FA News (9/5/17): Vision and programs

Welcome to a special Labor Day Plus One edition of the FA newsletter. Three announcements, then some more substantial items.

  • President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program threatens many on our campus. This NEA webpage suggests some ways to respond, and links to resources on DACA for educators.
  • The NEA is collecting funds to be distributed to members who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. To find out more, click here.
  • It’s time for elections for department reps to the Departmental Representative Council (DRC), the FA’s most important representative body. If you are interested in serving, get in touch with FA Vice President Aldo Migone.

The vision thing. The Chancellor has called for the widest possible input to help SIUC develop a new vision, and stressed the importance of shared governance in formulating this vision. The most visible part of this process right now is a survey at surveymonkey.com. We urge faculty to fill out the survey by its end date (September 8). But as this survey is only a first step toward shared governance, we also call upon the Chancellor to ensure a deliberative, public, and transparent process as we devise a renewed vision for SIUC. Faculty should be full partners in the planning process, for, as Chancellor Montemagno has himself noted, no top-down vision plan is going to generate the sense of shared purpose and commitment he hopes this renewed vision for SIUC will produce.

Program changes. Two points on this topic. First, we continue to hear of program changes moving forward on campus. The fiscal sustainability plan presented to the BOT in July targeted the following programs for possible elimination:

  • BS and MS in Mining Engineering
  • BA in Business Economics
  • BS in Physical Education Teacher Education
  • BA in Africana Studies
  • MA in Political Science
  • PhD in History

Among the other proposed changes we are aware of on campus are:

  • A proposal to merge Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), Educational Administration and Higher Education (EAHE), and Workforce Education and Development (WED), into a new Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership in the College of Education and Human Services (CoEHS).
  • A proposal to add a Doctorate of Education in Administration in CoEHS.

We will attempt to keep faculty informed of program changes on campus via our website, and any faculty member concerned about changes at any point of discussion or implementation is encouraged to contact the FA.

To the second point on program changes. The FA’s interest is not in stopping or endlessly delaying all program changes, but in ensuring that faculty, the campus experts on our curriculum, have a full opportunity to weigh in on major curricular changes. While we have generally worked productively with the administration to ensure proper implementation of Article 9, the part of the contract that guides program changes, a serious difference about the meaning of the contract has developed and led to a grievance. The administration believes it has the authority to close a program to admission of new students at any time, and particularly when that program is under consideration for closure. Our view is that closing programs to new students effectively undermines the deliberative process Article 9 is meant to protect. The administration’s view essentially allows it to close a program first, then engage in deliberations about whether or not it should remain closed. The grievance has now been heard at the Chancellor level; failing resolution there, the FA has the right to appeal to a third-party arbitrator.

In this context it is worth noting that the Article 9 process does not seriously delay program changes when those changes are non-controversial, as it allows faculty to vote to waive their right to a 90 day period of deliberations before proposals can undergo a formal vote. What can and should delay major program changes right now, I would suggest, is the formation of a meaningful vision for the campus. It would seem to make little sense to pursue controversial program changes or mergers before a new vision is put in place.

Combined online and in-person classes. Some faculty are being asked to combine brick & mortar classes with online sections of the same classes in order to meet enrollment caps. Faculty may offer two courses for the price of one in this way if they volunteer to do so, but as online and in-person classes call for different sorts of preparation and implementation, this practice has serious implications for the quality of the courses we offer and for faculty workloads. At a minimum, faculty who teach such combined sections must have their workloads reduced in other areas. Faculty who feel pressured to accept ‘voluntary’ overloads of this sort are encouraged to get in touch with us; getting in touch does not require filing a grievance, and could help us all better understand the scope of this problem.

Enrollment. Finally, as I completed this message, official enrollment figures were released by the university. Overall enrollment is down by 9%, but the most troubling number is the decline in freshman enrollment of over 19%, to a total of only 1,718. We like to think of ourselves as a university of 20,000 or at least 15,000 students, but you don’t get anywhere near either figure with fewer than 2,000 freshmen.

Chancellor Montemagno is right to say that the reasons for this decline “cannot become excuses,” but if we are to reverse this decline, we need to understand why we lost so many students this year, and why we have been losing students, if more slowly, for decades, including well before the state’s budget crisis. Last fall, when a similar decline was announced, Interim Chancellor Colwell called for a study of our enrollment problem; I am aware of no progress on that front. Call me backward minded (I am a classicist in my day job, after all), but no vision for our future is going to succeed if it is not grounded in an understanding of our past. I have been around here long enough to have lived through various expensive administrative guesses about how to turn things around, including boosting our research ranking, pouring money into athletics, increasing spending on campus infrastructure, outsourcing marketing to a consulting firm, and creating a University College. Some of these ideas were better than others, but none solved the enrollment problem, and none, as far as I am aware, was well grounded in an analysis of SIUC’s past. I therefore welcome the Chancellor’s “commitment to analyzing everything we do”; I would simply add that we ought make analysis of past successes and failures as big a part of that analysis as prognostications about what programs will be in highest demand in the future.

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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