Daily Egyptian

Column: Towards horizontal governance of the academy

By Sam Beard

The following is a composition of my own ideas as well as those awarded to me by some of my brightest peers and constituents:

Southern Illinois University Carbondale is too unstable of an institution to undergo such a seismic shake-up as is insisted upon by the newest administrator.

As of now, the Faculty Senate and the Graduate and Professional Student Council have formally disavowed Chancellor Montemagno’s quest to eliminate every single department on campus and a representative of the Faculty Association has stated they want full partnership in shaping the future course of the university.

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In the name of shared governance and all that is holy, these constituency groups must be listened to.

If their desires are disregarded and the restructuring continues to be imposed as such, we may have an even bigger problem on our hands than freefall enrollment.

Because unless students, staff and faculty trust in and embrace the reorganization strategy it is destined to fail and take the school with it.

It has become strikingly clear that although they are ready for change, many students and faculty are beyond skeptical of the chancellor’s reorganization strategy.

How can an unprecedented restructuring of the university possibly be expected to succeed if a huge portion of the people it will directly affect insist it is a terrible idea?

I don’t speak for all of those against the proposal, but I do know that most of us agree we cannot just say “no, no, no” but that we need to produce ideas of our own, a counterproposal, if you will.

That is why we have formed the Coordinating Committee for Change — a coalition of sorts — composed of various students and faculty with visionary ideas for what could actually save SIU from spiraling into obscurity.

Working groups have formed, each self-tasked with a different aspect of researching, composing and distributing a counterproposal, or perhaps several.

The grassroots nature of such a model can be juxtaposed to the chancellor’s corporatized top-down approach.
If you have an interest in joining the committee please email me and I will point you in the right direction.

Many people have their own ideas of what “shared governance” is, especially in institutions of higher education. But it most certainly is not just a matter of trusting our administrators to do whatever it is that they think is best.

According to my own observations, my fellow members on the SIU Board of Trustees earnestly act in good faith, doing what they feel is in the best interests of the university system.

That being said, we don’t necessarily know what that is.

Which is why listening to and acting on behalf of the desires of our constituents, whether that be students, staff or faculty, is strategically and ethically imperative.

The reason being is that those are the people who really know SIU inside and out.

It is no overstatement to say that the entire reason this institution exists is to serve the interests of the students.

By the same token, faculty members like researchers, lecturers and professors hold the most important role at SIU because they are the ones responsible with sculpting the minds of said students. For that reason they should, in a sense, be at the top of the chain of command.

As such, administrators, myself included, should acknowledge our role is really a subordinate and supplemental position when compared to professorship.

Therefore, it is our moral duty to provide them with the environment most conducive for facilitating the transfer of knowledge from themselves to the students.

Once again, the teachers are the ones who possess the insight as to what that environment ought to look like.

I have heard over and over again that this whole top-down management thing has proven itself to not work at the Carbondale campus and many other institutions of higher education for that matter.

There is an irrefutable need for democratic decision making within the structures of academia. After all, researchers, thinkers and scholars are the backbone of institutionalized intellectual activity.

As I predicted in my last column, Inside Higher Ed — a nationally distributed publication — got ahold of the newest controversy at SIU and published a piece that was rather critical of the proposed restructuring last week.

Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors, was quoted in the aforementioned article saying “[g]etting feedback on a fully worked-out plan that has serious academic implications is not shared governance.”

Shared governance of SIU, to me, is a situation in which the stakeholders (ie. the students, staff and faculty) get to decide what their university would look like and the administration does what they can to make that dream a reality. Not vice versa.

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: Towards horizontal governance of the academy”

  1. Thomas Barrett on November 29th, 2017 10:45 am

    Why has no one come up with a solution before now? You wait till a plan is put forth and then complain. Not good strategy on your part. If you knew how to organize and fix this school you would have been hired as chancellor. The school is not a democracy, it needs to be operated like a business and liberal students and faculty are not famous for having those skills. Get your plan together ASAP if you want any credibility and we will know for sure who needs to be in charge. My money is on the Chancellor.

  2. Bradley Skelcher on November 29th, 2017 11:10 am

    This reorganization plan resembles some private for profit schools and community colleges that primary responsibilities are to teach and not to have research and service as core to their missions in addition. As an alumnus, I am opposed to this experiment in a time of stress. This appears to be forces upon the faculty, staff, and students without appropriate discussion and collaboration. This does not appear to follow shared governance.

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