Our Word: Finding the right shoe

By Gus Bode

As Chancellor Walter Wendler prepares to become a tenured professor in architecture, we’ll never know just how far he would have had to go to defend and keep momentum behind Southern at 150 and Saluki Way – the two plans which have, and will most likely continue, to define the future of SIUC.

The chances of either Southern at 150, which looks to turn SIUC into a top-75 public research institution, or Saluki Way, which plans for changes for athletic and academic buildings on the east side of campus, being scrapped are slim and none. Any ideas of these plans leaving the SIUC lexicon are just a tantalizing dream for the most hard-core opponents of Southern at 150 and Saluki Way.

One of the positives regarding Wendler’s demotion will be the move to re-discuss the components of the plans, which is needed to make sure it truly relates to the university community. What has formed into a rigid and tension-filled back-and-forth under Wendler has a chance to become fluid and better-suited to SIUC under the leadership of soon-to-be Interim Chancellor John Dunn and the eventual permanent replacement.


The search for a permanent chancellor is in the early stages, but this question needs to be prominent in the committee’s thought process: How well-suited will this person be to take on the twin plans? Or better yet, how well-suited are the plans to this future chancellor?

We know from Wendler how proactive a chancellor can be in shaping a university’s direction. Southern at 150 was introduced less than five months after Wendler took office. Of course, Wendler had a little inspiration from his previous job, and it’ll be no surprise to see the next chancellor take on traits from his or her previous work and try to apply them here.

But is it fair to force the next chancellor, who will probably be expected to be an educator of some esteem with a distinguished record, to take on a far-reaching plan like Southern at 150 as if it were his or her own? What’s the chance that someone such as that would abandon what he or she knows to accommodate SIUC’s grand scheme? Isn’t that similar to making a new professor use the previous instructor’s syllabus?

As for the schemes themselves, there has to be a closer look into what SIUC wants to accomplish by incorporating something like Southern at 150 into its agenda. SIUC shoots for the moon here, and all that means right now is there’s more time to think before hitting the ground. Instead of facing a hard splat, the people on the ground level – administrators, faculty leaders and students – need to start preparing a soft landing.

SIU president Glenn Poshard recently stood by the plans’ goals and objectives, saying they are excellent.

Sure, the guiding principles inside the plan itself are something to get behind. Inside Southern at 150, you hear it’s guided by a mission to “foster an intellectually challenging, yet supportive environment for students” and to “rigorously assess programs,” among other things.

But so much of Southern at 150’s success hinders on our so-called “peer institutions” and our “aspirational peer institutions.” Numbers reign supreme in these comparisons, and in many ways, we come up short.


Everyone who is affected by Southern at 150 should take a look at the plan, which is available at www.siuc.edu. After this, look at the peer institutions, such as Auburn with its rising enrollment of 23,333 and its ranking of 38 in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of the top 50 public universities. Look at another “peer” in Iowa State, with its enrollment of 26,000 and yearly revenue of $828 million.

Look at the aspriational peers such as the University of Missouri, with its 265 degree-granting programs. SIUC’s 175 lacks in comparison. These are the schools SIUC wants to be like, but it will be hard to catch up by 2019 as they execute their own plans.

What does it mean to stand up statistically against these schools? Will SIUC actually benefit from this, or will it keep having to chase unreachable standards and losing its core mission and even more students in the process?