Colwell to interview Tuesday on campus for permanent chancellor spot


Daily Egyptian file photo

By Luke Nozicka

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell will interview on campus Tuesday in the hopes of claiming the university’s permanent chancellor position.

Colwell, who began his two-year interim term Oct. 1, 2015, will interview at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday in Guyon Auditorium. The candidate will then answer questions at a student-led forum from 5 to 6 p.m. the same day in the Student Services Building room 150/160. The events are open to the public.

During his nearly 19 months as chancellor, Colwell has led the campus during one of the most financially strained times in its history. After SIU President Randy Dunn in March announced a proposal to cut at least $30 million in spending from SIUC, Colwell released a statement detailing how the campus will make the reductions. The changes, he said, will be “challenging and painful” and “almost certainly include layoffs.”


Illinois public universities have received no appropriation outside of stop-gap funding during the state’s budget impasse, now in its 22nd month, between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and a Democratic-controlled assembly. Since the impasse began, the Carbondale campus has reduced $21 million of its approximately $450 million operating budget. That money was saved by making smaller adjustments, such as reducing positions, not undertaking projects, closing grants and not filling vacancies.

Colwell has spent a majority of his time in the public eye addressing the university’s financial woes and enrollment problems. During his State of the University address in September, Colwell called disinvestment from the state and enrollment management the university’s two primary concerns.

At the address, Colwell also talked about shedding some of the university’s underutilized programs.

“Frankly, if we do not do it ourselves, it will be done for us by the Illinois Board of Higher Education,” he said.

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell talks about tuition increases at the SIU Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in the Meridian Ballroom at SIU-Edwardsville. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Enrollment at the university’s largest campus fell by 1,305 students, or 7.6 percent, from fall 2015 to fall 2016. The last time the university had fewer students enrolled was in 1964.

The chancellor has said the campus is taking efforts to recruit more students. During a January forum at the Civic Center, Colwell said this school year is the first time in the last three the admissions office has been fully staffed. He said recruitment visits to high schools across the state have been increased as well.

“It’s easy to dwell on the negatives,” he said at the forum. “We need cheerleaders to promote the campus and the good things happening in this community.”


Under Colwell’s leadership, the campus is moving forward with a $257 million housing project that would tear down the East Campus fixtures known as “the towers” and replace them with low-rise dormitories. University officials have said this will help recruit students and make them feel less anonymous than they might in the three high-rises, which have the capacity to house 50 students on each of their 17 floors.

If appointed to the permanent role, Colwell will likely manage a campus with fewer resources and services than it has now.

A non-instructional prioritization committee appointed by Colwell suggested cutting off 15 centers or initiatives from state funding if the university receives no state appropriations by the end of the fiscal year. Those include WSIU Public Broadcasting, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Economic and Regional Development. Directors at some of the centers have said the initiatives they oversee will close without that money.

Colwell has also spent his time in office addressing racial tensions on campus.

A year ago Tuesday, Colwell held a press conference to announce that university administrators worked with YouTube to take down a racist video calling for lynchings on campus. The chancellor’s announcement came about a week before the May 2 campus-wide protest against racism, student loan debt and other issues.

“As chancellor of this campus, I will pound on the table for the safety of our students,” he said. “But [the video] is tapping into the vein. … It is hitting a chord with certain students, so that’s why we have to have the dialogue.”

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell speaks to reporters April 25, 2016, in Anthony Hall about a racist video that was posted on YouTube calling for lynchings on campus. (Daily Egyptian file photo)

Student-led organizations — including the Graduate and Professional Student Council and the Black Affairs Council — later called on the administration to do more to combat racism on campus.

“When faced with the threat of lynching, email assurances and ‘listening sessions’ are not enough,” the Black Affairs Council wrote in a statement.

After President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration in January, Colwell said the campus would do everything legally possible to support its international students. While the university just weeks before announced it would not adopt a resolution to create sanctuary campuses for undocumented students, Dunn and Colwell were among 600 university leaders in the country to sign a petition advocating for the continuance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive order enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012 that gave temporary amnesty to those illegally brought into the U.S. as children.

Colwell began his career in higher education in 1996 as an assistant professor in SIUC’s department of education administration and higher education, with an office across the hall from Dunn.

From there, Colwell and Dunn collaborated on published works and public lectures concerning issues in university administration, education and law.

Before Colwell’s interim appointment, Dunn filled in as chancellor along with his regular duties as the university president for nearly a year following the November 2014 death of interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela.

Colwell did not apply during the national search for the position he holds. Rather, Dunn reached out to him personally within two weeks of announcing Colwell’s appointment. SIU’s president has said the campus was divided on the leading candidates, forcing him to find an alternative finalist.

Colwell makes $295,000 annually in the interim position. His employment contract guarantees a tenured position at the university after his interim role.

SIU President Randy Dunn speaks to interim Chancellor Brad Colwell on Thursday, April 6, 2017, during a recess of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Before joining SIU’s faculty, Colwell worked as an attorney in Monticello. He is a native of Bluford, a town of 700 residents nestled in the eastern ridge of Jefferson County. His family roots in the area span three generations.

In 2008, Colwell became associate dean of academic and student affairs in the university’s College of Education and Human Development. He left the same year to become the dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2010.

During Colwell’s time as dean at Bowling Green, freshman enrollment in his college increased by 14 percent for fall 2015. Freshman retention rose to 85 percent.  

Colwell received his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1990 from Anderson University, a Christian college located about 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis. He gained his first higher education leadership position there, serving as the student body president for two years.

Three years after finishing his undergraduate degree, Colwell earned a juris doctorate and a master’s degree in educational administration from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. During that time, Colwell met his wife, Mary, a native of Sullivan and a graduate of SIUC’s early childhood education program.

As a doctoral candidate, Colwell spent his days practicing education law as an attorney in Monticello and his nights studying to complete his Ph.D.

During an interview with the Daily Egyptian after his appointment in fall 2015, Colwell said he was focused on reminding southern Illinoisans of the nationally acclaimed research university in their backyard.

“I’m acutely aware that I’m interim — I get that — but I can’t let that deter us; we’ve got to turn things around and we can’t wait for two years,” he said.

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch contributed reporting.

Staff writer Luke Nozicka can be reached at 618-536-3325, [email protected] or on Twitter @lukenozicka.

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