Alumni and our academic mission

Meera-KomarrajuGuest blog post by Meera Komarraju, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, SIU Carbondale



On most campuses, faculty members welcome alumni to their classes to talk with students about their careers and expertise. At SIU, alumni also regularly volunteer to serve as mentors to our students in multiple ways. Sometimes these activities happen on an ad hoc basis, and sometimes they occur more formally. For example, the SIU Alumni Association offers a formal “extern” program in which alumni and others host students in their workplaces over spring break.

Most faculty simply informally ask a graduate to come to class to speak. At SIU, we also have a formal policy to grant adjunct status to a “professional person engaged in instructional and research programs of the university but who is not employed as a member of any educational unit of the university.” These individuals in no way replace our faculty. They enhance our programs by offering the opportunity to consult with our faculty, to mentor our students, and to support our academic initiatives.

In some cases, a qualified individual is invited to participate as part of a graduate student’s master’s or dissertation committee – usually because of particular expertise that is of benefit to the student’s research or creative endeavors. Such an individual must be approved for adjunct graduate faculty status. The Graduate School’s operating paper states: “Individuals who can fulfill a specific need in the department’s graduate program but who are not eligible for regular membership in the Graduate Faculty are eligible to be appointed adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty by the Graduate Dean.”

These individuals, whether or not they are alumni, must meet the same academic standards as any member of the graduate faculty. Unless they are SIU professional staff members with terminal degrees and appropriate qualifications, they are not eligible to direct dissertations. Adjunct faculty have been appointed routinely through these processes in the past in support of our students’ academic success.

Valuing alumni contributions

Before I go further, I think it is important to emphasize that engaging our alumni in the academic life of the institution benefits our students in multiple ways. Alumni serve as role models, mentors and subject experts who show our students what success looks like after graduation. In fact, our goal is to graduate students who are well equipped with strong, relevant professional skills and experiences. Connecting them with outstanding, knowledgeable, successful alumni is a powerful contribution toward this goal.

Alumni also benefit from engagement with students by giving back to their alma mater, sharing their knowledge, and in some cases building a network of potential future employees. The university and its faculty also benefit, since student interaction with alumni can support retention and lifelong engagement with SIU.

A pilot project

About a year ago, the SIU Alumni Association started an initiative to identify alumni who might be interested in giving back to the university in multiple ways – from recruiting students to volunteering at our food pantry. One focus of the effort involved an alumni-initiated proposal to create an alumni professional network that would engage well-qualified graduates as occasional lecturers and mentors of our graduate students.

The pilot program emerged from the commendable commitment of our alumni to give back to SIU and to support the next generation of scholars and researchers. The goal was to build a pool of interested, volunteer alumni who were keen on giving back and give them the opportunity to do so. The proposal was well received by former provost Susan Ford, and I continue to support it in my current role.

A common question when talking about bringing anyone into the academic realm relates to qualifications. As noted earlier, we already have policies and procedures in place to evaluate an individual’s qualifications for adjunct appointments. We are applying our existing standards and procedures to the pilot project. Because we wanted to ensure that alumni weren’t making an indefinite commitment, consideration was being given to a three-year term.

As part of the effort to gather the names of potential participants, we invited department chairs in three colleges to identify alumni who may be interested in being part of the pilot program.

Intent vs. perception

Unfortunately, the outreach to engage the campus in a voluntary, good-will initiative proposed by our alumni was misunderstood as an effort supplant the work of our excellent faculty with “unpaid labor.” This perception tapped into understandable national concerns related to adjunct faculty.

Replacing the work of our faculty was never the intent, and it will never be our goal. We deeply value and respect the work of all of our faculty members, who deliver every day on our mission as a national doctoral research university.

This was not a project that was initiated to save money, to address budget shortfalls, or to undervalue or replace the work of others. Instead, the intent was to formalize something we already do – engage our outstanding alumni in the academic work of the university and in our student success mission. The goal, in fact, was to make it easier for faculty to identify qualified alumni who might provide an occasional guest lecture, mentor current students or provide specialized expertise on a thesis committee. The project simply makes what we are already doing more intentional.

This misunderstanding has sparked thoughtful conversation on our campus that will help us refine, clarify and improve upon the pilot project. I am grateful to all who have reached out, as well as to the alumni who have proposed the pilot project. Our faculty are the heart of all we do academically, and our alumni are a valuable resource. We will continue to identify ways they can collaborate to benefit our students.

A special tie to the Special Olympics

I have spent a lot of time recently talking about the future of SIU, but I have also been impressed by the amazing things this institution has accomplished throughout its past.

For instance, you may know Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, a celebration that kicks off Friday at Touch of Nature. But I recently learned that Special Olympics might never have happened at all if it weren’t for the contributions of SIU.

How Special Olympics is linked to SIU

Here’s a little information about how it all started. The university “loaned” faculty member and recreation pioneer William Freeberg to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation by special request of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Freeberg taught workshops showing people how to work with individuals with disabilities. One of the participants was Anne McGlone, now better known as longtime Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne McGlone Burke.

She was so enthused she returned to Chicago and began planning a citywide track meet. Freeberg helped, securing funding from the Kennedy Foundation and permission from the International Olympic Committee to use part of its name. On July 20, 1968, the Special Olympics was born at Soldier Field with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada participating.

Don’t miss Friday’s kickoff celebration

Burke and Freeberg’s granddaughter, Brittney (Freeberg) McGovern will be special guests and speakers at Touch of Nature’s Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Kickoff Celebration.

Opening ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. Friday at Touch of Nature, located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

Activities will include free food, sports, crafts, backyard games, exercises, camp songs and dance, musical entertainment and much more.

Join me to help celebrate a big milestone for an amazing organization at my favorite university.

Big things are coming April 7

The Big Event: A Saluki Day of Service April 7

This Saturday, hundreds of Salukis will fan across Southern Illinois to participate in community service projects. The Big Event started last year as a way for the SIU students, faculty and staff to further our mission of making our community a better place.

Community service is at the heart of SIU’s mission

SIU is already a major economic driver for the region, providing jobs and attracting people from around the country to study, live and visit.

Our students also contribute more than 30,000 hours of community service every year through registered student organizations, coordinated drives and individual volunteerism. That’s in addition to the time our faculty and staff contribute on their own time.

The Big Event is a way to celebrate and expand that commitment to our community.

Making the Big Event even bigger

During last year’s Big Event, 772 Salukis served 2,316 hours for 15 local non-profit agencies. They helped agencies such as The Boys and Girls Club, Keep Carbondale Beautiful and the Jackson County Humane Society.

For many participants, this was their first exposure to volunteerism, and many also continued their service long after the day ended.

This year, our goal is to recruit even more volunteers to serve at least 16 nonprofits. Even one additional volunteer can go a long way.

Step up and help out

You can still join the excitement. They will be taking walk-in registrations the day of the event. Volunteers will be taken on a first come-first served basis.

Any student, faculty or staff member who is at least 18 years old is welcome.

Join me on April 7 to make BIG things happen.

Celebrating the University Museum

People looking at an exhibit in the University Museum

Thank you to all who donated to yesterday’s Day of Giving. While totals are still being finalized, we exceeded last year thanks to your commitment.

Today, I’d like to talk about one of the many things that make SIU worthy of your donations.

Today we celebrate the reopening of the University Museum with a reception from 4 to 7 p.m.

The museum has a long history at SIU. A 1978 book, The First Hundred Years: The University Museum, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, tells much of the story.

The University Museum was planned by Dr. Cyrus Thomas, an entomologist and attorney who was also the brother-in-law of General John A. Logan. He was the museum’s first curator when it opened in 1874 – nearly 145 years ago

Since then, the museum has survived two fires, seven moves, financial challenges and more than one temporary closure. At one time, following the burning of Old Main, it was housed in a large van and traveled throughout Southern Illinois.

In spite of all of these challenges, the museum — like SIU itself — has survived.

Contributing to a comprehensive education

Within the last 10 years, the museum’s collection has grown to include more than 80,000 objects. They cross a range of subjects, from art and architecture to anthropology, botany and zoology. They include the work of Andy Warhol, political memorabilia, Nigerian crafts, Nepali treasures and much more.

The museum itself is a treasure for SIU. We reopened it so that you and many others in Southern Illinois can enjoy and learn from it.

As a comprehensive university, we must embrace the arts, humanities and sciences — all represented in the museum’s collection — along with the many other areas we focus on. If we want well-rounded graduates, we must give them access to a well-rounded education.

The museum helps us do this. It is also an important connection for our region, including area schools.

The University Museum deserves our continued support, and I hope everyone will help us make sure it never closes again.

A day and a year of giving

03.07.18 Give the Gift of Experience | #SIUDay of Giving |

This Wednesday, March 7, is the second SIU Carbondale Day of Giving, a focused effort to encourage private donations in support of our students and programs. Last year’s inaugural day of giving exceeded expectations by raising more than $340,000.

The Day of Giving is also about building awareness of the importance of philanthropy and welcoming new donors, including students, into the fold. I know that many of our colleges are very engaged in encouraging their stakeholders to be a part of the Day of Giving. In addition, the Carbondale community is also engaged – including local businesses and the City Council, which passed a resolution in support of this great event.

I encourage you to let people know how they can be a part of the Day of Giving (#siuday). This year’s theme is “Give the Gift of Experience.” See the video highlighting the experiences of our students and learn more at Thank you to all who are making the Day of Giving a success.

A proud history of philanthropic support

Research has shown that giving can become a habit that that will continue throughout the donor’s life, so any gift of any size at any time can lead to a lifetime of support for SIU. We can see this in action with the success to date of the three-year, $75 million “Forever SIU” campaign.

In its first year, the campaign raised more than $56 million, or 75 percent of the goal. Many donors have supported SIU for many years, while others are stepping forward because of their excitement about the university’s direction.

The campaign leads us into 2019, our 150th anniversary. I’m excited to see how it evolves as we define the future of SIU.

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.

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.


Making the Video: SIU Day of Giving

When I came to SIU, I didn’t expect to get my big break into show business. But here I am, starring in my very own video to help promote SIU’s Day of Giving, March 7. I don’t know that I am ready for Hollywood quite yet, but it may be time to start working on my IMDB page.

While I wait for a call from Spielberg, I should take the time to thank everyone who helped me in my production career. I continue to be amazed by the talent and dedication I see every day in the students, faculty and staff here at SIU.

Without further ado, here’s an inside look at the amazing team that helped me make my video debut: