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.

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.