Debate over SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s proposed campus reorganization got heated as the university’s trustees met in Carbondale.
Faculty and students raised their voices to express not just concern – but in many cases anger – over how the proposal is being pushed forward, and what’s being said.
During Wednesday’s working session, Chancellor Montemagno explained to trustees how he hopes to restore SIUC’s image – and used a photo of a run-down old car in his explanation. That touched a nerve – not just with the campus community, but with Trustee Shirley Portwood.
“Who would want to come to a university whose own chancellor refers to it in such demeaning terms? Who would want to send their child to an institution that is similar to a rusted out old car? Further, it is insulting and is inaccurate. Please stop doing it. Immediately.”
Faculty Association President Dave Johnson was also less than impressed with the Chancellor’s use of imagery.
“In Chancellor Montemagno’s view, everything about SIUC is broken. Our academic structure is broken, our Core Curriculum is broken. Our research is a mess, student life is a mess. We are substandard, across the board, as he put it yesterday. SIU is a piece of junk that only Carlo Montemagno can fix.”
But the chancellor says his intent was not to portray the university as junk – rather to say the campus has lost a bit of its luster, and he wants to bring it back.
“We lost significant elements of our campus life. We have failed to put into place enterprises that are at the cutting edge of excitement and discovery in programming. So those things that we’re doing right now are to rectify that.”
Students like Brandon Kyles say they’re not a part of the process or discussion.
“We have a stake in this conversation. Obviously, we have something that matters to this conversation. And the idea that we have nothing to show for it, that we have nothing to offer, that we do not understand what is going on in this institution is a spit in our face. We completely understand what is going on with our institution. We completely understand what is happening with our institution because we are what creates this institution. An institution without student input – a university without student input is a university not made.”
Graduate Student Lauren Schafer says the plan doesn’t help her, or others like her.
“Because it does not address the campus climate issues, does not generate billions of dollars for this state, does not prevent another budget impasse, and does not disempower our federal representatives to pass things like a ‘graduate tax.’”
Chancellor Montemagno says he’s met with individuals and groups, but says he’ll have to do more.
“I have met with every constituent person there that has issued that. The faculty and the students have also provided me with input both personally, with emails, and online. So all their voices are being heard.”
Meanwhile some Trustees say they’re worried time is running out to save a declining SIU Carbondale. Trustee Phil Gilbert points to studies that were done over the past decade, and recommendations that weren’t implemented.
“We’re at a crossroads here. Organizational change does not come easy, but in tough times and uncertain times, it is necessary for the good and future of this university. And I think everybody agrees that there needs to be changes.”
And Gilbert says something must be done.
“The only guarantee that I know of is that if we keep doing the same things we’ve done for the past ten years, we’re going to see a decline in enrollment, services that we provide to the region, and to the research – which we saw today is a critical aspect of this university. We’re going to see a decline in all of that, and this university will be destined to return to the pre-Delyte Morris days.”
Trustee Marsha Ryan agrees, and says although it’s difficult something has to happen.
“The task is a gargantuan one, considering the lack of attention and action over the last many years, while we watched SIU dwindle and disappear. There was a time, several years ago, when we had a luxury of time – but not the will. Now, we have no time, and we are required to find the will.”
Faculty Senate President Kathie Chwalisz says not everyone on the campus is opposed to the chancellor’s plan. She says there are people moving forward.
“I’ve talked to a lot of faculty in units who are looking at the proposed reorganization and figuring out what that means for them. They’re coming up with alternate proposals, they’re talking with the administrations, they’re setting up meetings. They’re following the procedures that have been set out in the Article 9 processes. They’re working on this – they’re trying to figure out can we make change.”
But more than a dozen speakers continued their criticism, including Associate Professor Natasha Zaretsky.
“We all recognized that SIU is confronting what can only be described as an existential crisis. As a faculty member, I am afraid for my job. But even more, I am afraid for my university, my town, and for the southern Illinois region. And it pains me deeply to hear the chancellor compare SIUC to a junk car. That is such a disservice to me, and to my fellow educators, as well as to all of the wonderful students that I have had the honor of teaching over the years.”
The proposal received no vote, but Trustees are expecting an update from the campus in February, when they meet on the Edwardsville campus.