Administration looks to move forward with changes to Saluki Success Program despite campus pushback

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Administration looks to move forward with changes to Saluki Success Program despite campus pushback

From left: Saluki Success Program staff Abigail Wheetley. Laura Borger, Nick Weschinskey, Casheena Stephens and Gauri Pitale

From left: Saluki Success Program staff Abigail Wheetley. Laura Borger, Nick Weschinskey, Casheena Stephens and Gauri Pitale

Rusty Bailey / SIUC Marketing and Communications

From left: Saluki Success Program staff Abigail Wheetley. Laura Borger, Nick Weschinskey, Casheena Stephens and Gauri Pitale

Rusty Bailey / SIUC Marketing and Communications

Rusty Bailey / SIUC Marketing and Communications

From left: Saluki Success Program staff Abigail Wheetley. Laura Borger, Nick Weschinskey, Casheena Stephens and Gauri Pitale

By Emily Cooper, Editor in Chief

Staff at SIU Carbondale have transformed the Saluki Success Program over the past four years in an effort in attempts to retain and help students transition to a college setting.

The program has seen changes throughout the years but now where there is a proven line of success, the program is being pushed to be changed again – this time, at the hand of the interim provost.

Nick Weschinskey, the Saluki Success coordinator, said he has been involved in the course since Fall 2014, becoming director Summer 2016.

He said prior to his role in the program, the Saluki Success Program, or “UNIV 101,” was comprised of countless sections and taught by different kinds of staff at the university.

“Some of those were staff members, academic advisors, civil service staff or faculty members,” Weshinskey said. “I like to call that time the ‘wild, wild west’ because there was no consistency across standards.”

Weshinskey said student’s final projects ranged from show-and-tell presentations to intensive 25-page research papers. He said when he hired, he was done so as a part of a group of non-tenure-track faculty tasked with bringing consistency to the program.

“Instead of things being offered in sections by college or program, they were offered as standard sections,” Weshinskey said. “They didn’t just get the [College of Liberal Arts] or engineering experience –  they got the SIU experience.”

Weshinskey said the Saluki Success Program is the only place where all incoming first-year students receive information about diversity, inclusion, cultural competence, sexual assault and consent – hot-button issues in academia.

“I hope things will stay in place, but I don’t know if they will,” Weshinskey said.

Restructuring the course

Meera Komarraju, interim provost, has a juxtaposing opinion and believes changes she plans to implement will only “enhance” the course.

Komarraju said she first got involved in the program in the 2003-2004 school year, at the time it was offered through a unit called a “pre-major” and the course was optional.

She said she created a similar course for psychology majors in 2008 and the university ultimately made the “Saluki Success” class mandatory in 2011.

“It’s not like I’ve not been engaged with the class […] this program is sort of supervised from the provost’s office, so it’s kind of the responsibility of whoever’s in this office to make sure this is done well,” Kommaraju said.

When teaching the course, there are certain criteria which must be addressed – even under the new provost – due to the course’s designation in the core curriculum, said Jonathan Bean, faculty senate president.

“As for how they’re going to mend the academic with the social – we will see,” Bean said. “ I think faculty like what they heard about the current program but the provost has made a equally persuasive case for changing.”

Kommaraju said she plans to have the course divided by discipline, contrary to the current program structure.

“By having students from a similar major together and having them connect together with their colleges and departments, [creates] an opportunity for them to find that path to those resources,” she said. “It’s not only resources at SIU, but there are also resources inside the unit.”

Creating a “vacuum”

Abigail Wheetley, a Saluki Success Program professor, said changing the class to be “discipline-specific” will create a vacuum within the student body.

“You’re going to lose that diversity and the conversations that we are able to have in class,” Wheetley said. “That is an important educational learning experience for students to be able to see people who aren’t like them in very significant and glaring ways.”

Weshinskey said the change will lead the program back where it was before he arrived –  “a mess.” Additionally, he said he worries certain majors and programs fall within are raced and gendered in certain ways.

“That kind of similarity in groups prevents them from getting an experience of what it’s like to be around other people who are different from them,” Weshinskey said. “If we are really trying to make this a diverse campus, then I think we want people to be around people who aren’t like them.”

Komarraju said there are opportunities around the university where students can meet different students.

“There are many other places where you meet students of other backgrounds – in your residence halls, unless you live in an LLC,” Kommaraju said. “There are lots of activities to meet other students in other backgrounds, it’s not only through this one-credit hour class.”

Saying the class is only a one-credit hour course is a common tactic used by administrators but the course has more than one contact hour, Laura Borger, a Saluki Success Program assistant professor, said.

Changes within Saluki Success staff

Weschinskey said the entire situation is interesting because of the administration’s claims the program isn’t changing and will only be enhanced – one blaring change is the Saluki Success Program staff being dismissed.

“Lots of changes are coming down the pike, but we haven’t really been included in that process,” he said.

Komarraju said she has reached out to the staff currently teaching the course but has not heard back from them and has informed academic faculty and deans she has reached out.

“I hope they will agree because they are very effective, talented teachers,” Kommaraju said. “If they don’t, then I’ll have to find instructors to teach the class unless there are faculty who are willing to step up and teach it.”

Komarraju said there are some faculty interested but hasn’t reached out specifically because she wanted to “give a good-faith effort” to those instructors first.

She said it was “unknown” if the Saluki Success Program staff contracts would be extended to the Spring 2020 semester.

Borger said the group hasn’t received an official offer for the Fall 2019 semester.

“They are just talking about potentially giving most of us a fall contract which would be August through December and that’s it. Nothing for the spring whatsoever.” Borger said.

Weshinskey said one member of the team might be offered a one-year contract because they have been at the university for so long and they’re a member of the union.

“My contract for sure is gone,” Weshinskey said. “I’m not being offered anything, so I will be done with my current contract on June 30.”

Borger said the Saluki Success Program staff do not know what their future holds with the end of the academic year quickly approaching.

“I can only speak for myself, but I can’t accept such a contract because I can’t live for a full year on a four-month contract,” Wheetley said.

Weshinskey said this decision does not involve anyone on campus other than the interim provost who made this decision.

“When the Faculty Senate found out – they resisted. When the Faculty Association found out – they resisted. When the Core Curriculum Committee found out – they resisted,” Weshinskey said. “The chief academic advisers had serious questions about [the change] yet it has been rammed down everyone’s throat with no collaboration – that has been a real tragedy.”

Campus impact of the Saluki Success Program

Shelby Tobolt, a freshman studying anthropology, said her UNIV class was very important to her college experience.

“I made a very big connection with Wheetley […] she was one of my largest resources last semester,” Tobolt said. “I was going through a hard time and she was always there to help me throughout a situation.”

Tobolt said Wheetley was always there for her and has been a driving reason she’s continued at the university.

“Abby has become one of my very good friends now,” Tobolt said. “It was very important to me to have that resource or else I feel as though I would not still be in Carbondale.”

Tobolt said she UNIV professors are a major resource for freshmen and transfer students.

“The university is making a mistake,” she said. “I very much so made a large connection with Abby. I know that if I ever needed anything, she’s someone I can go to to help me throughout the school system, but also throughout life. It’s very difficult knowing that she is no longer going to be within walking distance for me to have that resource.”

Bean said the Faculty Senate had the Saluki Success staff give a presentation at the fall faculty luncheon and also before the full faculty senate.

“The faculty were impressed with what they saw and heard and faculty also came to the Senate [to] talk about concerns about changes to the program,” Bean said.

Moving forward

Weshinskey said he and his staff have asked to be part of the collaborative process moving forward, but multiple requests for meetings with the administration have been ignored.

“I have had several meetings with them cancelled and when I do get meetings with them they tell me that they don’t want to talk about it with me,” he said. “I feel very sad too because I know we have very dynamic, amazing educators on this team who care about students.”  

Bean said there are concerns with implementing change in a successful program but believes the changes could help faculty become reinvested in first year students with the upcoming challenges at the university, including the academic reorganization.

Wheetley said professors have a lot going on and the amount of work the Saluki Success staff do outside of the classroom is significant.

“This is a very much a hand-holding, caretaking position and you cannot expect someone that has the demands of a 10-year position to be that hands-on,” Wheetley said. “No one is going to be there for students next semester, in the way that we have been there for them.

Wheetley said she think it’s disrespectful to the faculty to expect them to take on this additional responsibility.

“I think it really devalues our efforts when the administration really doesn’t see a difference between me and anybody else that might teach this course,” she said.

Komarraju said the situation is not perfect but every model has pros and cons.

“I acknowledge that this is not perfect, but you pick and say okay – this is what I can live with, this is what I want to do [and] this is what I want to accomplish,” Komarraju said.

Weshinksy said in one of his team’s conversations with the interim provost, a staff member asked: “When students have issues like they have been discriminated against or sexually assaulted – we stop everything we’re doing and help them in real time. In the [Saluki Success staff’s] absence […] can we bring them to you?”

Weschinskey said Kommaraju replied ‘No, I’ll be busy doing other things’ and claimed student problems are when they can’t find their classes or when they do not know the names of buildings. He said the reality is student’s lives are messy and complicated – everything all at once.

“For anybody to think that students biggest problems are that they can’t find a building or room on campus doesn’t understand what student’s lives really [are] like and probably shouldn’t be running the 101 course,” Weschinskey said.

Emily Cooper, Editor in Chief, can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ecooper212.

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