First open forum sets tone for chancellor search


By Luke Nozicka, @lukenozicka

The first of four open forum interviews for the chancellor vacancy began Tuesday morning with Susan Ford, the campus’ interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

While six people representing different constituent groups on campus asked questions, Ford, who has worked at SIU for more than 35 years, explained why she should become the Carbondale campus’ next chancellor.

An administrator and anthropologist committed to graduate studies


Ford, the only internal finalist for the position, spoke significantly about working with all the campus’ constituents to make financial decisions regarding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget, which she said would cause dramatic changes to SIU. She said she has thought about the campus’ budgetary issues a lot, and agrees with President Randy Dunn’s plan to not make cuts across the board. 

She said administration has made cuts like that year after year, thinking the next year would be better.

“I heard one person talk about it as death by a million cuts. At some point, you stop cutting fat and you start to cut meat,” Ford said to the crowd in Guyon Auditorium. “Consider what is the core. This is what the president has been talking about, and I think this is what we need to do.”

Ford said the university has to honestly confront the issues facing it, which can only be done if everyone is involved. 

“I study dead monkeys. … If you ask me to describe and draw what the ankle bones of what all those New World monkeys look like, I could do it,” she said. “If you ask me to come up with the perfect plan to solve the economic problem of higher education in the United States, I don’t think I could do that. … But I do think that I may be able to get all of us really smart people on this campus to work together… to find solutions that will work for us.”

Ford, who was appointed interim dean of the Graduate School in December 2012, spoke highly of working with graduate students. She received an award from the Graduate and Professional Student Council because of her work with the Graduate Council.

“I’m particularly cognizant of… the graduate students in terms of union issues and student work situations,” she said. “I was also very aware that when students decide to walk across campus to talk to a complete stranger about a problem that they’re having… there must be something seriously wrong there, because that’s a pretty big step for a student to take.”


Ford, who has received a teacher of the year award three times by the College of Liberal Arts, said she first became interested in studying New World monkeys after an adviser at the University of Pittsburgh — where she received her doctorate in 1980 — said she should do her first paper as a graduate student about them. That paper is still her most widely cited one, she said. 

“From that day forward, I have spent my life committed to studying the primates that live in South America, because they are such a fascinating and diverse group,” she said. “One of the biggest lessons that [my adviser] taught me was not to be afraid to climb out on a limb. … It taught me to be a risk-taker.”

Daughter, wife, mother and Saluki family 

During her 15-minute introduction on Tuesday, Ford was personal with the crowd, showing pictures of her family and talking about her childhood.

“On my mother’s side of the family, I’m not only a first-generation college student, I’m a first-generation high school graduate,” said Ford, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Roanoke College in Salem, Va. “My mother had to drop out of high school because it was the Depression and her father died.”

She said when she began college, she had a love for medieval studies, but decided there was not much of a future in it. 

“I talk about this to let you know that I do have a background love of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences,” Ford said. “I was your true exploratory student.” 

Ford, whose two children graduated from SIU, said she has a Saluki family. Her husband, who has two degrees from SIU, worked as acting director of information technology for five years, she said.

Growing up, Ford was interested in music, theatre, French and math, something she described as an odd mix. 

“For those musicians in the room, I want you to notice how great my hand positions are in this particular photograph,” she said about an image on the screen.

Ford said she spent her summers volunteering at a hospital and a reading program for inner-city youth, and worked at a camp for children with disabilities.

“It really exposed me to the fact that everybody is alike on the inside,” she said. “Everybody has the same hopes. We just come into life with more or fewer advantages behind us.” 

Ford said her biggest influencers are her parents. She said her 93-year-old father, who gave her interviewing tips on Sunday, called her every day leading up to the submission of her application for the chancellor position. 

“I had been looking forward to retiring largely to spend more time with him,” she said. “He called me every day, ‘Have you sent it in yet? You need to do this. Get it done, Susan.'”

Luke Nozicka can be reached at [email protected]