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Southern Illinois University Carbondale currently has 41 employees in interim positions throughout administration, faculty and staff. There is currently no chancellor, permanent, acting or interim, after the death of Carlo Montemagno last month.
College of Mass Communication & Media Arts’ acting Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Interim Director of Graduate Studies Aaron Veenstra said one of the reasons SIU has so many interim positions for administrators is the university lacks hiring power.
If everyone who is interim wanted to hire somebody to be the head of a school, the university would be required to do a national search, Veenstra said.
“But we can’t hire anybody,” he said.
Employees in interim positions of department faculty and administrative staff hold positions that are not permanent, SIU spokesperson Rae Goldsmith said.
“Typically, interim positions are no longer than one year, although we do have a couple now that are multiple years,” Goldsmith said.
Most interim employees contracts are due to end by December 2018 or June 2019, Goldsmith said.
Interim positions in top leadership
“We had so many years of interim leadership […] we had a interim chancellor in the role from 2014 until we hired Dr. Montemagno in 2017,” Goldsmith said. “So we had interim leadership for several years from the very top.”
Goldsmith also said when you’re trying to fill vacancies, particularly those that report directly to the chancellor, it’s hard to do a search when people don’t know who their boss is going to be.
“That’s why we’ve had an interim provost for a couple of years,” Goldsmith said. “So they didn’t appoint a provost under the assumption that we’d get a permanent chancellor.”
It wasn’t until Montemagno came that the university could start addressing some of these interim positions, Goldsmith said.
Montemagno was about to address one or two interims, including the position of associate chancellor for diversity, Goldsmith said. There was a search for a permanent associate chancellor for diversity, but it was unsuccessful.
Todd Bryson was appointed to serve in the position as an interim in January 2018.
Deborah Tudor, interim dean for college of mass communication and media arts, said the sad part about being a interim dean is the lack of daily involvement faculty gets when they teach full-time.
“The basic reason is that I’m really invested in our college and SIU,” Tudor said. “It’s just been a joy to be here, despite the hardships that the university has experienced.”
State funding plays a part in the number of interims at the university because it takes money to conduct national searches, Tudor said. The advertising and traveling costs to bring candidates to campus are expensive.
Since there’s not enough funds, there’s a reduced chance of many of these interim positions changing, Veenstra said, even though interim position contracts were altered by administration to six months.
There isn’t a sense that interims aren’t going to be retained, he said.
“But that’s technically up in the air,” Veenstra said.
Veenstra also said with circumstances where people want to retire and not be jerked around by a six month contract, the administration will run out of people to ask to fill interim positions.
“It could be that people don’t want to do a administrative job,” Veenstra said. “It could be what you get paid for doing administrative work is not worth it, who knows.”
Veenstra said eventually this becomes a problem, but at the higher levels of the university you can find more people willing to do it.
“But, if you have a little department it’s going to continue to be tough to do that,” Veenstra said. “We’re all here to teach, do research and creative work that fits our field […] doing an administrative job gets in the way of that.”
“We have a lot of interim deans because we’re working through a potential academic reorganization,” Goldsmith said. “So if we were to restructure the colleges, we would do permanent searches for permanent deans.”
Goldsmith also said the administration has not been filling interim positions while the reorganization goes through.
Tudor said she’s not sure of how her job will be impacted by reorganization, but when MCMA restructures, there will be a short term interim dean while the administration does a search for a permanent dean.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to run a national search for a chair or for a department who has already submitted a proposal to merge with departments in another college,” Tudor said. “There will be interims during this time of change.”
Tudor also said it’s a healthy change and growth that is occurring, although it seems negative.
“It’s really just a consequence of the change that we’re undergoing and some past circumstances that were out of our control,” Tudor said.
Timing and funding
“Another reason is simply timing,” Goldsmith said. “You have to have someone in the position while you’re doing the search.”
Veenstra said university employees are interim due to state budget issues, but they’re all not interim in the sense that the floor is going to fall out from underneath.
If the administration came in tomorrow and said “We’re tired of this interim thing, we’re going to open up the budget and fill all these positions,” in theory they could, Veenstra said. But in practice the money just doesn’t exist.
“Until our budget situation changes, we won’t have the money to save us [..] to build these administrative positions,” Veenstra said.
When some faculty left, the university decided to fill positions with internal searches, Tudor said. She knows a number of faculty in other colleges who left not only because of retirement, suddenly quitting or employment opportunities elsewhere, but also lack of state budget.
“Things were tight,” Tudor said. “SIU is fortunate in having a strong group of faculty and staff who can apply for interim positions and interested in doing service for the university.”
The domino effect
“The other [reason] is what I’m calling the ‘domino effect’,” Goldsmith said. “The provost and dean of the college of liberal arts are good examples of this.”
Andrew Balkansky is currently interim dean for the college of liberal arts, since Meera Komarraju became interim provost last year.
“If [Komarraju] does become permanent provost, then we have to keep that position for her to go back to,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said this creates a domino effect and when administration moves someone up into interim, then you need to back fill that position which is usually with another interim.
Kevin Dorsey, SIU interim president, said in an email the board of trustees will schedule a special meeting to identify an external firm to lead SIU in the search for a permanent system president on Nov. 9.
“The board may also consider the appointment of an interim chancellor at that time,” Dorsey said. “Otherwise, I anticipate that an appointment of an interim chancellor will be made at the board’s December meeting in Carbondale.”
Dorsey said the appointment of a permanent chancellor will take longer, and it would be difficult to attract a chancellor without a permanent president in place.
“I have been advising those I’ve met with that the earliest we might have a permanent president on board is fall 2019, and permanent chancellor is 2020,” Dorsey said.
Staff reporter Claire Cowley can be reached at [email protected].
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