Letter to the Editor: Building a culture of positive transformation and growth

Declining enrollment. Poor retention rates. Reduced resources and shrinking budgets. Reductions in staff and faculty. While the current situation feels rather acute, our arrival at this destination took years and it will not be reversed overnight. Take heart – we have the talent and drive on our campus and throughout our SIUC community to reverse the trend. So, what do we do?

We think we can all agree that we want SIUC to succeed and that change is needed to accomplish this goal. It is high time for a transformative re-thinking of our roles as SIUC faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and community members that embrace and leverage our mission to achieve success for our students, community and university.

The list of priorities for success is deliberate – our students must come first and our mission, overwhelmingly supported by those associated with the university as the fall 2017 vision survey indicated, highlights this priority:


“SIU embraces a unique tradition of access and opportunity, inclusive excellence, innovation in research and creativity, and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. As a nationally ranked public research university and regional economic catalyst, we create and exchange knowledge to shape future leaders, improve our communities, and transform lives.”

During the first week of April, six representatives from SIUC visited Arizona State University and spoke to approximately 50 ASU employees including students, faculty, staff and administrators to discuss the ASU administrative and academic culture.

The visit was coordinated between Chancellor Montemagno and ASU President Dr. Michael Crow because ASU provides a fitting example of how a mission-driven cultural shift can facilitate the creation of a thriving and successful university.

To be clear, ASU and SIUC have differences. ASU is located in a large metropolitan area that supported, at its time of transformation, an already significant student enrollment (55,491 Students Fall 2002). However, like SIUC, ASU retention rates in 2002 were poor (retention rate to graduation was 28 percent [in 2017, SIUC = 26 percent]), and ASU research and creative activities expenditures were only $123 million (in 2016, SIUC = $76.5 million). State support was drastically shrinking and the “State or Public Agency Model” was not only failing, it was constraining the university’s ability to achieve its mission.

Like SIUC, the ASU mission emphasizes both student access (admission of a more diverse socio-economic student population relative to other public research universities) and prolific research and creative activities. Students receive countless benefits from being educated at a research-intensive university.

However, supporting both a diverse student population and research and creative activities requires substantial resources. Again, the “Public Agency Model” and the culture that has embodied public research universities for the last 150 years wasn’t working. This bureaucratic culture, that is steeped in tradition, resists change and lacks flexibility in adjusting to societal demand and student needs.

So, in 2002, ASU initiated a change in the culture from a “Public Agency Model” to a “Public Enterprise Model”, a model that emphasizes an entrepreneurial approach to achieving the university’s mission. This enterprise model is ‘growth-minded’ and oriented toward social transformation and high impact solutions as its primary motivators and economic drivers, in lieu of traditional ‘fixed or static’ mindsets limited by over bureaucratic organizational structures and state budget allocation models.


This transition facilitated an increase in enrollment to 103,567 students in the Fall of 2017, a 4-year graduation rate of 52 percent, and $3.1 billion in research and creative activity expenditures. In 2002, ASU’s academic status was considered to be a distant second in the state of Arizona to the University of Arizona and was primarily considered as the 2nd choice for Arizona’s high school graduates.

Now ASU is considered one of the premier public universities in the world. In fact, the success of ASU is so widely recognized that we were the 2nd of approximately 50 university contingents scheduled to visit ASU in 2018.

Of course, because of the numerous differences between ASU and SIUC, it would be inappropriate to suggest that reorganization and a cultural shift at SIUC will allow us to reach the status ASU has now achieved. That doesn’t mean that ASU cannot serve as an excellent example of how transformation driven through reorganization and a cultural change can enable a public university to successfully fulfill its mission.

The primary lesson learned from our visit was that the change experienced at ASU over a 15-year period will require an adjustment in the way all individuals affiliated with SIUC (all employees, students and student families, alumni and the regional community) perceive their role in supporting the university.

The academic and administrative restructuring being implemented by Chancellor Montemagno that has been so well publicized is designed to make the university more flexible and responsive to societies changing demands and expectations and are principal to successfully achieving the cultural change needed to realize SIUC’s mission.

The primary components of this change to a more entrepreneurial culture are: more mission-driven actions; more student-centered and responsive activities; new creative approaches to addressing obstacles; greater accountability for all individuals associated with the university; data-driven decision making; a more flexible and responsive academic and administrative structure; and more career-focused academic programs.

The final component addresses two essential student-centered questions – what do you want to study and what do you want to be – without jeopardizing our current academic offerings while forcing us to develop new programs to foster student success.

Starting the first week of May and continuing over the following few months, individuals from the group that traveled to ASU will attempt to give oral presentations to all SIUC employees and SIU affiliated groups, and provide at least one public forum on campus. These presentations will provide an opportunity for individuals to learn more and ask questions about the cultural change being implemented.

More detail regarding the philosophy of higher education, how societal changes have caused some to believe a cultural shift in higher education is necessary, and how that transformation occurred at ASU can be found in a book co-authored by Michael Crow (President of ASU) and William Dabars entitled “Designing the New American University”.

Michael Eichholz is an associate professor in the department of Zoology. He can be reached at his email at [email protected]

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.