SIU provost candidate holds forum for faculty, students

By Bethany Rentfro and Brandi Courtois

Interim Provost Meera Komarraju is the sole candidate for the permanent provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs position at the university. 

SIU held an open forum for students Tuesday where Komarraju spoke about her plans for the university and answered student questions. 

“One thing that is a hallmark for a great organization is that they excel at what they do,” Komarraju said. “My vision, my goal for SIU, is that this can be a place where students have the best programs.” 

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Komarraju said one way to fix the problem of recruitment at SIU Carbondale is to create a positive attitude about the university. 

“We must work really hard to create a positive narrative about the City of Carbondale,” Komarraju said. “I believe that we can work to advance [SIU] in a positive way.” 

Students were allowed to ask questions and voice their concerns to Komarraju about university matters. 

Many students said they feel there is a lack of diversity on campus when it comes to faculty and staff.  

Avian Wilkins, the coordinator for the Black Student Affairs Council and a junior studying political science and Africana studies, said she feels it is important for students to relate to faculty and staff on campus. 

“When I came here as a freshman, I didn’t see very many faculty and staff that looked like me,” Wilkins said. “It’s always been an issue, and I’ve always voiced that issue since I came here.” 

Komarraju addressed her initiatives to ensure a diverse learning environment for students. 

“That is certainly an area where we need to do a lot of work,” Komarraju said. “The university would be a more welcoming place if students had a sense of belonging and felt included.” 

Wilkins said diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. It also includes people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. 

“We don’t need only race and ethnicity,” Wilkins said. “We need somebody that’s gay, white and a female, or gay, black and a male. We need somebody in each department that looks different from everybody else that students can come to.” 

Komarraju said fixing the issue of diversity is not simple. 

“It’s not that it isn’t a desire,” Kormarraju said. “It is a question of who applies.” 

Students said they did not feel Komarraju answered the questions in an accurate and specific way. 

“I feel like she kind of just danced around the question that I asked her,” Wilkins said. “She never really gave solutions for it. They are doing internal searches for most of the positions on campus […] that’s not going to be a diverse faculty and staff.” 

Komarraju also talked about balancing a budget in terms of paying professors and ensuring academic funds are progressing. 

Asia Taylor, a junior studying animal science in the School of Agriculture, said she did not feel Komarraju gave a clear answer about academic funds. 

“Throughout the entire meeting, all I heard was expenses, expenses, expenses,” Taylor said. “I never heard anything about revenue, so I wasn’t very encouraged about how she was going to help our academic programs when we aren’t able to offer competitive wages to our students.”

Taylor said funding is a concern for her program specifically because SIU has one of the top agricultural programs in the nation. 

“To see this program deteriorate over the course of the year, I am not very encouraged that SIU is going to be able to help their programs as quickly as they would like,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said she agreed with Wilkens about diversity being an issue on campus. 

“It is definitely a concern from what I’ve heard from other minorities on campus,” Taylor said. “I’m used to seeing people of all colors, all races, speaking different languages. To not be able to see the diversity on our campus is disturbing.” 

Brione Lockett, student trustee, said the university needs an administration who cares about the students, but he said Komarraju took time to answer the students’ questions. 

“I do think she answered each question she received, it may not have been how we wanted it,” Lockett said.

Prior to the student forum, Komarraju spoke at a faculty forum where she gave a similar presentation to faculty members about her vision for the university. 

Komarraju said there’s not much that she can do by herself, but she believes that if faculty, staff and students work together with a common purpose, it’s possible for SIU to move toward a positive future.

“If we can break through the noise surrounding SIU, we can communicate positiveness,” Komarraju said at the faculty forum. “The further you go away from SIU, the more positive are the things that you hear about the university.” 

Staff reporter Bethany Rentfro can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BethanyRentfro.

Contributing writer News Editor Brandi Courtois can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandi_Courtois.

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