John M. Dunn took questions from students, staff and community stakeholders and shared his hopes for his tenure as interim chancellor Wednesday afternoon in a packed ballroom in the Student Center.
Dunn was approved as interim chancellor at the last SIU Board of Trustees meeting in December. He began his tenure on January 1.
Dunn is a native of Pinckneyville, Illinois and previously served as SIU’s interim chancellor from 2006-2007 before leaving to become president of Western Michigan University.
Many of SIU’s administrative positions are held by those in interim roles rather than permanent ones; Dunn said his title of interim will not affect how he fulfills his role as chancellor.
(See more: With over 40 interim positions in administration, SIUC still can’t hire from outside the university to fill them)
“Even though I carry the title interim, it is not my intent to act as an interim,” Dunn said. “There are things that need to be done, decisions that need to be made, things that you need and we want to make sure that we do that.”
Toussaint Mitchell, undergraduate student government president, kicked off the question and answer panel by asking Dunn what his plan was to improve enrollment and retention.
“We have very good students here and we need to make that commitment that we do everything we can to affirm that you have made a good decision,” Dunn said. “Our job is to make sure you feel welcomed here, supported here and that we care about you.”
Dunn said the university has an obvious need to recruit heavily not only in southern Illinois, but in the rest of Illinois as well. He said SIU is not the only university in Illinois to experience a decline in enrollment and acknowledged Northern Illinois University has also seen a decrease.
“Don’t ever feel like we are the only institution [struggling]; we have fewer students in the pipeline in high schools and we need to work better and harder with our community college partners,” Dunn said. “Make sure that they are our friends, […] not our enemies.”
(See more: New agreement with Kaskaskia College will make transfers to SIU easier)
Nathan Colombo, local mayoral candidate, asked if Dunn was open to feedback from individuals outside of the institution such as local municipalities, businesses and community organizations.
Dunn said he was absolutely open to feedback and he has already begun meeting with members of local government. He said the community and business owners have a stake in the success of the university and we all need to be on the same page.
Dianah McGreehan, GPSC Vice President of Administrative Affairs, asked Dunn what was going to happen to the proposed schools that were undecided or disagreed with the university’s recently approved reorganization plan.
Dunn said late chancellor Carlo Montemagno had a great vision for what needs to happen to the university and there will always be some resistance to change.
“We haven’t submitted any RMEs beyond campus that have not had some endorsement from the communities including the faculty senate and the government structure of the university,” Dunn said. “That is how it works.”
A student from the audience asked Dunn what his plan is for addressing the abundance of vacant positions across departments at SIU. The student said she felt concerned because the structure of SIU was beginning to look like “swiss-cheese.”
Dunn said there were 25 new faculty hires this year, when previously there were zero. He said there is a plan in place to fill the positions but SIU needs resources to carry it out.
Dunn said with the inauguration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, he has hope that SIUC and other institutions will receive the funding and support they need.
Brione Lockett, SIUC’s Student Trustee, said the university’s administration and staff is currently very “vanilla” and asked Dunn if he will work towards diversifying the staff.
Dunn said he is working with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to create new leadership opportunities at Southern.
“Almost any thoughtful president, man, woman, chancellor, in the United States is challenged and struggling with, how can we make sure that we are far more reflective in leadership roles and also in faculty roles and staff roles,” Dunn said.
Unless students begin to see faculty and staff that are more reflective of who they are, they will not feel as welcome, Dunn said.
Lisa Clanton, a doctorate candidate studying education, asked Dunn what he planned to do about extra financial obstacles facing students with the goal of retention in mind.
Clanton asked about the residence assistant stipend and second job policy, excessive ticketing done by the parking division and the $200 Bursar limit. Previously students could enroll in classes as long as their bursar bill was under $500, but recently this limit has been changed to $200.
The university does not currently offer a payment plan for the specific bursar payment and several members of the audience said it has become an unnecessary barrier to first generation students or students that are not financially well off.
Dunn said he would like to study the numbers concerning who is affected by the $200 bursar rule and how, and he said he does not want to create barriers to opportunities for students.
From his understanding, RAs do not receive a bad package considering they are given free room and board and a monthly stipend, Dunn said. He said SIU should study comparative data from other universities that offer RA packages and potentially offer more items in the Saluki food pantry.
Additional advisers have been hired to help fill the existing gaps in advisement personnel and he knew from his own experience how difficult it could be to assign so many students to one adviser, Dunn said.
Dunn said he met with the new hires and discussed the current advising issues with them. He encouraged students to be patient with and help the new advisers in learning the campus and their roles.
Throughout the discussion, Dunn repeatedly used the phrase “it is personal” and said students should interact more with one another to display more humanity and unity on campus.
“I am real big on the idea of a heads up campus,” Dunn said. “ We walk across campus and we are texting or listening to the music of the day and that’s great, I have done the same myself, but we need to take the opportunity to lift our head and greet one another.”
Dunn said if students have questions or concerns, they can email him at [email protected]
Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieC45439038.
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