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.

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.

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.

What it means to be a comprehensive university

water fountain

I believe that a comprehensive university does more than offer a wide range of disciplines. It’s also one that pays attention to the whole student, ensuring that graduates are well-rounded in terms of knowledge, competencies and skills including and beyond their chosen fields of study.

The results of the Vision 2025 survey conducted in the fall suggest that many who care about SIU would agree. When asked, for example, about the most relevant areas of study and research in 2025, their answers included not only business and science, but also education and the arts.

When asked about core skills or knowledge that every SIU graduate should have, they spoke of communication skills and critical thinking as well as problem-solving and leadership skills.

Cultural and experiential opportunities

Many of the responses focused on the total SIU experience. In response to a question about cultural and experiential opportunities for students, respondents mentioned not only culturally focused courses and international study, but also internships and the arts, including music and theater. The theme of expanding student activities emerged from open-ended responses to questions about our ideal campus culture and campus/student life in 2025.

Survey participants also mentioned internships, community involvement and service learning among the types of opportunities that can be developed in partnership with other organizations.

The importance of diversity and inclusivity came through clearly in responses to a number of questions.

Finally, those who participated reaffirmed our mission, indicating that we should continue to embrace, for example, outstanding teaching and innovation in research and creativity.

Being “comprehensive” doesn’t necessarily mean that we can be all things to all people, but it does mean that we can provide a full range of academic opportunities and a vibrant campus life to every student we serve. This is why it is so important that we are as strong in the arts and humanities as we are in engineering and business. This is why we must make sure we provide every student with the experiences that will help them be successful throughout their lives.

Make sure your voice is heard

The Vision 2025 survey gave our alumni, friends, community members, faculty, staff and students an opportunity to share their own visions for SIU in 2025. I’m grateful to the more than 2,900 people who participated.

The survey is just one of the many ways we have welcomed feedback on the future of the university. If you haven’t weighed in so far, and even if you have, you might review our Vision 2025 website and consider offering your feedback. Plans continue to evolve based on conversations with faculty and many others, so there’s still time to make sure your voice is heard.

Status quo is still not an option

In 2012, an SIU committee looking at programs raised a number of questions related to “complimentary practices and academic efficiencies.” They included:

  • Are there programs that could be combined administratively to eliminate redundancies?
  • Are there programs that would be better suited in another college?
  • Are there course redundancies that could be eliminated by requiring that course offerings be offered by the discipline department?

Exploration of these and other questions led to a 2013 task force report that included suggestions for academic reorganization. It recommended organizing some programs under a school structure as well as moving some programs to new colleges. For example, the report suggested that life science departments could be combined into one department or school. The College of Liberal Arts might be organized into four schools: arts, humanities, social sciences and interdisciplinary studies.

TIME FOR ACTION

The 2013 report discussed exploring “programmatic and administrative changes in order to promote collaboration and cost savings in the medium to long term.”

While our proposed reorganization is focused less on cost savings, and more on generating funds that we can reinvest in our programs and people, promoting collaboration is a core driver.

The report also states that “the status quo is not an option.” I think that most of us would agree with this statement today.

It’s clear that we have been talking about reorganization for some time. Unfortunately, we have not acted on it for a number of reasons — ongoing leadership changes among them — putting us in the position to have act more rapidly today than any of us would like.

Even with the need for speed, we cannot lose sight of the goal: to build a collaborative, innovative academic community that will lead to new and reinforced academic programs. It’s time to take action and reaffirm the SIU difference.

 

A look at another institution’s reorganization

Welcome to the chancellor’s blog. I plan to use this space to keep you updated about campus activities and initiatives, including academic reorganization, the subject of this first post.

A major goal of reorganization is to create scholarly communities that give faculty greater ownership of their programs. We can do this by changing how resources are managed, reducing administrative burdens and creating opportunities through closer alignment of programs that will yield greater collaboration.

We are not alone in this approach.

The University of Southern Mississippi, a research university similar in size to SIU, is undergoing an academic reorganization driven by reshaped expectations, declining state funding and “trends in scholarship that demonstrate a fundamental shift toward collaborative work, which is made more difficult by traditional academic structures.”

Here’s the key question the university asked of itself: “What can we do within our existing resource realities to highlight our strengths, cultivate creativity, and distinguish ourselves as an institution?”

The answer: “Administrative units will be larger in size and scope, with emphasis on programs rather than departments, to promote collaboration and interdisciplinary teaching and research, to realize economies of scale, to facilitate fluid reallocation of resources, and to reduce duplication in programming and administration.”

This should sound very familiar.

ACADEMIC STRUCTURE

The university’s plan should also sound familiar. Departments are grouped under schools. School directors have administrative and budgetary responsibilities for groups of departments. Departments are led by chairs who work with program coordinators to “manage assessment and curricular matters.” Program coordinators focus on academic degree programs, working closely with department chairs. Chairs and program coordinators are described as non-administrative faculty members who are elected by their peers.

These roles and responsibilities align closely with the roles and responsibilities we have described in our proposed reorganization. (See our online FAQ.) The primary exception is the use of the term “departments” and “chairs,” which are described much as what we are currently calling “divisions” and “coordinators.” As the FAQ notes, we cannot use the term “department” in our proposed new structure for now, but this issue can be addressed collaboratively.

FOCUS ON PROGRAMS

No two universities are exactly the same. Not every aspect of the Southern Mississippi plan is the same as ours. But we share an interest in building scholarly communities, creating opportunities for greater collaboration and providing greater emphasis on the programs that comprise our academic core.

Reorganization will give faculty far more ownership of their academic programs, and it will create more capacity for academic collaboration. I’ve heard from many faculty members who say they are looking forward to these opportunities.