Amazing discoveries and thought-provoking lectures

There’s no shortage of excitement on the SIU campus. Whether we’re organizing an interactive university experience for local high school students, hosting Saluki families from across the globe for an event-packed weekend, or revving up the Saluki Spirit for homecoming, we’ve always got something happening.

With so much to see and do, it’s easy to overlook some of the more thought-provoking lectures and speakers who come to campus. But I highly recommend taking time to hear about some truly awe-inspiring experiences.

Finding a lost city and surviving the Honduran jungle

Steve Elkins in Honduran jungle

After starting his career at SIU, Steve Elkins traveled to Honduras to find a legendary city lost to the jungle. His documentary and best-selling book about the expedition have earned him international recognition, and he’s coming back to SIU to tell his story.

Elkins will be presenting at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the SIU Student Center Ballrooms. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow the presentation in the Student Center International Lounge.

He will also take some time to speak to the students in the geomythology and geographic information system classes at SIU.

Focusing on Illinois and its history

From around the world to our own backyard, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute has an impressive lineup of speakers and presentations focused on Illinois history and the role of leadership in our state and nation.

Coming up next is the Morton-Kenney Public Affairs lecture featuring Ira Shapiro. Shapiro is a former U.S. trade ambassador and author of “The Last Great Senate” and “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?”

His talk, beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Student Center Auditorium, is titled “Where Have All the Statesmen and Stateswomen Gone?”

One-time-only performance of ‘Churchill’ comes to SIU

Ron Keaton as Winston Churchill

Ron Keaton earned national acclaim for his one-man performance of the play “Churchill,” both in New York and Chicago. His performances, which depict Winston Churchill shortly after the Allied victory in Europe during World War II, often played to sold-out crowds.

Tuesday, he will give a free performance of the play at Shryock Auditorium on the SIU campus. The performance starts at 7 p.m. and registration is not required to attend.

Discouraging bigotry and celebrating diversity

You may have seen media reports of fliers and other communication appearing across southern Illinois and nearby areas – including on campuses – that promote white supremacy groups or call out individuals who share their views. This is happening on campuses across the country, including SIU.

A flier appearing on campus and on social media over the last several days describes an SIU student as a Nazi. This student’s expression of his views has raised a number of questions and concerns, including requests that we remove the student and revoke any scholarship that has been awarded. We absolutely understand and value this feedback.

The views of white supremacists, any other group promoting hate, and all those who seek to demean and marginalize others are abhorrent. They do not align with the university’s mission or values, and they do not represent what we stand for as a campus community.

In fact, we ask all students on campus to follow the Saluki creed: “As a Saluki, I pledge to forward these ideas and ideals: I discourage bigotry and celebrate diversity by striving to learn from differences in people’s ideas and opinions. I will embrace the ideals of freedom of civilized expression, intellectual inquiry and respect for others.”

Free speech

In spite of our strong disagreement with the views and statements advocated by these groups, their perspectives are considered to be free speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. All students share the right of free speech, even speech with which we strongly disagree. The right to free speech includes the right to hold and express views that most of us would condemn.

Further, scholarships and financial aid are awarded based on a student’s academic achievements or financial need. As a public institution, we cannot and do not ask about political or social views when admitting students or awarding any type of financial aid. Doing so could lead to perceptions of bias and illegal discrimination.

Again, SIU is not alone in facing the serious societal issues reflected in the messages espoused by hate groups. As has been said elsewhere, the best antidote for hate speech is more speech that counters the views we disagree with – a concept that relates very much to our role as an educational institution.

Carol Christ, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, put it this way: “[t]he most popular argument for free speech is not one of legal constraint – that we’re required to allow it – but of value. The public expression of many sharply divergent points of view is fundamental both to our democracy and to our mission as a university.”

Learn and participate

Our obligation to comply with and respect the law does not prevent any of us from proactively speaking out against racism and bias, and it does not prevent us from focusing on education and dialog about addressing these serious issues. Here are just a few ways you can learn more and participate in the conversation:

  • Next Thursday, Sept. 27, you are invited to attend the play The Defamation Experience, a play exploring how race, religion, class and gender intersect. It takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Lesar Law Building Auditorium.
  • Staff, students and departments can participate in diversity workshops, which focus on maintaining the inclusive excellence of our campus and cover the concepts of diversity, privilege, intersectionality, inclusivity and being an ally. Visit the Office of the Associate Chancellor for Diversity training website to explore training opportunities and to learn how to request training.
  • University Housing’s Office of Residence Life provides programs for residents that span a broad spectrum of diversity-related topics. Residence Life staff host a series of town hall meetings to address more specific topics, including current events relating to issues of diversity. The first town hall meetings will be held throughout the month of October and will include opportunities for students to discuss incidents from this fall semester.
  • Explore the resources across campus, including the Student Multicultural Resource Center dedicated to helping all students think, grow and succeed.

The university has been expanding diversity-related programming in order to give everyone an opportunity to reflect upon what it means to be a Saluki. A new diversity event calendar, housed on the Office of the Associate Chancellor for Diversity website, is being developed to help you stay up-to-date on events and activities.

Staying attuned

The university is continually assessing all information we receive to ensure that our students, faculty and staff can work, live and learn in a supportive, welcoming and safe environment.

Students who are concerned about these issues and fliers should reach out to the Office of the Dean of Students, Saluki Cares or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for assistance.

As always, any individual who is threatened or aware of threatening statements or behaviors should report them to the SIU Department of Public Safety immediately.

With your help, we can work together to fulfill our mission as a university committed to diversity and inclusive excellence.

Continuing progress on academic organization

During the last two weeks, the Graduate Council and Faculty Senate have voted on several proposals for new schools. To date, five proposals have been approved by both bodies, and three more have been approved by the Senate and are pending votes in the Council. A few proposals have not been supported, and others are still under consideration.

I am grateful for the thoughtful, constructive discussion and feedback as well as the hard work of our faculty in taking up the review of all of the proposals to date. This is shared governance in action.

What’s next

Here are the schools approved by both bodies:

  • School of Computing
  • School of Earth Systems and Sustainability
  • School of Health Sciences
  • School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences
  • School of Justice and Public Safety

These schools will move forward to the next step in the process, which is the completion of the proposals for submission to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. We will work informally and collaboratively with faculty and current department and school leaders to begin developing provisional implementation plans so that we will be prepared to move forward smoothly and effectively once final approval for a school is in place.

In the case of proposals that were not approved, we will look at them again closely before determining next steps. And there are still a number of proposals in the pipeline.

Regardless, the provost’s office will continue to work closely with faculty on academic reorganization.

Recent Discussions with Faculty Association

Last week, the Faculty Association announced that it is in joint discussions with the university regarding potential settlement of several grievances filed previously under the collective bargaining agreement’s Article 9. While I will not go into detail about these discussions out of respect for the process, it is important to understand that no settlement agreement has been reached.

We are carefully considering every option, and we are hopeful that we will reach an agreeable resolution. I can say that the discussions with our colleagues in the Association have been cordial and productive.

Board approves salary increases

Today, the SIU Board of Trustees unanimously approved a 1 percent salary increase for non-represented staff. Some unionized groups have a clause in their collective bargaining agreements that ties any FY19 increases to those for non-represented Carbondale employees. These employees will also receive the 1 percent increase effective July 1.

Please join me in thanking the Board of Trustees for its support of our faculty and staff.

A compensation increase has been one of my top priorities, since many or even most SIU staff members have not received any raise since 2013. While I had wished to be able to offer more, we must continue to be mindful of our budget in the face of declining enrollment. However, I am convinced that we will turn enrollment around and find other ways to provide increases in the future.

The increase is retroactive to July 1. Those individuals eligible for the increase will see it reflected in a future paycheck.

For unionized groups with open contracts, we will continue to move forward with collective bargaining, as appropriate to our contractual agreements.

Meanwhile, I remain grateful for all of the hard work all of our staff members are doing, and all they have done in recent years, to ensure that we continue to serve students in the face of budget reductions.

There are many signs that your work is paying off. Thank you.

Student success begins here

As I have said before, students are at the heart of everything we do here at SIU. Our mission to nurture student success means that we must provide unparalleled opportunity to explore all of the many academic, research and campus life activities our university has to offer. That means eliminating barriers and supporting our students in any way we can.

I take great pride in the many financial aid opportunities we offer to all of our students, as they make it possible for students from all backgrounds to obtain a world-class education at a major research institution.

But, I am particularly delighted by the wide variety of robust scholarship and assistantship programs made possible by the support of our amazing donors. These programs help students pay for their tuition and other direct costs, support innovative and interesting research and creative projects, and connect students with faculty and staff mentors to guide their education.

Chancellor’s Scholars shine bright

I am delighted every year to be involved with the pinnacle of these programs, the Chancellor’s Scholarship. Awarded each year to the most promising incoming freshmen and transfer students, these scholarships help students achieve their highest potential.

Nearly 400 students participated in the scholarship interview weekend earlier this year. The selections are based on the students’ ACT or SAT scores, academic credentials submitted at the time of admission, and personal interviews.

This year’s freshman and transfer recipients came from a variety of backgrounds and are entering a diverse selection of programs throughout the university, including accounting, aviation, chemistry, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering. They each bring something unique and special to SIU, and I am proud to call each of them a Saluki.

Opportunities available for varied interests

Scholarships are available for many programs, interests and goals and are awarded throughout the year. If you are a student or have been recently accepted for admission, please take a moment to view the many scholarships available and fill out our SIU General Scholarship Application.

Also, don’t forget about the numerous other types of financial aid we offer to help students achieve their dreams, including grants, assistantships and student employment.

In addition, our Saluki Cents program helps students manage their money, make smart financial decisions and prepare for their futures. Plan now to attend one of the many fall 2018 events.

Helping Salukis build careers

People reviewing a resume

I strongly believe that the college years are about finding your passion. SIU provides lots of opportunities to explore multiple disciplines as well as to learn new skills that will serve students well whether they go on to a job or graduate school once they earn an undergraduate degree.

And while we recognize that not every passion can or should make a career, we also know that our students cannot live their best lives without ultimately finding the right opportunity that provides financial support for their dreams.

That is why we have the Career Development Center. The wonderful staff there help students and alumni achieve their career goals through education, assessment and counseling, assistance with resumes, graduate and professional school applications, mock interviews and more.

Upcoming events

Want to connect with employers? Need to update your professional wardrobe? Interested in polishing your interview skills? The Career Development Center sponsors events throughout the year to help in a variety of ways.

In September and October alone, the center has plans for job fairs, walk-up resume critiques, workshops, and a “Suit-Up” event at J.C. Penney. It also runs the Professional Clothing Closet, where students can get an outfit for attending interviews at no cost.

Saluki Mentor Network helps students and faculty connect

The center just launched the Saluki Mentor Network, a new program that helps students connect with  faculty, staff and alumni who can provide guidance and support with their studies and while building their careers. In October, it will also host the Extern Program.

If you’re interested in being a mentor, or finding a mentor, sign up at

Support on-campus and beyond

This support doesn’t end once you earn your degree. Alumni have access to the same career assistance available to current students, including advising and assessment, access to Handshake, our job search and recruiting tool, workshops and career fairs.

So, whether you’re a current student or alumnus don’t miss out on these great opportunities to develop professional skills and land a good job.

Fall 2018 enrollment

Official enrollment figures for fall 2018 are in. Despite an anticipated decline, there is some very good news in the numbers.

For example, the average ACT scores of our first-time students saw an increase to 23.65 this year, compared to 22.82 last year. This is in part due to our efforts to tighten our admissions standards to make sure that those students who enroll can be successful here.

This is an increase of more than .8 percent over the previous year and the highest in at least 20 years. Our average ACT score is above both national and state averages and places SIU student scores among the top 26 percent nationally. That’s a jump of 10 percentage points from just a year ago.

Freshman retention rates are also up to 71.08 percent, up 3.18 percent over last year and, again, the highest in recent years. This means that many of the steps we took last year are already having an impact.

Here’s a little additional information about this year’s total student body: This year’s student body is 53 percent male and 47 percent female. In line with the past few years, nearly 28 percent are minority, and more than 8 percent are international.

A long-term effort

The enrollment figures were higher than we had originally projected thanks in no small part to the work of our faculty and staff and funds from the SIU Foundation and Alumni Association that helped close financial gaps for new and returning students. We especially exceeded our initial estimates for new, first-time students.

We took a lot of steps this year to address our enrollment challenges knowing that the greatest impact will be next year and in the future. This is because the recruitment cycle for fall of 2018 was already well underway when we got started on our transformation. Universities are always working 18 months or more ahead to get materials and strategies in place.

In fact, we did a lot in spite of being behind the curve. For example, we:

  • Expanded the number of students we recruited.
  • Streamlined the admissions application and acceptance process.
  • Conducted college-level calling campaigns.
  • Closed financial gaps for new and returning students with help from the SIU Foundation and the SIU Alumni Association.
  • Brought more students to campus through new initiatives.
  • Added housing scholarships and grants for new and returning students.
  • Expanded and increased our targeting through digital recruiting methods.

But we know that it will be a long-term process to meet our goal of growing enrollment to 18,300 by 2025.

Future impact

Many of the things we started this year look forward to fall 2019 and beyond. For example, we:

  • Hired a new enrollment management leader who is bringing the many pieces of enrollment strategy across campus together.
  • Began an academic reorganization that will make it easier for students to find the programs they are looking for and create resources we can invest to grow or add high-demand programs.
  • Began a review of our core curriculum to ensure that all students graduate with the communication skills and cultural competencies they need to be successful after graduation.
  • Completely revamped our recruitment materials and messages to reflect more energy, focus more on what makes us distinctive and more on the total college experience.
  • Began earlier outreach to all high school students, even freshmen, because the college search is beginning earlier than ever.
  • Focused on retention by centralizing academic advising, improving orientation, updating the student fee structure, enhancing career services and more.
  • Explored and are implementing enhancements to the student experience through concerts, a makerspace, e-sports and more.

We will also soon be increasing our investments in student recruitment marketing and diving deeper into retention – a core but often overlooked factor in enrollment.

Looking forward

Even as we look to 2019, we know that there will be enrollment challenges as the larger classes from earlier years graduate and the smaller recent classes move through the system. If we continue on course, it will likely be three years before we begin to see a true turnaround in total enrollment.

But as I’ve noted earlier, we need to focus on the progress we are making. Already, we are seeing increased registration for fall open houses and increased applications for fall 2019 when compared with the previous year.

Enrollment – both recruitment and retention – must be owned by every one of us. I have been encouraged that the entire university community is stepping forward to embrace this important cause. Given the signs of progress and clear commitment, I remain confident that we are heading in the right direction.

Honorary degrees and service awards recognize leaders

Janice L. Jacobs, Richard W. Peck and Bob Gower
(From left) Janice L . Jacobs, who received a doctorate of public service; Richard W. Peck, who received a doctorate of literary arts; and Distinguished Service Award recipient Bob Gower at the 2018 commencement ceremony in May.

At our May commencement, we had the pleasure of honoring an outstanding group of alumni:

  • U.S. Diplomat Janice Jacobs, who received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service.
  • Award-winning children’s novelist Richard Peck, who received an honorary Doctorate of Literary Arts.
  • Actor Richard Roundtree, who received an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts.
  • International business leader Bob Gower, who received a Distinguished Service Award.
  • Former SIU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harvey Welch Jr., who received a Distinguished Service Award.

It was a proud day that showcased outstanding graduates who have made a difference in their fields.

Honorary degrees and distinguished service awards give us an opportunity to recognize individuals for professional achievements and service. They help us highlight successes across a range of professions, and they connect to our academic and service mission.

Time to nominate

As we look toward next spring’s commencement, it’s time to nominate potential honorary degree and distinguished award winners who will be recognized. Here’s what you need to know:

Honorary degrees are reserved for outstanding scholarly contributors and for persons of considerable renown in any field of activity. They do not have to be alumni.

Distinguished Service Awards are reserved for individuals who have contributed significantly to southern Illinois, the state or the university.

Anyone – faculty, staff and interested community members – can nominate someone for either honor. Nominations are due October 24. You can learn more about criteria and how to nominate someone for an honorary degree or Distinguished Service Award online.

Nominating individuals for these awards takes commitment and time, but as those who have done so in the past will tell you, it is also very rewarding.

By recognizing leadership and commitment, we are sending a clear message about our values. We can also highlight our academic strengths and our graduates, and we can help our graduates see the possibilities for success.

I encourage you to consider nominating a worthy recipient who will help us make all of these important connections.

The campus visit: Seeing is believing

The campus visit is the most important factor that influences college choice. The visit helps students learn about academic programs and campus life and envision themselves at SIU.

Because the campus visit is so critical, we must do everything possible to get students to come see our beautiful campus and make sure they have a positive experience before, during and after their visit.

It’s especially important to bring students who are from Southern Illinois to campus so they can see the many opportunities that are available to them in their own back yard.

I’m pleased that we have been expanding efforts to reach out to students in the region with some significant results. Of course, we always welcome students for open houses and personal campus tours, but with additional outreach, we are bringing even more prospective students to SIU.

Connecting with area schools

For example, recently we held our first open house at the Transportation Education Center for students who might be interested in automotive or aviation fields. It attracted more than 200 students from nine area schools and was so successful we’re doing it again this year.

We also welcomed students from two schools to Morris Library to learn about what it’s like to do research in a university library. We’ll welcome more schools this year. Faculty librarians will work closely with teachers on lesson plans that make use of library resources. Students will then come to get hands-on experience with library research for real class projects.

Another new initiative is SIU day on Sept. 19. We have invited high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from about 60 neighboring school districts and expect hundreds of them to be on campus to learn about everything from engineering and business to English and psychology.

These efforts are in addition to inviting Southern Illinois students and families on Sept. 29; the Leaders and Scholars event for high-potential students on Nov. 9; and upcoming invitations for high school guidance counselors and administrators.

Outreach and effort

None of this is happening by chance.

It’s happening because of increased outreach to school administrators and teachers. It’s happening because a number of offices, including admissions, community relations and academic affairs, are building connections on and off campus between regional schools and SIU programs. It’s happening because our faculty and staff are stepping up to the plate to help students see the opportunities available to them at SIU.

Every one of us must continue to go above and beyond to bring prospective students to campus and make sure they are welcome when they get here. Thank you to all who are doing your part to make a positive difference in our enrollment trajectory.

Here’s a final, important note: If you see a group of students – possibly with family members — walking around with black and maroon cinch sacks, they are probably visiting campus. Please say “hello,” ask them if they have questions, or simply engage them in friendly conversation. Making them feel welcome will go a long way to helping them see themselves at SIU.

International partnerships give Salukis a global perspective

In an increasingly global society, SIU’s mission of inclusive excellence and creating and exchanging knowledge takes on a new meaning. In order to fulfill that mission and prepare our students to compete in a worldwide economy, SIU has partnered with universities around the globe.

Partnership with NENU provides joint degree

Students from Northeast Normal University in China
Students from Northeast Normal University in China visited the SIU campus for a two-week long summer program to experience the region, test out business classes and get a feel for what the university has to offer.

You could see the fruits of those partnerships this summer. In July, 63 students from Northeast Normal University in China visited campus for a two-week long summer program. These students took some business classes and explored all the wonderful opportunities our campus and region have to offer.

At least 20 of them will go on to earn a joint degree in accountancy from both universities. It’s an amazing program that expands educational opportunities and brings a welcome diversity to campus.

PDPU students gain valuable cultural development

Students from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University
Students from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University gather for class at SIU as part of their summer economics and cultural experience. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

Also this summer, students from Pandit Deendayal Petreoleum University (PDPU), Gujarat, India, spent four weeks in Southern Illinois to learn more about international economics.

In addition to taking economics classes on campus, the students participated in cultural experiences outside the classroom, including day trips to St. Louis and Chicago, participating in Independence Day celebrations and meeting with local officials.

This program has been so successful in two years, we are looking for ways to expand it to allow SIU students to travel to PDPU.

Nagoya University welcomes SIU students to study automotive industry

In addition to welcoming international students to Carbondale, our partnerships with foreign universities let local students gain important international experience as well.

For instance, Madeleine Meyer, a senior in our automotive program, recently spent six weeks in Japan to expand her knowledge of the global automotive industry. The Nagoya University Summer Intensive Program featured lectures from university experts, automotive manufacturers and other leaders in the industry.

These partnerships, combined with our robust study abroad programs, add a beneficial element to our students’ education, one that will become vital as technology makes the world smaller. I look forward to expanding these programs and creating new partnerships in the future.