Opinion: Show us the savings in “lopping off department heads”

By Vicki Carstens and Jennifer Smith

In his meetings with the proposed new schools at SIUC, Chancellor Montemagno has backed off his claim that his restructuring plan would save 2.3 million dollars and substituted it with another: “this is not about money.”

Yet, the chancellor continues to be lauded for his cost savings plan. The editorial board of The Chicago Tribune, for example, praises the chancellor for “lop[ping] off departments and department heads in the name of better serving students and allocating money.”

But, where are the savings in this revolution from above? In figures that the university administration released to the Faculty Association in a Freedom of Information Act request, the supposed savings of eliminating departments are calculated as follows:

  • Eliminating 10% raise of 42 chairs: -462,395
  • Reducing 42 chairs from 11 months to 9 months: -919,519 15%
  • Raise to directors: +300,000
  • Total savings from eliminating chairs: -1,381,684

These calculations fail to take into account that directors will have to be on eleven or twelvemonth contracts, rather than nine. Let’s assume they are on eleven-month contracts, and that the director makes an average chair salary (though this is likely a low estimate, given the administration’s projection that directors will get bigger raises than chairs, 15% instead of 10%).

Based on information from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) database, the average chair salary at SIUC is $128,413 (after correcting for number of months on contract). Since the original proposal of sixteen schools has been increased to twenty, we are looking at an increase in spending of $2,568,260. Subtract these savings from the savings of eliminating chairs and the result is a net spending increase of $1,186,346.

  • Eliminating 10% raise of 42 chairs: -462,395
  • Reducing 42 part-time chairs from 11 months to 9 months: -919,519
  • 20 full-time directors at $128,413: +2,568,260
  • Total spending increase for eliminating chairs: +1,186,346

The prospects improve slightly if some or most director positions are staffed by existing faculty (a big if), but not to the point of achieving savings, contrary to the chancellor’s claims.

In this case, the discipline from which the director is drawn will likely lose three courses worth of teaching power per year. This is because department chair positions converted to division coordinators within schools will teach one more course than presently, but directors, with their supervisory loads of up to five previous departments, will be hard pressed to teach at all.

Hiring replacement instructors to free up internally hired directors eliminates the very small savings that might otherwise follow. Students, faculty, and the professional organizations in many of our disciplines have already made persuasive arguments for the fundamental role of departments and department chairs.

But one that has not yet been made, and should be, is that it is actually less expensive to have departments than schools. As the current president of Indiana University argued recently in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, at universities “we have a fundamental obligation to teach reverence for the truth, the same way we teach marketable skills that will help our students get good jobs after they graduate.”

To this end, let’s be frank: the school structure is a consolidation of power and money at the upper levels of administration, and an attack on faculty control over curriculum.

And Montemagno is right: this is not about saving money. In fact, it’s actually going to cost students and taxpayers more. If we are wrong we ask, in the name of truth and the trust our chancellor keeps asking us for, show us some evidence to the contrary.