Editorial: SIU is on life support, what happens if the board pulls the plug?


Brian Mu–noz | @BrianMMunoz

The sunset illuminates Pulliam Hall with warm light Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. (Brian Mu–noz | @BrianMMunoz)

SIU Carbondale in its glory days had peak enrollment of more than 24,000 students and was considered the proud flagship campus of the Southern Illinois University System.

Today, the university has a dwindling enrollment of 13,346 students, low morale, lack of school spirit and a loss of its own identity.

The chancellor’s reorganization has left a complete lack of clarity and has created a void of understanding between students and faculty by delivering reorganization content in academic jargon.  

Since 2000 the university has seen nine different chancellors, four of which were interim, emphasizing a lack of stability in the most important leadership role.

How can a chancellor advance an institution they are supposed to lead if the university is often used as a stepping stone to a bigger paycheck?

The last chancellor in a permanent position before Chancellor Carlo Montemagno was Rita Cheng; she left after only four years to become president at Northern Arizona University.

SIU is stuck with a chancellor who sits in his ivory tower updating a blog in an attempt to justify his decisions and enthusiasm for SIU — only interacting with students if it is part of his PR campaign to spin his reorganization plan in a positive light.

How did the university that has hosted a United States president, the secretary general of the United Nations and the university whose students participated in protests during the Vietnam war come to such a demise?  

The former jewel of southern Illinois is now at risk of losing its essential funding with a potential state allocation shift to its sister campus at Edwardsville.

At the hand of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a knife was stabbed into the state’s higher education system and as the state faced a budget impasse – politicians in Springfield twisted that knife bit by bit over the span of three years.

A common argument made is that SIU Edwardsville “saved” the Carbondale campus from its demise with a loan of $35 million last May.

The university paid back the loan to Edwardsville in July 2017, according to university spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith.

The Edwardsville campus relied heavily on the Carbondale campus for support during the years of growth into the successful university it is today.

In 1956, the original goal of the SIU Board of Trustees on the expansion campus was to make an accelerated provision for higher education facilities in the Metro-East as quickly as state funding became available.

The haste in expanding the university to serve the St. Louis area during the ‘50s is often forgotten.   

When the Southwestern Illinois Council for Higher Education executive committee and the SIU Board of Trustees agreed to expand the reach of SIU to the metro-east community, it is certain that it was never expected the expansion of the campus would attempt to take over as the flagship.

The proposed shift of approximately $5.1 million dollars in state funds is only the beginning of SIU Carbondale’s death by a thousand cuts.

A death that could end in Edwardsville receiving $23.3 million in state funding over four years, which would previously have been allocated to the Carbondale campus.

As Montemagno stated in his blog, if the funding shift is approved, Carbondale’s financial recovery and stability would be compromised — the shift in funds being equivalent to the layoff of 110 faculty and staff, and would take more than $39 million from the local economy.

What does this look like for the Carbondale campus and the southern Illinois region as a whole?

If enrollment continues to decline and funds continue to be shifted, the towers won’t be the only desolate buildings in the foreseeable future.

The university, which has been an economic catalyst — adding thousands of students every year to the local economy — would turn into a community college that could potentially only serve the remaining blue collar families left in southern Illinois.

Other students will flee to surrounding out-of-state universities, paying less and receiving more than what SIU could now offer them.

The university turning into a community college would result in the loss of diverse and educated academics which add to Carbondale’s unique and diverse culture.

While the outcome may look bleak, there are various things that set SIU and southern Illinois apart from your average midwest university and region.

We’re located in some of the most scenic land in the state, with the heart of Shawnee Forest only minutes away from the university.

For now, the Carbondale community sustains the local economy of artisans, chefs, musicians and businesses which add to Carbondale’s rich culture.

The beloved local breakfast and pizza spots students and the community enjoy will not survive if the university continues to be depleted of resources and students.

The Carbondale campus provides a window to the world for the locals. Losing the university will inevitably close the window to Carbondale’s diverse culture and opportunity for students and the community.

Before approving the funding shift of approximately $5.1 million dollars, the Board of Trustees should consider what SIUC and its unique community has generated.

SIU offers hundreds of academic programs and research opportunities at all levels — bachelors, masters and doctorate programs.

There aren’t many universities where you can dive into research your freshman year and create substantive work in your field.

Our alumni have reached success across the country and internationally.

Jackie Spinner, former Washington Post reporter, attended the SIU School of Journalism and covered the war in Iraq after her time at SIU.

Darryl Jones, the bassist for the Rolling Stones, attended our beloved alma mater and received his bachelor’s degree in political science and a masters degree in higher education.

Curt Jones, the creator of Dippin Dots, Melissa McCarthy, famous for her roles in the Gilmore Girls and Saturday Night Live, Walt Frazier, former NBA player — the list goes on and on.

An investment in SIU Carbondale is an investment in the betterment of future generations of students and it will not go to waste.  

If the SIU Board of Trustees gives up on our university, the Carbondale campus will die — and with that, so will the community that many call their home.

Do not let Edwardsville gain a name through the death of Carbondale.

The Daily Egyptian Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @dailyegyptian.

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