Daily Egyptian

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.


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

  1. Victor E. Roy on February 6th, 2018 8:53 pm

    Wouldn’t reducing the number of department chairs (administrators) save money over the years? I really do not think that it is bad that he wants to combine some entities. The College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) was going to restructure several years ago and reduce the number of departments by merging and dissolving different departments . However, the faculty opposed it and it was stopped. I think this was before Dean Keith Wilson went to faculty, I think COEHS has about 8 chairs and/or directors. Years ago, they had more than that, but there was some merging that occurred between departments. If the administration wanted to restructure the departments and keep the old structure, there would still be opposition. They might as well do a massive restructuring.

  2. disaffectedAF on February 7th, 2018 12:15 am

    Just wait until we get the bill for Don Carlo’s winter vacation to Phoenix, complete with cronies. Sure, the excuse is to derive lessons learned from ASU. But, seriously, Phoenix is only inhabitable in the winter, and only his supporters were tapped.

  3. Victor N White on February 7th, 2018 6:59 am

    Replacing Chairpersons with Directors is a good idea. Chairpersons are bloated, overpaid, quasi-administrators who don’t teach and cost too much money. I’m a Director and have been a Chairperson. As a Director I teach 4 classes a semester and handle all administrative duties. As a Chairperson, I only taught two classes and still had the same administrative responsibility. I was paid more to do less work as a Chairperson than as a Director, and I interact much more with the students as a Director than I was able to as a Chairperson.

  4. Vicki Carstens on February 7th, 2018 8:49 am


    Whether reducing the number of departments and chairs saves money over the years depends on a number of factors, including the cost of the replacement model and the effect on enrollment.

    FOIA’d material has recently revealed that the chancellor’s replacement model was improperly costed out, with claimed savings that cannot withstand even superficial scrutiny. You can expect to hear more about this.

    As for the potential effect on enrollments, this is no doubt discipline-specific. In my field, Linguistics, departmental status is viewed as very important, especially at the graduate level. It is a distinction that SIU Linguistics has been a department for many years. I don’t think it is coincidental that we have a thriving (and profitable) graduate program. I fear that the loss of departmental status will discourage graduate applications. In other fields, this may not be the case. It’s one of the reasons why I do not understand or support the one-size-fits-all approach that’s on the table.

  5. Virginia Tilley on February 9th, 2018 3:09 am

    Victor, can you please clarify your role as director at SIU? I’m interested in your perspective but can’t find any mention of you at SIU on line, as director or anything else. All I can find is a PhD thesis completed in 2016, which, if this is you, raises further question of how you ever could have served as a chair. Are you a different Victor N White? Or are you using a pen name? If so, I think the DE readership will want to know that the real Victor White is not you.

  6. No name on February 11th, 2018 10:37 pm

    The number of students per number of chairs has been decreasing to a little more than half because of the enrollment decrease through the years. We need an adjustment! We can not have a chair for 30 student enrolled in a program. The reorganization adjust the rate to what it was before the enrollment drop to about 650 students per director.

  7. insider on February 17th, 2018 10:51 am

    If you look at the math above – the directors will cost more than unit chairs. People who keep saying chairs are more expensive are not very actually doing the math.

    If there are programs with 30 students per chair, that program needs to be merged (if it’s not it will be targeted for elimination by the IBHE anyway). But, merging programs that have 100-200 students per chair, that have already lost 50-70% of their faculty, essentially kills the program.

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