A disturbing prediction

Student Services Building

Futurist Thomas Frey has a disturbing prediction: more than 50 percent of traditional colleges will collapse by 2030.

He cites high overhead costs, quality of education, pricing, the job market for positions requiring a degree, and the inconvenience of time and location in a digital age among the factors that will lead to the demise of the college or university as we know it.

Most institutions, he says, will experience declining enrollment and revenues.

He asks: “How many colleges that experience a 10% decline in enrollment/revenue per year, will still be around after 5 years?” And he wonders how long legislators will be willing to invest in underperforming public institutions.

Finally, he asks: “How many colleges or universities will have the ability to reinvent themselves as this is occurring?”

Food for thought

Whether or not we agree with his look into the future, Frey gives us food for thought at SIU — just as it should for every college and university around the world. He forces us to ask some dramatic, difficult questions.

Will we be one of those institutions that risks fading away, or will we reinvent ourselves to meet the demands and needs of future students? Will we reject change, putting our heads in the sand and ignoring what’s happening in the world around us, or will we embrace it with a progressive plan for the future? Will we stagnate and die, or will we adapt and thrive?

I vote for adapting and thriving by leveraging the values and inherent strengths of SIUC. How about you?

It’s about respect

SIU Campus

British author Mary Wortley Montagu wrote that “civility costs nothing, and buys everything.”

I think this is true. It takes so little to engage in civil discourse, even when we disagree, and we are more likely to understand opposing views when they are presented civilly.

Multiple views

The word “civility” can be loaded in academe. The American Association of University Professors, in its statement on civility, indicates that some believe calls for civility can be equated with the erosion of academic freedom.

There are other views. Our own Faculty Senate debated – and ultimately withdrew from consideration – a proposed statement on civil conduct in shared governance that called for “efforts to address problems and concerns on campus in a civil and professional manner.”

The Bloomington Faculty Council at Indiana University says, in its Statement on Civility, that the university’s values include “fostering a climate of civility and mutual respect.”

“Because the university is so complex and diverse, we will not always agree with one another,” the statement says. “Nevertheless, we expect everyone to speak and act with respect for one another.”

Inside Higher Education columnist Judith Shapiro offers this perspective: “Some critics of the civility standard propose that it can only be useful if operationalized and thus able to pass muster in terms of specificity. This, however, requires us to face the fact that formal codes and procedures are no substitute for shared norms about appropriate, responsible, civilized behavior.”

Civility on campus

In the examples above, civility is being discussed in different contexts – shared governance, supporting campus diversity and inclusion, and engaging in debate on divisive public issues.

Regardless of the context, I think civility in an academic setting is about professionalism and respect. I believe strongly in both academic freedom and civil discourse, and I hope we embrace them both at SIU. Lack of civility damages us all. Embracing civility costs us nothing and buys us everything.

Athletics, finances and the Saluki experience

Saluki Stadium

As you may know, our athletics program has been facing financial challenges that have grown in recent years for a number of reasons – including enrollment declines affecting the athletics fee and state budget challenges.

We are not alone: very few athletics programs across the country are self-supporting.

Since arriving in August, I have been closely looking at the very challenging and complex financial situation facing Saluki athletics. The deficit has greatly increased over the last five years, and answers to stemming the tide are difficult to find.

The bottom line is the funding model is not sustainable.  The university must take an in-depth review of Saluki athletics to create a plan that will first lead to realizing a balanced budget on an annual basis and then address the significant long-term deficit position while maintaining our position as a competitive NCAA Division I program.

The value of athletics

Even as we study athletics finances, we must remain aware that our student athletes excel in the classroom while adding vibrancy and excitement to our campus life.  Intercollegiate athletics at a comprehensive research institution like SIU Carbondale is a critical component of our community engagement and an attraction for students.

Athletics generates spirit, pride and loyalty among our students, alumni and community.

Athletics provides a window into SIU for people who would not be engaged with us otherwise. It creates awareness that extends beyond sports and provides a platform to talk about who we are as an academic institution.

Athletics helps attract visitors who support the local economy – hotels, restaurants and more. Athletics fans from near and far support the vitality of our community and region.

The Saluki experience

Much like the arts and other cultural activities, athletics contributes to the entire Saluki experience. It’s part of who we are as a university.

Athletics recruits good students to be part of that experience for all students. The academic success of our student athletes — which exceeds that of the overall student body in terms of both grade-point-average and graduation rates — contributes to the overall academic reputation of the university.

Athletics also generates financial support, sometimes for the campus as a whole, as when donors support both athletics and academics, and sometimes to support specific opportunities for student athletes.

Following up on a recent gift by alumnus Tilden Parks, we will soon be announcing a major donation from another long-time athletics fan who wants to help students succeed.

Support our student athletes

In a recent blog post, I encouraged attendance as our basketball teams close out the season and head to the Missouri Valley Conference championship. I repeat this request here: our student athletes, like all of our students, deserve our support.

Meanwhile, I am working diligently to develop a sustainable funding model that supports our NCAA Division I programs as we work together to progressively advance the entirety of our extraordinary institution.

An updated look at academic reorganization

A number of people have asked for the most current version of our proposed academic structure. While it continues to evolve thanks to ongoing input from our faculty, I’ve posted the current version on the Vision 2025 website.

You’ll see a lot of changes. Most significant among them are in the schools:

The former School of Accountancy and Finance in the College of Business is now two schools: a School of Accountancy and a School of Analytics, Finance and Economics.

We’ve added a School of Computing to the renamed College of Science, Technology, Transportation, Engineering and Math (or ST2EM, our own version of STEM). In this college, we have also divided the School of Transportation and Applied Technology into a School of Applied Engineering and Technology and a School of Transportation.

And we have created a new School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences in the renamed College of Health Services and Human Science.

Evolving plan

A number of programs have been moved to new schools or even colleges at the suggestion of faculty. In fact, over the course of 70 meetings with faculty and other stakeholders – and counting – we have made more than 100 changes in the plan to date, including changing the location of programs, adding schools and renaming both schools and colleges. And while I think we are close, I am sure there are additional changes to come based on feedback.

I continue to be grateful for the constructive engagement of our faculty in proposing changes that best address the needs of their programs. They are the ones who must and will own our academic programs regardless of the final structure.

In the Dawg Pound

My favorite part of a Saluki basketball game, besides winning, is the Dawg Pound. Students gather in the stands on the south side of the arena – the Dawg Pound – to demonstrate their support of the team loudly. They cheer in full Saluki gear, follow the cues of our great pep band, and add their own form of entertainment to the game experience. One example: At the Bradley game, it was quite a sight as they threw confetti when the team was announced.

I love the Dawg Pound. It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s special to SIU. It is a community that comes together every game to say: “I’m proud to be a Saluki.”

Dawg Pound brings a positive energy to the SIU experience that I hope we can spread across campus. Let’s do it!

Support our teams

I hope to see a great turnout, both in the Dawg Pound and the rest of the arena, for the last home men’s basketball game of the season vs. Loyola at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, in SIU Arena. It should be a great game, as the team is currently in second place in the conference standings behind Loyola. We also hope for a great showing at the Missouri Valley Conference championships in St. Louis March 1-4.

The women’s basketball team, also doing well and in fourth place in the conference, has two more home games: Thursday, March 1, at 6 p.m. against Indiana State and Saturday, March 3, at 2 p.m. vs. Evansville. Both games are in SIU Arena. The MVC championships follow March 8-11 in Moline.

Please come support our student athletes.


Space exploration: A look at our campus

Aerial view of the SIU Campus

Space. We looked toward it in August as the center of a total eclipse. Now, it is time to look earthward at a different kind of space – our own facilities at SIU.

How can we use our classrooms and laboratories strategically to provide the best academic experience for students and faculty members alike? How can wise use of space maximize synergy, enhance communication and promote cross-disciplinary learning and research?

If we are to answer these significant questions, we need to undertake a long-overdue review of space utilization on campus.

Enhancing the student experience

In addition to looking at our academic spaces, we must also consider our student housing space. SIU has had great success with living-learning communities that bring together students who share similar majors or interests. What can we do to even further integrate our on-campus life with initiatives that promote academic success?

The housing staff is looking at ways we can enhance spaces such as study rooms to reflect each LLC community. Examples already in place are a drafting table are in the architecture LLC and an engine room for automotive technology students. They are also exploring a faculty-in-residence program to better integrate the inside- and outside-the-classroom experiences.

What more can we do optimize housing and other student-focused spaces, such as the Student Center, to enhance the student experience? One example currently under discussion: I have asked Jim Garvey and Lori Stettler, vice chancellor for student affairs, to look at creating a highly visible makerspace with funds made possible by an SIU donor. A makerspace allows students to get together to create and explore, providing the tools and room to do so. It will help attract students to the Student Center and add excitement to campus life. I’m looking forward to the outcome.

Efficient use of space

While our primary focus needs to be on using our space strategically to achieve our goals, we cannot ignore the importance of using all of our space efficiently. Currently, we use only 10 percent of our classroom space after 5 p.m., for example. Over last summer, we saved $60,000 in utility and maintenance costs by closing Lawson Hall, a classroom building. Our current infrastructure once supported nearly 25,000 students, and even when we reach our goal of 18,300 by 2025, we will still have plenty of room. This raises an additional question: How should we prioritize our investments in maintaining spaces across campus?

Finding the answers

I have asked Lizette Chevalier, associate provost for academic program; Jim Garvey, interim vice chancellor for research; and Judy Marshall, executive director of finance and administration, to engage the campus in a review of how we use our space and what we might do to make sure we are making optimal use of our classrooms, laboratories, studios and other facilities that support our academic mission. They will engage individuals from the colleges, administrative offices and housing, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Stettler, to help assess how we’re using space currently and offer recommendations for improvement. I look forward to their recommendations.

Being Transparent

As someone who believes in being open, I am sharing the following statement with the campus community:

In the interest of transparency, we are providing information about the status of moving expense reimbursement for Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, as well as proposed costs for the move of his laboratory equipment that he is donating to the university.

The chancellor’s employment contract included up to $61,000 to cover “actual costs of expenses related to moving and storage, if needed, of household, personal, and professional office possessions from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Carbondale, Illinois.”  What was to be included in the contracted amount was not part of a detailed listing, so there was a misunderstanding about what could be covered in the move.

The chancellor owned two homes in Edmonton, and when the moving costs for the homes exceeded the contracted amount, not including the lab equipment, Chancellor Montemagno paid the difference to the moving company directly.  He has also agreed to pay for and has already reimbursed the university for the move of the second home.

The final cost of the move as allowed under the chancellor’s contract is $49,853.58.  Related documentation is being released with this statement.  The pending move of the chancellor’s laboratory equipment remains under discussion and will be addressed separately.

Thank you for your feedback

Pen laying on a survey form

Every day, on campus and off, people come up to me and volunteer feedback on our proposed reorganization. Feedback has also come in through hundreds of emails and the nearly 70 meetings with faculty and other stakeholders I have had so far.

I value all of it, positive and negative. While I always hope that feedback is constructive and on point, I take it seriously regardless. I thank every faculty member, every staff member, every student, every alumnus, every donor and every community member who has taken the time to share their views.

The board meeting

Last week, at the meeting of the Board of Trustees in Edwardsville, a number of faculty and staff members came to express their views. This is a welcome, important part of the shared governance process, and I again thank all who made the trip, regardless of their position.

I do want to give special thanks to those faculty and staff, including representatives of the Civil Service and Administrative Professional Staff Councils, who came forward with comments and resolutions of support for our direction. I am also grateful to others who came simply to show their support.

It’s important for voices representing multiple perspectives to be heard, and I thank you for adding yours to the public conversation.

Students lead the Saluki pack

Students talking outside

I have said before that a comprehensive university needs to offer its students more than career training. It needs a core curriculum that provides students with a broad base of knowledge and a wide range of electives to help students specialize their skills. This is true. But, to be a truly comprehensive university and produce the type of graduates who go on to be leaders in their fields, an institution needs to go beyond the classroom.

Here at SIU, we embrace this challenge to provide not only a well-rounded education, but also a vibrant and engaging campus life. Our student body is one of the most diverse in the state, consisting of students from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide variety of interests. Providing opportunities for each student to thrive is essential to our core mission. At the same time, we are limited in the number of classes we can offer.

So how do we expand our classroom experience to allow students to socialize, build real-world skills and emerge as leaders? By letting our students lead the way. Our campus is home to more than 300 registered student organizations.

Registered Student Organizations bring Salukis together

To me, the best thing about RSOs is that they are driven by students. With some guidance from a faculty advisor, students are instrumental in starting new RSOs. Students determine the RSO’s activities and mission. Students manage every aspect of the RSO, from recruitment to fundraising to event planning.

This means that RSOs are tailored specifically to what our students want and need to supplement their education at SIU. Groups specialize in anything from engineering to arts, student government to religious groups, sports to professional honorary societies.

While some of these groups are more active than others, there are many that do exceptional things. For instance, in a recent blog, I talked about the accomplishments of the amazing Flying Salukis, who consistently place at the top of national competitions, and our robotics team, whose robot “Winston” recently dominated a national engineering completion.

Here are a few other notable groups:

Engineering of all shapes and sizes

Students who want to know how things work have numerous opportunities to dig in and create something thanks to the variety of RSOs connected with the College of Engineering.

SIU’s branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers have topped competitions with their steel bridge and concrete canoe designs. This year, SIU will host 16 teams for the Mid-Continent Student Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers April 19-21. I fully expect our team to make SIU proud. Other engineering focused RSOs build Formula-style racecars, moonbuggies and rockets for various competitions.

Stewards of the environment

As I’ve discussed before, sustainability is an issue close to my heart, and Salukis are exceptional stewards of the environment. Many RSOs give students a chance to take that commitment a step further.

S.E.N.S.E. (Students Embracing Nature, Sustainability, and the Environment) is where many sustainability efforts across campus are born. These dedicated students led the initiative to institute the student green fee and work every day to protect the environment.

Creativity abounds

RSOs across campus help Salukis express their creativity in any medium, associated with the School of Art and Design, Theater, Music, or Mass Communications and Media Arts.

The Big Muddy Crew works to plan and organize the annual Big Muddy Film Festival, which will celebrate its 40th year Feb. 19-25. The festival’s schedule is packed with films from a variety of genres and many focus on important social issues.

The Africana Theater Laboratory highlights African and African American art by producing theatrical performances and events featuring minority student artists. Any student can participate, regardless of experience or cultural or ethnic background.

Business and financial leaders start here

Got a head for business? SIU has a whole host of RSOs for you.

The Saluki Student Investment Fund traditionally outperforms 90 percent of professionally managed midcap portfolios. The group more than doubled the portfolio it manages for the SIU Foundation and currently manages $1.62 million in assets. During the next academic year, a group of SSIF students will travel to Omaha to meet with Warren Buffet as part of a selective program run by the billionaire fund manager.

Re-established in 1989, Blacks Interested in Business focuses on developing business leaders. Its focus is on creating opportunity for students regardless of ethnicity or cultural background. Any student is welcome to join.

Staying active

Students who want to get moving and stay fit can participate in just about any sport imaginable.

For instance, the SIU Carbondale Equestrian Team stimulates interest in horsemanship, and provides members with an avenue to increase their knowledge about horses. They have an organized, structured riding program involving lessons and competition in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Events.

Giving back

Other RSOs focus entirely on community service and fundraising, like Up Til Dawn. They host an “up all night” event to solicit donations for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. They have raised about $20,000 this year, and won national recognition in the past for their efforts.

Salukis can pursue their passions or just have fun        

Whether they want to develop skills for a future career, give back to the community or simply have fun with their friends, chances are students can find an RSO that meets their needs. If their interests aren’t yet on the list, they’re welcome to start their own.

I can’t wait to see what these amazing groups do next.

From reorganization to revitalization

Desks in a row

Over the last couple of weeks I have been meeting with faculty in potential new schools that might result from academic reorganization. The conversation is constructive, the questions are thoughtful and the commitment to SIU is clear.

Many faculty are excited about the opportunities that reorganization will present. They recognize that reorganization is the vehicle, not the destination. It’s the platform for change, not the goal.

Reorganization will break down artificial administrative barriers, giving faculty more flexibility to build and revitalize our programs – to distinguish them in ways that will make us stand out and attract students. Faculty will have more capacity to focus on teaching and research, something I frequently hear they want and need to advance SIU and their own careers.

We can also distinguish ourselves from other institutions by re-envisioning our core curriculum. What is the hallmark of an SIU graduate, and how do we ensure that we deliver on that promise? Our faculty are hard at work envisioning a renewed core curriculum now. I’m especially excited that the Diversity Council has been actively looking at how we can ensure that cultural competency is a hallmark of every student.

Research and experiential learning

Reorganization is a platform for growing our research enterprise. Again, it breaks down barriers and creates more opportunities for collaboration. More collaboration, and more focus on our research strengths, will grow external funding and partnerships with industry. I look forward to sharing more about developing our research mission soon.

Reorganization will enhance experiential learning opportunities for our students. I am confident that it will translate into more hands-on creative and research experiences, more leadership opportunities, and more engagement across multiple disciplines. All of that means good things for graduates as they enter the workforce or continue their education.

Finally, academic reorganization puts the responsibility for academic programs exactly where it belongs: in the hands of our faculty. It gives them more freedom to grow and make meaningful changes without getting sidetracked by administrative barriers.

Maintaining focus

I appreciate the constructive conversation at our faculty meetings as well as all of the feedback I have received from students, alumni, friends and community members. The collaborative tone, even in the face of disagreement, helps all of us stay focused on what’s most important for our future: a revitalized SIU.