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.

Research that matters

Sometimes it can be difficult for those outside of higher education to understand the different types of colleges and universities — two-year or four-year, liberal arts or research, national or regional, public or private.

One of the great attributes of U.S. higher education, in fact, is its variety. Different kinds of institutions serve different needs, giving students a range of options. All have different strengths, and all have value.

Obviously, a distinction of a research university is that we conduct research. Research is conducted at all types of institutions, of course. But at a research institution — as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — the creation of new knowledge is essential to our mission and complements another essential focus: the teaching of our students.

But there are many research institutions. What, then, distinguishes one research institution from another?

SIU’s strengths

We have long taken pride at SIU in our ability to involve students in research and creative activities as early as the freshman year. We deliver on this promise, and it distinguishes us from other, larger research institutions. Our students can work directly with faculty members who are leaders in their fields, and they have many opportunities to start and lead their own projects.

We have another strength that we should call out and build upon to make us stand out from other research universities: we conduct research that matters, research that improves everyday lives, research that addresses local and global challenges. In fact, we often leverage what we learn from our unique location to answer global questions related to water, agriculture, forestry and more.

Here are just a few areas our faculty and students have studied over the last couple of years:

  • The global food supply.
  • Flood control.
  • Effects of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Gun violence.
  • Impact of climate change on prairie grass.
  • Nano erasers.
  • Consumer behavior.
  • An undiscovered American fort.
  • Anxiety and depression intervention.
  • Plant ecology.
  • Pollinating insects.

All of these topics are important to our understanding of the world, past, present and future. All have real-life applications.

Multiplying our impact

SIU can stand out even further as we increase our focus on interdisciplinary research that addresses core, global challenges.

Imagine what will happen when we combine our strengths in aviation, automotive, engineering, computer science, agriculture, economics and geography, among other areas, to focus on transportation systems. Or what if the disciplines of medicine, psychology, computer science, engineering, sociology, food and nutrition, and rehabilitation expanded collaboration on research related to rural and remote medicine?

Multidisciplinary research can attract funding, engage faculty and students in new ways and, most importantly, impact lives. I look forward to faculty exploration of the many opportunities we have by combining our research strengths.

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 siu.wisr.io.

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.