Column: Spring 2018, A defining point in SIUC history

By Sam Beard

To all returning students, staff and faculty: Welcome back!

I hope y’all had some time to gather your bearings over break and prepare yourself for the new semester.

The fall semester was certainly an interesting one, and I don’t expect that to change this spring.


This week’s column will serve as a recap of the defining element of the unprecedented attempt by Chancellor Montemagno’s to completely reorganize the structure of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Last fall, Montemagno unveiled a grand scheme to dissolve every single academic department on campus, nix the important position of “department chair” and consolidate the now ex-departments into “schools”.

The original reasons offered by the chancellor’s office for the restructuring were savings on administrative costs, boosting enrollment and promoting “synergy” on campus.

However, it seemed a little disingenuous to some for the top-paid campus administrator to be publicly lamenting over administrative expenses. Montemango makes $340,000 a year as chancellor.

Further, the administration has provided zero evidence whatsoever that eliminating all academic departments will increase enrollment and retention at the university.

And finally, dissolving departments and lumping their remnants into various schools is certainly not the only way to promote interdisciplinary collaboration.

While a lot of academics keep to themselves and their research, from what I have gathered most are stoked about cross-disciplinary academic initiatives and would value a campus that facilitates such collaborations.


However, the creation of and investment in existing centers, research projects and clubs would arguably do much more to facilitate synergy then simply eliminating departments and expecting the rest to follow.

With unsatisfactory explanations like these, one might be wondering why getting rid of a departmental structure is even necessary.

Some have even explicitly said they could tolerate the proposed school-based structure as long as they can just keep the word “department” in their academic programs for networking, recruitment and aesthetic purposes.

But last December, the chancellor’s office revealed they would not allow academic programs to call themselves departments post-restructuring.

What is the reason for the administration’s insistence upon eliminating departments?

The answer is quite simple, really.

By eliminating every single department on campus, the Chancellor can juke around contractual obligations outlined in the faculty union’s contract with the SIU Board of Trustees — contractual obligations that are specifically written for a departmental structure.

In other words, the wholesale eradication of the word “department” across the campus allows the administration to restructure our school in virtually whatever fashion they please.

Additionally, eliminating the word department diminishes departmental self-determinacy.

As it stands, individual departments have control over their own “operating papers.” Which is academic jargon for all departmental matters pertaining to budgeting, new hires and control of tenure and curriculum (ie. everything important).

Decision-making power over these matters will be taken away from individual academic programs and be awarded to the schools in which they are housed.

This is where some of the worry comes in.

Small programs will no longer have final say in the aforementioned matters because instead of being decided on by the individual departments operating papers — which exclusively pertain to a specific program — would now be voted on by the larger school, which is composed of several to many programs.

The proposed School of Biological Sciences, for example, would house 10 different degree programs that now vote on each other’s affairs.

In the nearly 40 letters that I have received on this matter from students, faculty, alumni and others, most are against the restructuring.

Yes, a significant number are in favor of it. But most of those go something along the lines of “we need to do something,” “we hired Montemagno, so let him do his job,” or “change is necessary for the survival of SIU.”

However, shooting yourself in the foot is a type of change.

The proposed restructuring would disempower departments and further centralize power at SIU.

We all agree that this country desperately needs a fresh take on higher education. But academically speaking, this reorganization makes no sense.

The whole matter is very complicated along legal and contractual lines. But as is now best understood, most of the restructuring will be formally dealt with in a piecemeal fashion, and everything will have to be approved of by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

If the unions and voting bodies on campus continue to vote against it, the administration must then make the case to the IBHE about why these campus constituencies are wrong about the merits of the chancellor’s reorganization and attempt to sway the IBHE into approving the changes. 

The chancellor’s office is, on their own terms, trying to move SIU into uncharted waters.

All in all, a lot is up in the air and even more is up for grabs. The administration knows it, the unions know it and now you know it too.

Stay informed about developments in the proposed restructuring and involve yourself with it in any way that you find appropriate.

This semester will define the fate of Southern Illinois University, and hence the entire city of Carbondale.

By whom will the future be written?

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 will be posted next week.