Letter to the editor: The flawed math of restructuring, and why it matters

By Vicki Carstens

Chancellor Montemagno has proposed a major restructuring of academic programs at SIUC, eliminating all departments and reorganizing disciplines as divisions within schools. As part of the Article 9 process, affected units received Program Change Proposals which stated that restructuring will lead to significant savings across the campus:

“… we anticipate that implementation of the overall reorganization plan will result in approximately $2.3 million in permanent (projected) administrative cost savings. These savings, which will accrue from elimination of administrative positions (e.g., fewer dean positions, elimination of department chair positions) will allow us to invest in our people and programs,” the Program Change Proposal: School of Social Science and Multicultural Studies, reads.

In recent months, the chancellor has backpedaled on this claim of savings, and for good reason.

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Through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry, individuals at SIU obtained a memo detailing the calculations on which it was based. The relevant portion is reproduced below.

These figures paint a shockingly false picture of the math of the present restructuring plan, as I will explain below. Our university is in a vulnerable state, making it attractive to believe in someone who claims to have a vision that will lead us back to financial health. But the above calculations suggest that the chancellor’s claims should not be trusted.

1) Associate deans. Savings for eliminating associate deans are estimated at $943,000. The IBHE database lists nine associate, interim associate, and acting associate deans. Their average salary is $122,598 (total $1,103,382). If we assume that there would be savings of around $40,000 apiece upon their return to regular faculty (which seems like quite a bit, probably too generous), the total savings comes to only $360,000 per year, not the estimated $943,000.

Perhaps the chancellor assumed a slightly smaller number of associate deans, and intended that they would all drop off the payroll altogether. But this is not possible. Demoted associate deans will return to their positions as full-time tenured faculty.

There is another serious issue, assuming that the intention is to eliminate all associate dean positions (as we must, to make sense of the large size of this claimed savings). The entailment is that the twenty new school directors will do the work not only of forty-two chairs, but also of all the existing associate deans. This seems wildly unrealistic.

2) Deans. The reduction from eight deans to six is valued at a savings of $370,000 per year. That’s $185,000 savings apiece on two deans. But in reality, the compensation that can be eliminated for each dean is only his/her extra months on clock and a percentage salary increase for the job, since the deans would return to regular faculty. The savings is therefore likely closer to $50,000 apiece, for a total of $100,000.

3) Directors’ compensation. From the miscalculated potential administrative savings, the cost of directors’ compensation was subtracted, estimated as fifteen stipends, consisting of 15 percent salary increases, for a total of $300,000. Divided between fifteen proposed directors, this represents $20,000 apiece, which is 15 percent of a salary of $133,350. But very few faculty earn base salaries of $133,350, an amount which exceeds the average salary of associate deans and department chairs working 11 to 12 months per year. The estimate therefore seems completely arbitrary.

And though 15 percent is a nice raise, the total of $300,000 does not take into account that directors will need to work more than nine months a year. Department chairs currently receive raises of 10 percent for taking on administrative loads, plus compensation for the months they work beyond the faculty’s standard of nine. School directors will have greater administrative loads than the department chairs they are intended to replace. The total calculated for their compensation should therefore have been much higher — for fifteen directors, at least $550,000 — and since we are by now up to twenty schools, closer to $800,000.

Conclusion. The chancellor put in writing specific claims about the finances of restructuring that are demonstrably false. Perhaps this was through carelessness about millions of dollars and the people and programs they fund, or perhaps it was by design, to provide selling points for his preferred course of action. In either case, it bears on an important question that confronts us: should we trust him to make enormously consequential decisions for our campus?

Vicki Carstens is chair of the linguistics department at SIU. 

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