Daily Egyptian

Opinion: How presidential USG candidates responded to questions regarding academic reorganization at sociology club presidential debate

By Johnathan Flowers, Ph.D Candidate, Department of Philosophy, GPSC president

The Sociology Club’s question regarding academic reorganization cut straight to the core of the issues surrounding undergraduate engagement with the reorganization: “how can USG serve as an interpreter or intermediary for those students who find those proposals hard to understand?”

I want to make a point of commending Ms. Lieberman on the question which, in my view, speaks to the responsibility of USG to ensure that the undergraduate student body is fully informed on the impact that this reorganization will have on their lives.

To this end, and in full disclosure, Candidate Mitchell as I stated, reached out to me earlier this semester for clarification on the reorganization. He, along with president Buice and Senator Hao, Senator Kinley, Senator Handrock (whom I have yet to meet with), Senator Peppers, former Senator Kyles, and, to his credit, former president Bowens, are among the USG members who have reached out to me for explanations on the reorganization. I have additionally provided all of the above, with exception to Senators Kinley and Handrock, contact information for administration should they seek a different opinion.

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Additionally, and I wish to make this clear: all three of the candidates have been present for, and are in receipt of, every document and presentation that I have offered to USG to aid them in the mission that all three candidates claim that USG is failing.

Candidate Newlin

Candidate Newlin opened his response to the question by indicating the difficulty of understanding the reorganization. Newlin stated, “I have all these pages printed out and I can read it for as long as I want, and it still doesn’t make any sense.” This statement echoes his comments at the previous debate, where he described the reorganization as “deep,” and expressed that the reorganization was too far along to stop, nor was it at a place where students could provide input.

None of these statements are correct.

To his credit, Candidate Newlin expressed a willingness to approach the units individually to determine their methodology and what they see behind it. Newlin indicated that he would also speak with the Chancellor as well, however, Newlin stated “it comes down to each individual student doesn’t care about the entire restructuring, they just care about how they’re personally affected.” This much is true: undergraduates are, typically, only concerned about the direct impact of the reorganization on their programs.

Unfortunately, that students have specific concerns about their units does not absolve USG of the responsibility from presenting a comprehensive view of the reorganization which, ideally, should include the effects on all students under it. To this end, Candidate Newlin suggested that he would bring in the “people responsible for the changes” to have them explain to USG why these changes are being made, and what is going on. He further indicated that responsibility should rest with the academic colleges should be explaining to their students the effects of the reorganization.

To this end, Newlin acknowledged that it was USG’s job to keep students informed, but it was also the colleges’ jobs to keep students informed. Cynically, I would suggest that while Newlin’s suggestions for informing students are interesting, if not appropriate, they are irrelevant in the context of the administration’s demonstrated unwillingness to engage with students where the reorganization is concerned. Further, placing the majority of the responsibility on other individuals seems, to me, to evade USG’s responsibility to represent students in the administration of university.

Finally, Candidate Newlin failed to provide a means whereby he would ensure that the colleges were holding up their end of the bargain where informing students is concerned. To be clear, this is an issue because USG ideally theoretically has access to the program change proposals through its representative on the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Education Policies Committee. Ideally, this representative should be bringing the information back to USG, and informing the Senate, so that the Senate can take appropriate action, thereby allowing USG to fill its role as the representative body of the students in administration.

Candidate Mitchell

Candidate Mitchell began his response by criticizing my presentations to USG, stating “if you just slapped up a slideshow of what SIU wants to do, to a bunch of students, they probably wouldn’t get it either.” To be clear, this is exactly what I did at the USG meetings: I provided a Powerpoint presentation in the language of the institution and expected the undergraduates to “get it.” I then criticized Candidates Mitchell, Newlin, and Henderson for “not getting it,” despite not simplifying my explanations.

For that, I apologize.

However, rather than accept the reorganization as “too deep,” Candidate Mitchell, unlike Candidates Newlin and Henderson, sought an explanation for the reorganization by doing his homework. Again, in full disclosure, I did provide an explanation for the reorganization to Candidate Mitchell: I have also offered to provide an explanation to every other senator in USG, Candidates Newlin and Henderson included, after the conclusion of every reorganization presentation I have delivered to the senate. Again, to date, only five senators and two presidents have taken me up on the offer.

In response to the question, Candidate Mitchell demonstrated that he did understand the reorganization by providing a sixty second explanation of the reorganization, complete with a food metaphor that accurately captured the overall impact of the reorganization in ways that my presentations did not. Following this, Candidate Mitchell indicated that he, like many undergraduate students, needed simpler explanations like the one he delivered, so that they could understand the impact of the reorganization on their lives.

I concede the point.

Where I lost Candidate Mitchell was in his suggestion to implement explanations for the reorganization in UCOLL classes so that these students can understand what is happening to the education that they are paying for. While I understand the thought, implementing this into UCOLL would require training the UCOLL professors on the reorganization and its overall effects on the student body, a task which is contentious given that there are multiple interpretations of the reorganization. Again, while I appreciate the thought behind it, this is not a solution that USG can make actual.

On the other hand, Candidate Mitchell did state that he would reproduce his explanation in the form of a video to be distributed campus wide. To date, I have seen no evidence of this video and I am unsure if Candidate Mitchell intends to do so during the election cycle or after the election cycle, as he was not clear on the release date of said video. This is, in my view, an innovative way for USG to provide information concerning the reorganization to its constituency, and I suggest that Candidate Mitchell make this video, regardless of the outcome of the election.

Candidate Henderson

Candidate Henderson, like Candidate Mitchell, indicated the need to get the information out in a way that is “simplified” and “able to be consumed and understood for any student on campus.” Again, I take the point: many of the explanations I provided to USG retained the jargon of administration and may not have been as simple as I thought. Again, I apologize for that.

He then proceeded to take up Candidate Mitchell’s suggestion that USG “showcase a video on social media” regarding the reorganization. Here, I must compliment Candidate Henderson: like Candidate Mitchell, Candidate Henderson emphasized the need for senators to reach out to faculty and GPSC members in their college to understand the impact, and then relay that information back to the executive committee so that the executive committee could relay it to the constituency. Moreover, Candidate Henderson, rightly, indicated the need to communicate with other constituencies to ensure their actions align with one another.

While I understand, and appreciate, the need to ensure that the senators are active in determining the effect on their specific unit, and this a suggestion which would aid USG in communicating the effects of the reorganization on the academic lives of the student body, Candidate Henderson appears to have it backwards: The information gathered by the senators should be directed to the executive, and the executive should communicate to the senators so that the administration can make decisions with the input of the students in mind.

That being said, it is the brevity of Candidate Henderson’s response, and his failure to demonstrate even a cursory understanding of the reorganization that I am concerned with. Unlike Candidates Mitchell and Newlin, Candidate Henderson did not indicate that he had engaged with any of the reorganization material in any substantive way, which is a criticism I made of his performance at the previous presidential Debate, wherein he failed to provide the most basic of accurate information. At the very least, this time Candidate Henderson did not provide any inaccurate information.

Johnathan Flowers. PH.D Candidate, Department of Philosophy, and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council can be reached at [email protected] 

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