Daily Egyptian

Column: Dissolve the Board of Trustees

By Sam Beard, Student Trustee

About a year ago I was elected Student Trustee by my peers.

Openly campaigning against the wild incompetence of our school’s administration, I won in a landslide victory by a nearly two-to-one margin against my opponent.

The students were pissed off at the ineptitude of our university’s leaders, need I remind you leaders who were not elected by the people, and most of whom has absolutely no business governing a university.

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If this past year of “leadership” has accomplished anything, it is the cementing of SIU’s legacy as an institution being violently run into the ground by a small and powerful group of severely detached elites.

Things in Carbondale are getting so bad so fast (something people on right and left seem to agree with) that the most reasonable course of action is to dethrone SIU’s ruling class and restructure from below.

I have said this before and I will say it again: most — but definitely not all — of the administrators I’ve worked with over the past year, as best as I can tell, have noble intentions at heart. They honestly want to see SIU and the surrounding regions prosper, specifically those on the Board of Trustees.

With that said, they are entirely unable to get us to anything remotely resembling prosperity.

The board holds a near monopoly on all of the institutional power of the SIU system, an institution whose health determines the well-being of all of southern Illinois. As such, this small group of people controls the fate of the entire region.

This way of structuring power is not only inherently unstable and irrational, but is at its very core unjust and fundamentally undemocratic.   

A small group of people who, because of their social capital or perceived prestige within their community, were appointed by the Illinois governor to the SIU Board and now, as a result, wield ultimate power over the university.

These people have final say on tuition and fees, policies, budgets, academic reorganization, university personnel and more. And while the university’s president and chancellors wield substantial power too, they ultimately must report to the board.

But besides their proximity to campus and an SIU degree, most members of the board are not directly involved with the day-to-day operations of the university, as many of them have day jobs to attend to.

By its very nature, the Board of Trustees, this removed group of preoccupied working professionals that meet five or six times a year, do not possess the time or knowledge to steer our ship. Plain and simple.

In all honesty, it wouldn’t even be fair of us to expect them to make wise decisions. How are they supposed to know what is good or bad for SIU if they don’t even spend their days on campus?

The more you think about the less sense it actually makes.

Because of its detached nature, its existing as an outside governing body, the board is understandably ignorant of what professors actually need, of what this university needs and especially of what it means to be a student in the twenty-first century.

The reason SIU is crumbling before our very eyes is because the system itself is fundamentally flawed.

We operate within a structure where those in charge of all of the big decisions, those with the final say and the most influence, are people who, for the most part, know nothing about running a healthy and just institution of higher education.

The whole thing is asinine.

This institution is predicated upon a profoundly toxic hierarchical system in which the decisions being made affect everybody except for those making them and the actual stakeholders have no say in the matter.

And while the board members are not paid, they clearly have no problem shelling out the big bucks to hire random people from out of state to make the decisions for them, as is evidenced by the zealous piety of the Carbondale trustees when dealing with all things Carlo — insisting everyone just back off as the chancellor turns SIU into Ingenuity Lab 2.0.

To no one’s surprise but everyone’s detriment, as our school and community collapse the top-paid administrators reward themselves with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Student researchers get laid off by the dozens as our upstanding chancellor invents new positions for his daughter and son-in-law so his family can get even richer.

It is the same old bullshit happening everywhere else, from Wall Street to Washington DC — the ruling class destroys everything we have come to love, everything we have worked so hard for, and then walks away unscathed to go do it somewhere else.

Why should we trust administrators who command hundreds of thousands of dollars for their so-called service?

Why should a small group of people, many of whom are not even academics, wield ultimate power over the university, over our university?

The Southern Illinoisian just published a piece about the infighting at the top of the SIU pyramid, but that article doesn’t even scratch the surface.

The personal vendettas and drama between those on top is enough to cause our university to lose what little footing we have left. As I said earlier: this way of structuring power is fundamentally unstable.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The solution to this madness is really quite straightforward — dissolve the SIU Board of Trustees, fire the chancellor and create a democratically elected, rotating body of students, staff, faculty and community members to run the university.

We don’t need any more lavishly compensated administrators walking all over our school like a damn stepping stone for their careers.

We don’t need some self-righteous, all-powerful Board of Trustees in order thrive. In fact, quite the contrary.

Are we really that unqualified as academics, researchers, students, scientists, staff, scholars, professors and community members to not be entrusted with the task of determining what is best for our own university and the community in which it is situated?

Strictly from the standpoint of reasonable governance and, well, common sense, the academy must be run by those deeply embedded in the day-to-day functioning of it — people intimate with the complex relationships between faculty and staff, teachers and students, students and knowledge, the university and the culture of its community.

Overall, my experience as Student Trustee has been a pretty insufferable one, but it has taught me one thing: those in power at SIU have literally no idea what they are doing and if we don’t get organized, rise up and take back that power their reign will be end of SIU, taking the entire region down with it. 

No more Pharaohs in Little Egypt.

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618) 453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays and Thursdays: 12:30 pm – 2 pm or by appointment.

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7 Comments

7 Responses to “Column: Dissolve the Board of Trustees”

  1. Virginia Tilley (Professor of Political Science, SIUC) on May 2nd, 2018 11:46 am

    Whatever the practical merits of Sam’s proposal, aside from his frustration (shared by practically everybody), I’d like to piggy-back on his column today by denouncing The Southern — and, indirectly, BOT member J. Phil Gilbert — for the terrible article Sam cites published on 29 April about BOT in-fighting. That article didn’t actually describe the infighting in the sense of describing sides in it; it amounted to endorsing one side — a nasty slam of President Dunn, blaming him for everything yet giving him no right of reply (breaching the most basic journalist ethics). What was especially concerning, however, was that in supporting this view, The Southern cited just one source — BOT member Dr. J. Phil Gilbert. I can’t blame Dr. Gilbert for what a newspaper’s editorial board does with information he shares with it. A newspaper should have better sense than to take just one side of any story. But the appearance here is alarming: that a BOT member may actually have sought to enlist the local press in taking sides in BOT infighting by joining its campaign to scapegoat President Dunn. The Southern is, again, primarily responsible for falling for this, if it was true. But given its open and exclusive reliance on him as its source, I hope Dr. Gilbert will clarify publicly that his meeting with the Southern was in no way meant to have this unfortunate outcome, that he would never dream of attempting to suborn the local media in this way, and that, like all of us, he counts on The Southern for impartial coverage. I further urge BOT members to take the lesson and use better judgment in such important settings as meetings with editorial boards.

  2. Virginia Tilley (Professor of Political Science, SIUC) on May 2nd, 2018 11:52 am

    Whatever the practical merits of Sam’s proposal, aside from his frustration (shared by practically everybody), I’d like to piggy-back on his column today by denouncing The Southern — and, indirectly, BOT member J. Phil Gilbert — for the terrible article Sam cites (published by The Southern on 29 April) about BOT in-fighting. That article didn’t actually describe the infighting in the sense of describing sides in it. It amounted to endorsing one side — a nasty slam of President Dunn, blaming him for everything yet giving him no right of reply (breaching the most basic journalist ethics). What was especially concerning, however, was that in supporting this view, The Southern cited just one source — Dr. Gilbert. I can’t blame Dr. Gilbert for what a newspaper’s editorial board does with information he shares with it. A newspaper should have better sense than to take just one side of any story. But the appearance here is alarming: that a BOT member may actually have sought to enlist the local press in taking sides in BOT infighting by joining one faction’s campaign to scapegoat President Dunn. The Southern is, again, primarily responsible for falling for any such attempt. But given its open and exclusive reliance on him as its source, I hope Dr. Gilbert will clarify publicly that his meeting with the Southern was in no way meant to have this unfortunate outcome, that he would never dream of attempting to suborn the local media in this way, and that, like all of us, he counts on The Southern for impartial coverage. I further urge BOT members to take the lesson and use better judgment in such important settings as meetings with editorial boards.

  3. Becky Dever on May 2nd, 2018 11:56 am

    Honest write up. So much has changed since I graduated in ‘95. Sad and sickening what was once an amazing and respected university has become a shell of an academic institution. Rise up Cdale! Take back your school!!!

  4. hobo on May 2nd, 2018 1:01 pm

    I’m frustrated too. I think the major problem is everyone’s inability to get along with each other like true professionals and work together. I think that label can pretty much be applied to the BOT, Dunn, Montemagno, unions, professors, and press. Dunn should according to what I have heard bear the responsibility for hiring Montemagno and rubber stamping the hiring of his family with no board approval. I know soon everyone will be out of a job when SIU closes and that should pretty much end the problem. Then a nice private educational group can come in and buy the place and open a nice private college where all the Democracy won’t get in the way, the administrators will work for nothing, as will the professors.

  5. Patty Deiters on May 2nd, 2018 3:32 pm

    It has been a long time since I have been down to SIU. I remember my college years fondly. My time learning at SIU with some fantastic professors including the late Senator Paul Simon. It is sad to see the recent articles that have been published about the difficulty the school has been having.

  6. Tony Williams on May 2nd, 2018 5:08 pm

    Well said, Sam,

    Both higher administration and the BOT (past and present) have been responsible for the mess we are in today. It is thanks to activist and honest students such as yourself that there is hope for the future. Good luck.

  7. hobo on May 3rd, 2018 2:43 pm

    I’m not sure why Ms Tilley would be upset with Judge(not doctor, being a professor of a research university she should have done hers) Gilbert taking his views to the press when Sam Beard does it weekly in columns or editorials here in the DE. I am sure Dunn has plenty of places to rebut thew article. Fair is fair. Judge Gilbert has a lot more credibility and intellect than Sam, and at least we didn’t have to read an adolescent-like stream of cuss words, and hyperbole of negative cliches(violently run into the ground). I thought Sam was a philosophy major not a drama major.

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