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Forum gives SIU community chance to voice concerns about Montemagno’s academic shake up

Daniel+Drummer%2C+a+sophomore+from+Chicago+studying+hospitality+and+tourism+administration%2C+expresses+his+concerns+regarding+Montemagno%27s+Reorganization+Plan+Wednesday%2C+Oct.+25%2C+2017%2C+during+an+open+forum+at+Parkinson+Hall.+%22A+school+where+you%27re+bringing+in+a+police+academy+but+not+putting+as+much+focus+on+Africana+studies+is+only+perpetuating+that+we%27re+fighting+against%2C%22+Drummer+said.+%28Cory+Ray+%7C+%40CoryRay_DE%29+
Daniel Drummer, a sophomore from Chicago studying hospitality and tourism administration, expresses his concerns regarding Montemagno's Reorganization Plan Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, during an open forum at Parkinson Hall.

Daniel Drummer, a sophomore from Chicago studying hospitality and tourism administration, expresses his concerns regarding Montemagno's Reorganization Plan Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, during an open forum at Parkinson Hall. "A school where you're bringing in a police academy but not putting as much focus on Africana studies is only perpetuating that we're fighting against," Drummer said. (Cory Ray | @CoryRay_DE)

Daniel Drummer, a sophomore from Chicago studying hospitality and tourism administration, expresses his concerns regarding Montemagno's Reorganization Plan Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, during an open forum at Parkinson Hall. "A school where you're bringing in a police academy but not putting as much focus on Africana studies is only perpetuating that we're fighting against," Drummer said. (Cory Ray | @CoryRay_DE)

By Marnie Leonard

During a public forum on campus Wednesday, members of the SIU community discussed their concerns about the chancellor’s plan to reorganize academic units and ways to take action in response to it.

Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s restructuring involves reducing colleges on campus from eight to five and getting rid of academic departments in favor of placing programs under schools.

The forum was hosted by the Faculty Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Council and consisted of three panelist presentations followed by a question-and-answer session.

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Presentations were given by FA President David Johnson, GPSC President Johnathan Flowers and Student Trustee Sam Beard.

Comments during the Q&A portion were largely in opposition to the chancellor’s plan.

Political science professor Virginia Tilley said the most worrying aspect of the reorganization is the elimination of departments.

“One of the things a university does with great pride is develop a department,” Tilley said. “To say we’re getting rid of departments … it says we can’t sustain our departments. That’s what it will be read as around the country.”

Without departments, Tilley said it will be extremely difficult to recruit good students and faculty members.

“I would not have come to any place with a program; I came here for a respected department,” Tilley said. “I imagine half the faculty are checking their job search engines right now.”

Because Montemagno’s plan gets rid of departments, it also eliminates department chair positions. During a speech on campus last week, the chancellor said doing so will free faculty from “bureaucratic obstructions” and allow more creativity in curriculum.

Some at the forum disagreed, including Nathan Stucky, the chair of the communication studies department.

“I’ve had faculty come to me and say, ‘We really appreciate that you handle the administrative tasks that you do,’” Stucky said. “It saves faculty to do the things they need to do, which is teaching, research and working with students.”

Africana studies professor Joseph Brown said the chancellor’s priorities should instead be supporting and retaining students, especially marginalized students.

“What’s causing this [enrollment] decline is the word of mouth that you come here and you don’t graduate,” Brown said. “Why should I go some place my cousin failed out of?”

Asked if Montemagno could make these changes despite the opposition to them, Flowers said it isn’t totally clear.

Because the Board of Trustees approved the Financial Sustainability Plan in July — which included a $26 million dollar budget cut and the elimination of seven programs — Flowers said if Montemagno can justify his restructuring based on that plan, he may not need further board approval.

Johnson said the FA contract guarantees faculty the right to vote on all program and unit changes.

Though the votes are advisory and Johnson said the Board of Trustees ultimately does have the final say, if the majority of faculty and students are against the plan it would take a “political decision” for the board to still approve it, he said.

Flowers detailed the ways in which the restructuring could affect graduate students during his presentation.

He said Montemagno’s new programmatic structure could eliminate some undergraduate majors or reduce them to minors, citing Africana studies, business economics and all majors in the bachelor’s of fine arts degree except industrial design as examples.

“If an undergraduate major is gone, chances are the graduate program will follow suit,” Flowers said. “Undergraduate programs help defray some of the costs of graduate programs, and without an undergraduate major it’s difficult to maintain a graduate major.”

Montemagno’s plan has worked at small institutions focused on science, technology, engineering and math, Flowers said, but there is not much precedent for applying it to larger, humanities-centered universities.

Though most who spoke during the meeting were against the current proposed restructuring, some said Montemagno’s ideas are needed.  

Sarah Lewison, a professor in radio, television and digital media, said “outsiders” like the chancellor are a welcome change.

“I don’t think we’re 100 percent doing great on student welfare the way we are,” Lewison said. “I welcome a change, I welcome ways to do it better.”

During his presentation of the chancellor’s plan at the beginning of the forum, Johnson said “synergy” and collaboration — two things Montemagno says will come of his plan to reorganize units — are more attractive to and utilized by scientific programs than the humanities.

Lewison disagreed.

“In my own college, if I could be working next to my colleagues who have similar skills and some of my colleagues that are so far away on campus I see them once every two years, we could be doing amazing things,” she said.

At the end of the session, those in attendance tried to come up with next steps.

Beard proposed forming a counter-committee to draft alternative courses of action to the chancellor’s plan.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need to reimagine SIU,” Beard said. “But who gets to do this reimagining? Do the stakeholders get to decide what their school will look like? Or will the new executive get to do this envisioning for us?”

History professor Natasha Zaretsky encouraged everyone to put their names and emails on a sign-in sheet to receive word about plans to organize and respond to the chancellor’s plan further.

Johnson said any action taken needs to be collective.

“We have to give [Montemagno] credit, he is jump-starting the conversation,” Johnson said. “But what I’m afraid of is that he’s starting the conversation and trying to limit it at the same time. He’s trying to rush it, limit the questions we’re allowed to weigh in on … it’s too big for one person. It’s too big even for Carlo Montemagno, I think. But together I think we can do it.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Forum gives SIU community chance to voice concerns about Montemagno’s academic shake up”

  1. Bradley Skelcher on October 26th, 2017 9:45 am

    The problem with ending Black Studies as a major and beginning a police academy is where is the study that indicates there is a market of the latter. Also, I would like to know the level of support that the former has received in the form of funding.

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