Too much fat on top

By Gus Bode

In a recent e-mail message from Chancellor Wendler to faculty and staff, he says, “Faculty members are the heart of the University. They are the center of all that we are.”

Looking at the SIUC financial data and my own recent physical examination, I was struck by the similarities between how our bodies and our University work. A healthy body needs to have healthy organ systems without the strain of excess fat. A healthy university requires all units to work properly and to be properly proportioned so that no unit is carrying excess weight. If you put on too much fat in one area, other parts, say, your heart, will suffer the consequences.

This is what has happened at SIUC. Based on Fact Online in SIU’s Intra-Active web page, there has been a 12 percent decline in enrollment between 1992 and 2001. During the same period, the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty has been reduced by more than 12 percent, while the number in higher administration has increased by almost 10 percent. In other words, too much fat has accumulated in one area of the University while other parts are being starved.


However, the administration claims that there is no food available to have a healthy body because of the state budget situation. So let us take a closer look at the state budget crisis and how it actually affects SIUC as a whole. Based on the numbers provided by the administration, SIUC will start the 2003 fiscal year with almost the same budget (state appropriations and predicted income fund) as the 2002 fiscal year adjusted budget (reflecting the general revenue recision and the income fund shortfall). In other words, we have the same amount of calories available for our body this year as we had last year.

In fact, before the governor used his line item veto to cut another $5 million from SIUC, the state appropriations and predicted income fund for fiscal year 2003 totaled $242,455,300 (which is $4,946,300 more than the adjusted fiscal 2002 amount of $237,509,000). This indicates that the fiscal situation at SIUC is nowhere near as bad as the SIUC administrators want us to believe. In medical terms, this means we don’t have to starve.

Therefore, it does not make sense to continue to create, redefine or fill highly paid administrative positions (put more fat where it is not needed) while planning to lay off SIUC employees and to reduce faculty by leaving vacated positions unfilled (weaken the body), as President James Walker and Chancellor Wendler have indicated in their recent remarks. This only devalues the worth of the education for which students will be charged 18 percent more.

The academic units have already suffered enough from the recision and income fund shortfalls in the previous years (we are down to skin and bone). There doesn’t seem to be any justification for further reducing their budgets and continuing to weaken the academic mission of our University. The administration needs to get its spending priorities straight. Illinois Board of Higher Education normative studies show that we spend more on administration and less on academic units than similar institutions in Illinois.

The budget for academic units (departments and colleges) at SIUC for fiscal year 2001 have been almost $7.5 million less than what it should have been based on IBHE’s Credit Hour Normative Cost Studies while the units beyond colleges (not including the Operations and Maintenance) have been enjoying an extra budget of $8.3 million. It doesn’t take a board-certified cardiologist to tell you that too much fat clogging your arteries will lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Finally, a few words about the contract negotiations. The bargaining sessions have not produced any tentative agreement on any issues of interest to both parties. In addition, no specific proposals regarding the salary or benefits for the current fiscal year and beyond have been presented by either side. We were, and still are, hopeful that an agreement could be reached before the beginning of the fall semester. This could provide the stability that is necessary to help all parties (students, faculty, staff and administration) to plan their next academic year.