FA News: 9/15/2016

Dear Colleagues,
Before we turn to enrollment and program cuts, an update on another issue. Our health benefits are set by the contract between AFSCME and the state. Governor Rauner has argued that negotiations are at an impasse, which would allow him to impose the state’s latest offer. This offer would require all state employees, including SIU faculty, to choose either to pay twice our current health care premiums or to select less robust health care coverage. A split decision by an administrative judge held that while the two sides were at impasse on some issues, they were not at impasse regarding health insurance. The final decision on this matter will, however, be made by the Illinois Labor Relations Board, whose members are appointed by the governor. More updates on government and politics, including IEA endorsements and ways to get involved in the political process, can be found on our Facebook page.

Last week SIUC released enrollment figures that must trouble all of us. Our overall enrollment was down 7.6%, with freshmen down a staggering 23.7%. It would be hard to exaggerate the crisis this university faces in the form of declining enrollment and uncertain state funding. The chaos in Springfield is hurting all public universities in Illinois, but Interim Chancellor Colwell was right to say that we at SIUC need to “own” our decline. For this year’s decline is far worse than the declines at most of our peer institutions, and is part of a long-term trend.

In his message to the campus community on September 6, Chancellor Colwell’s most significant response to the enrollment crisis was the following.

Most importantly, we need to make sure we are offering the right mix of strong programs. To do this, we need to eliminate those that are not attracting students, along the lines of a forthcoming review by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, in order to create resources for those in greater demand. We must take immediate steps to prioritize programs starting with the work of the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council program prioritization task force and taken forward under the leadership of our deans.

We do not deny that some reorganization of campus programs may be called for given the present crisis. But it is also undeniable that the elimination of programs will do absolutely nothing, in the short run, to increase enrollment.

Cutting programs will cut enrollment, as we turn away students from eliminated programs. Cutting programs leaves current and potential students uncertain of their program’s future, depressing recruitment and retention. Nor is a university just a collection of individual programs, which can be divided from campus to campus, with physics taught on one campus and poetry on another. To prosper and grow we must offer a comprehensive set of strong programs.

Program cuts could indeed allow resources to be redirected over the long term. But we need to spend our money on the right things. When Governor Rauner first proposed massive cuts in higher education funding, President Dunn developed the analogy of an onion, suggesting SIU should cut spending by peeling off less essential, outer layers in order to protect our core academic mission. Now that cuts are a reality, however, that metaphor has vanished, and cuts have basically been made across the board. In the cuts announced in July, all campus units lost from 9% to 13% of their funding. Academic programs were hardly shielded from cuts, and this resulted in painful cuts to academic staff.

SIU has formed a non-academic prioritization committee, but that committee’s task was not to study the balance of academic and non-academic spending, but to look for ways to make spending on the non-academic side more efficient. This is a worthy goal, but will not in itself make academic programs our first priority.

The latest available figures on staffing from SIU Institutional Research reveal something about SIUC’s priorities.

Enrollment & staffing changes, 2006-2015

Students -17.7%

TT Faculty -20.4%

Executive/Administrative/Professional: Unchanged

Professional Non-Faculty +6.5%

Figures for bargaining unit faculty (which do not include the law and medical schools) are actually down even further, by 23.2%. In short, as SIUC enrollment has declined, tenured and tenure-track faculty numbers have declined even more rapidly. But administrative numbers are steady or growing. These trends need to change.

We recognize the extent of the current budget crisis, and know that it will face us with difficult decisions. The administration has bargained with us in good faith to produce a new contract that assigns faculty a vital role in making those decisions. But our plan for facing the enrollment and fiscal crises should involve not only choices about what academic programs to cut, but a determination to preserve as many high quality academic programs as possible. In our view this is the best way to turn around the decline in enrollment, meet our fiscal challenges, and ensure a bright future for SIUC.

In solidarity,

Dave Johnson
President, SIUC-FA

About Dave Johnson
I'm an Associate Professor in Classics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Among other things.

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