Student leaders say chancellor isn’t open to input, particularly from women and minorities


Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz

Southern Illinois University Chancellor Carlo Montemagno gives the “State of the University” speech Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Shryock Auditorium. Montemagno spoke on his vision for the university and the steps administration plans to take to increase enrollment numbers. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Marnie Leonard

Since Chancellor Carlo Montemagno unveiled his plan to reorganize SIU’s academic units in September, some student leaders say he has not been receptive to their input — particularly input from women and minority students.

Johnathan Flowers, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, said the way the chancellor responded to students during an open forum Oct. 19 and the way he has seen Montemagno interact with women during meetings makes it clear the chancellor behaves “in a way that at best is disrespectful and at worst openly hostile toward marginalized members of our SIU community.”

“I am deeply disturbed by the level of disrespect and contempt that he engaged with these members of the university community,” Flowers said. “It’s not too much of a stretch to say that a chancellor that engages contemptuously with marginalized members of the university community … does not bode well for creating the kind of inclusive climate the chancellor claims to value.”


Despite many attempts, Flowers said graduate students have been unable to get Montemagno to attend a GPSC meeting to discuss their concerns about his plan, with the chancellor telling them their concerns could instead be addressed during the question-and-answer portion of the open forum.

“He’s making himself available in very specific and limited ways,” Flowers said, citing meetings Montemagno has had with Undergraduate Student Government president Joshua Bowens and presidents of Greek organizations on campus.

University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said via email the chancellor “values and respects the opinions of all who are invested in the university, especially students.”

GPSC’s request for a meeting was turned down in favor of the campus-wide forum because the chancellor’s schedule is “extremely challenging,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said Montemagno meets regularly with students for lunch in residence halls and other locations, and has bi-monthly meetings with constituency heads, including student government leaders.

Montemagno has set up a meeting with faculty after students came to him concerned about the possibility of eliminating the Africana studies major, she said. Because of those concerns, Goldsmith said the chancellor has delayed any decisions about Africana studies for a year to allow for more input.

Flowers said Montemagno’s informal lunches with students should not be substitutes for public student forums.

“If you can claim to meet with students and do so in a way that is shielded from public view, you can make particular claims about the needs of students without having a consensus from the student body,” Flowers said. “This, to me, presents a very narrow view on communication with students … and represents a very selective engagement with the student population.”


Lauran Schaefer, a GPSC representative on SIU’s Graduate Council and a graduate student in communications studies, echoed Flowers’ frustration at being unable to get Montemagno to attend a GPSC meeting.

She said during public forums the chancellor tends to call on faculty members over students.

“Even in the spaces that we do have access, we are denied,” Schaefer said. “The students who show up are predominantly African American and a lot of women, and it seems to me that the denial of questions from them is also indicative of the lack of cultural competence that he claims to care about at this university.”

During meetings in which student representatives are present, Schaefer said the chancellor often seems dismissive of their concerns.

During the Oct. 19 open forum, Schaefer asked Montemagno to provide evidence that his reorganization would attract more students. Montemagno responded by asking her what proof she had that it wouldn’t attract more students.

“It’s very dismissive but also, to me, it’s a very paternalistic thing,” Schaefer said. “It’s like, ‘If you don’t have something to offer, don’t speak, or ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t speak.’”

Schaefer said the problem is systemic, which is why Montemagno thinks he can “gets away with it.”

“The system as a whole is unwilling to make changes to the ways in which they treat what they refer to as ‘diverse bodies,’” Schaefer said.

Though she said she isn’t sure why Montemagno would be less open to student input, she said it could be that faculty are more likely than students to move to a different university because they don’t like the reorganization.

“He needs to acquiesce to faculty more than he does to students,” Schaefer said.

The chancellor could also be more willing to meet with undergraduates because he senses graduate students will ask harder questions, she said.

“He doesn’t appreciate criticism,” Schaefer said. “The graduate students haven’t been given answers, and we have no idea what’s happening. We’ve proven we’ll push back.”

Brandon Kyles, a senior studying journalism from Chicago and the coordinator of Registered Student Organization affairs for Black Affairs Council, said the chancellor’s behavior is a “spit in the face” to students.

“I think he understands that students might not have the best feelings toward his changes, and so he won’t publicly talk to students, go on camera,” Kyles said. “I do not believe that the chancellor is actively trying to hear student opinion.”

The chancellor urged the campus community during his open forum to submit input regarding his academic reorganization via Kyles said that isn’t enough.

“Setting up a website doesn’t do anything,” Kyles said. “Plus, the fact that he had this open forum at 2 o’clock is ridiculous. We all know many students are in class at this time. I was fortunate enough to be excused from my professor.”

Kyles, who is also a USG senator and a member of the Diversity Council, said he, too, has seen the chancellor behave in “disrespectful” ways toward women and minorities in various campus settings.

During the open forum, Kyles said he intended to ask the chancellor how he plans on making cultural competency a central focus in SIU’s curriculum.

However, despite his hand being up for the majority of the Q&A session, Kyles said he was never called on and he had to seek Montemagno out afterward to ask his question.

Kyles said during the forum when Montemagno talked about turning majors like Africana studies into minors, the chancellor showed a disregard for the things minority students want on campus.  

“That, plus the way he interacted with women, the way he interacted with students of color who had genuine concerns about this institution, was problematic,” Kyles said. “There is no way I can dance around that.”

Students at SIU are “tired” of not having a say in their educations, Kyles said.

“I’m tired of students not being able to know or actively have a hand in the changes of this institution, and so are other students,” Kyles said. “That tiredness is what the chancellor is getting.”  

Student Trustee Sam Beard, a senior from Naperville studying philosophy, said it’s apparent from Montemagno’s reactions to student and faculty input that “challenges to the legitimacy of the [reorganization] plan won’t be taken seriously.”

“The frustration I’ve been hearing from students is people feel as if this has been kind of decided behind closed doors and imposed on the campus community,” Beard said. “This is opposed to a more horizontal planning committee about what students and faculty feel would address their needs.”

Though other campus administrators have been better about meeting with students — including Associate Provosts Lizette Chevalier and David DiLalla and interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Stettler — Flowers said Montemagno, as the top campus administrator, needs to lead by example.

“This is not a popular thing to say about an incoming chancellor, but I would be remiss in my duty if I did not make clear the way I find it unbecoming of the chief executive of the campus, particularly if he is presenting inclusion as one of the core values of the institution,” Flowers said.

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

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