancellor of SIU on July 1, 2020. Approximately a year and a half later, he released a strategic plan titled “Imagine 2030.” 

In a 2022 article with The Southern Illinoisan, Lane said that the goal of the plan was to shift the culture of the school by recognizing–but not dwelling on–its past, and focusing on its future. 

“When you are imagining, you are being positive. When you are [imagining] you’re dreaming, you are not being negative. You’re not thinking of what you can’t achieve. In the heart of it, imagine is trying to show that we can start and go anywhere,” he said. 

Imagine 2030 contributed to his consideration for the presidential position at NMSU. The President Search Finalist page states that, since implementing this strategy, “Enrollment of new freshmen has grown significantly, even during the pandemic, and more students from the Southern Illinois region are choosing to earn their bachelor’s degrees close to home.” 

Imagine 2030 and the Saluki Step Ahead, which allows transfer students to complete their degrees online, are both initiatives of Lane’s that Chambers thinks should be highlighted. 

“Constantly watching enrollment grow since I’ve been here has been something that I feel that he’s worked really hard on, especially with the Saluki Step Ahead commitment and…junior colleges on signing those,” he said. “I think that is at least one thing that I would highlight about him so far, but then just his effort about putting students first I think has been another piece that stands out to me.”

Chambers encourages students to continue upholding the pillars of Imagine 2030, even if Lane were to leave. 

“I think just continuing to go to class and being students is one of the main things [we can do], but then [also] continuing to follow the pillars, especially with student engagement [and] getting involved,” he said. “…Like I said, I don’t know if just one person leaving is going to really impact it, but at the end of the day, I think we need to continue to still be students even [if] our Chancellor’s not here.” 

Elizabeth Donoghue, assistant director of the University honors program, said that faculty can contribute to maintaining stability and a sense of community by “continuing to offer quality educational experiences for students.” 

“I hope faculty leadership can play a role in highlighting what is needed and ways to achieve it as we move forward,” she said. 

She also sees this as a time to improve the school’s ambitions. 

“SIU is resilient,” she said. “While leadership is important I see it as a potential opportunity to take what is working from the vision and plans that have been put in place the last several years and reevaluate what we might need going forward with new leadership.” 

Julia Rendleman, a photojournalism professor at SIU, would not comment on Lane’s history  because she was hired fairly recently but rather mentioned that she hopes SIU will find a passionate candidate if Lane leaves. 

“I hope when Chancellor Lane finds his new position, SIU finds someone for the job who is deeply committed to SIU and will invest their time, energy and resources into our campus and our larger Carbondale community,” she said. 

At this time, the presidential search committee is not able to comment on individual candidates, Director of Communications & Media Relations at NMSU Amanda Bradford said. However, the charge the search committee was presented with from the Board of Regents states that “the Board is looking for individual who can steward the vision to move the institution forward while staying faithful to, and reinforcing, NMSU’s core strengths and values and who has the capacity, endurance and commitment to serve NMSU.”

 

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