Daily Egyptian

Column: What about us?

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Sam Beard

By insisting on a top-down approach to restructuring the university, our newest manager’s reorganization strategy undermines what we do as academics by subverting collective inquiry and collaborative problem solving.

The restructuring of SIU must be done in a democratic fashion, on the terms of the actual stakeholders, not at the whims of one individual.

Yes, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno has so graciously allowed for email feedback on the plan, but he has made it pretty clear that departments and chairs are going bye-bye and the feedback will be considered if it is about the specific location of programs and things of that nature.

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None of us are against change.

As forward thinkers, many of us embrace it, but change must be done on our terms, since, well, we are the ones that make this university a university.

We all see obvious potential in encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration and synergy.

It should be stated, however, that cross-disciplinary intellectual pursuits are already happening at SIU in strategic, holistic approaches to discovery and knowledge creation.

The chancellor’s desire to see more of that is most certainly a welcome one.

But it’s a shame, because this whole campus reorganization thing could be really exciting. Instead, for a lot of us it is pretty scary.

Firstly, robust and distinct departments are so incredibly important for attracting quality faculty and graduate students and furthering disciplinary studies that the proposal to dissolve all of them has left many of us scratching our heads.

Well-defined and respected departments encourage inter-institutional knowledge sharing, providing networking opportunities for undergraduates and graduates alike.

Furthermore, individual departments are the bodies that secure much of  the outside funding for their fields of study and allocate those funds within their degree programs to ensure the prosperity of the entire department and all who reside within it.

To remove departments and consolidate into schools will open the door for an inequitable distribution of resources among the academic programs housed within them.

Departments will no longer have autonomy in decision making. That privilege will be passed upward to the heads of the individual schools, people who may fancy their discipline over others, purposefully or not.

Eliminating departments and chairs has a stated savings of $2.3 million (which is less than one percent of the $370 million 2018 operating budget).

I hate to call $2 million a drop in the bucket, but it is, comparatively, and is not an ample justification for this much academic disruption.

We have yet to be shown evidence that this move will boost enrollment. That is the priority, is it not?

Moreover, scrapping the department-based model that SIU (and nearly every other university) uses in the wake of highly publicized money troubles will lead the public to believe that we are in an uncontrollable crisis.

And a crisis it may be!

But a move like this will scream to high-school guidance councilors, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and anyone else keeping up with the universities of the Midwest that SIU is so screwed that they eliminated all of their departments just to save a buck.

The optics alone are a good enough reason to question this thing.

A true straw man proposal would not only be open to rigorous debate and critique, but if deemed necessary, it could be torn down in its entirety and something completely different could be put up in its place.

But, by snapping at those who question his master plan, the chancellor has shown himself to be unwilling to consider the notion that this restructuring strategy is not well thought out.

Not only this, but in his dramatic unveiling of the plan on Oct. 19 he said “[i]f we can get this done by April to demonstrate how we will generate savings, the budget will include salary increases.”

I am not entirely sure what to make of that, but it seems to speak for itself.

When we are in crisis; the powers that be use it as an opportunity to pass agendas that would otherwise be unpalatable and met with great resistance. We see this time and time again at the national level, but recently it has come to SIU.

The chancellor has said we must move quickly on this.

But a lot us feel like we need to move thoughtfully and in an informed manner, which could naturally put us past his hurried Nov. 6 deadline for accepting feedback.

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618)-453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays/Wednesdays: 11 a.m.-12:50 p.m., Thursdays: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., or by appointment.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Column: What about us?”

  1. Joe on November 1st, 2017 12:18 pm

    Thank you, Sam, for telling us what guidance counselors and prospective students will think based on assumptions you made from your 3 years of experience being an adult. The opinion page on this site is full of complaints about the way things are being run, but where are the columns giving solutions for fixing the university? I think if prospective students and parents decide to read the school newspaper, that could have a more profound negative effect than restructuring departments.

  2. Karen Sweiger-Veil on November 1st, 2017 1:21 pm

    Well said. There are so many details that have not been “ironed out” or addressed in the restructuring plan that could have catastrophic consequences due to the destruction of departments and department chairs.
    I assist a very hard-working chair who spends a good amount of time trouble-shooting, solving people problems, working with limited financial resources, and attempting to provide creative solutions to keep the department running as smoothly as possible all the while working within an impossible support system.
    How can we give our students the specific program support and guidance they need if we are floating around in a system that provides us with very little program identity? If programs are not allowed to have a centralized office and office staff for their program, how can we assist our faculty and graduate assistants with paperwork, university procedures, and deadlines in order for them to concentrate on their teaching and research and devote more time and energy to their students’ needs? Programs will become lost within the school system and special help might not be available for instructor needs. This could cause a great degree of unhappiness as faculty leave SIUC for a better working environment. Who will suffer then? We all will, but mostly our students.

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