A Look Back At SIUC's Leadership Changes in 2017

Dec 28, 2017

SIU Carbondale concluded its search for a permanent chancellor this summer when the university’s Board of Trustees selected Dr. Carlo Montemagno to lead the campus.

The sudden death of Interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela in November of 2014 set in motion a transition for SIUC that would last nearly three years. 

In the interim, Brad Colwell was appointed to lead SIUC. 

2017 brought six candidates  to Carbondale seeking the position.

The first four came in April; they were J.S Elwell, George Hynd, Brad Colwell, and Carl Pinkert.

The day after his Carbondale visit, the first candidate - J.S. Elwell - accepted a position at Eastern New Mexico University and withdrew from the SIUC search.

The next month, Carl Pinkert withdrew his name from consideration and the Board of Trustees decided to bring in two more candidates to interview.

They were Rodney Hanley and Carlo Montemagno.

Ultimately, Trustees chose Carlo Montemagno to lead SIU Carbondale and he accepted the offer.

Years of declining enrollment and two years of Illinois’ budget impasse left a lot of work for the new chancellor, but Montemagno says he’s not looking at the past, instead he’s focused on the future.

“One of the most difficult challenges that institutions have is they never want to have a clear vision because nobody wants to make any clear decisions on what’s important, what’s not important, what’s not critical, we have to define this and we have to do it now.”

To start defining that direction, Montemagno wanted input and gathered it with a survey.

“That survey is more to capture the dreams and aspiration of the entire SIU community, being faculty, staff, students and the surrounding community, what are your dreams for the institution, where would you like to see it bee in 2025.”

In September, at his State of the University address, Chancellor Montemagno said he would soon present a reorganization of SIUC’s academic structure.

“It’s re-envisioning our entire university, moving our academic programs and administrator structure to make us more agile and provide a better experience for both our faculty our students and staff.”

In October the chancellor held an open forum to present his first draft of academic reorganization.

His plan wants to restructure the university from eight colleges with 42 departments and schools to five colleges with 18 schools.

“By creating schools and realigning programs that have inherent synergy, we provide a concentration of talent that masks the challenges we are facing due to limited faculty numbers."

This plan is not sitting well with everyone, especially the Africana Studies program.

Before Chancellor Montemagno took the job, the Board of Trustees received a recommendation from a Financial Sustainability Plan in July of 2017 to eliminate the program.

“We feel a terrible loss for the campus as well as for the community at large.  We note that closure of Africana studies would be very insensitive to the needs continually evidenced in our country, and especially now for racial and cultural inclusion."

Some are saying the Chancellor is trying to quickly make changes for unclear reasons, but Montemagno says many of the aspects in the plan has been studied and talked about for years.

“People have been discussing these changes for seven years and this is a natural outgrowth of those discussions that have taken place and three studies done over seven years and there comes a time when you have to stop studying and engage in action.”

Montemagno presented his reorganization proposal to SIU Trustees in December, and faced stiff opposition during the two-day meeting from some Board members, along with members of the campus community.

Faculty and students voiced their worry and anger over the process and the statements about the university.

Especially when the chancellor compared SIU’s image to a junk car.

Dave Johnson is the faculty association president and was troubled by the comparison the chancellor made.

“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.”

Trustee Phil Gilbert worries that after a decade of studies and no action to implement changes from those studies cost the university a lot of time to alter the coarse its heading.

“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.”

Trustee Marsha Ryan also feels something has to be done even though it will be a difficult decision because of the lack of attention.

“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.”

There are some on campus pushing forward with the reorganization knowing that a change needs to happen.

Faculty Senate President Kathie Chwalisz (SH-wall-is) says some faculty are trying to make it work.

“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. 

Chancellor Montmagno says even though he’s had many meeting with both groups and individuals, he wants everyone to have a voice.

“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.”

The Board of Trustees will hear a more developed plan at the next meeting in February.