FA News (10/3/17): Concerns re restructuring

Dear colleagues,

In his State of the University speech last week, Chancellor Montemagno outlined an ambitious plan to restructure SIUC.

The heart of the chancellor’s plan is to replace all academic departments with schools. Every single department on campus not already part of a school structure would be merged with some number of other departments to form a new interdisciplinary unit. Most of our existing academic programs would be housed in these new schools; others would be terminated.

The chancellor has put forward an aggressive schedule for this restructuring. The plan is currently being shared with deans and chairs. In November the chancellor “will release a new draft to the entire campus community for additional input through our existing shared governance processes and agreements, as well as through additional feedback mechanisms.” The chancellor wants to finalize his plan in time for the board meeting on April 6, and has said that the plan will be in place for the new fiscal year, starting on July 1.

We have serious concerns both about the substance of the chancellor’s plan and about the process under which it would be implemented.

The reference to “existing shared governance processes and agreements” presumably alludes to the process laid out in Article 9 of the FA contract. This process was one of the chief achievements in a contract bargained under the desperate fiscal situation facing us over the last two years, and was a high point in interest-based, productive bargaining by both sides.

The process calls for a 90 day period of initial discussion among faculty from all units affected by the change, formal votes in each affected unit, and then consideration by the Faculty Senate and/or Graduate Council. The process was designed to meet both the faculty interest in due deliberation and the administration’s interest in efficiency. It includes provisions to allow faculty to vote either to shorten the time for initial deliberations, or to add up to 30 days. But the bottom line is that deliberation takes time, much of it for traditional review processes by the Faculty Senate or Graduate Council that will take place after the initial period of deliberation required by Article 9. In the Financial Sustainability Plan, the SIUC administration reported to the board of trustees that a minimum of 164 days would be required for any program change.

164 days from November 1st (the earliest date the chancellor sees his full plan being released to faculty) is April 14th, well past the date of the April BOT meeting. Thus the chancellor is now calling for a complete reorganization of SIUC in less time than the administration previously said would be required for a single program change.

The FA will enforce the contract, including Article 9. We will do so not only because that contract is the result of hard bargaining on our part, or because it is a legally binding document our union is pledged to uphold, but because faculty must be full partners in any changes of this magnitude. So must staff and students. “Input” and “feedback” can indeed be gathered in a hurry; shared governance takes time, and must involve all campus constituency groups.

In addition to a campus-wide wave of departmental mergers, the chancellor would eliminate a number of academic programs. Closure of academic programs should be a last resort; fewer programs will not attract more students. And some of the proposals revealed thus far have proven very controversial, including the proposed elimination of the Ph.D. in History and the B.A. in Africana Studies. The plan to close the program in Africana Studies is particularly troubling given the importance of diversity to this campus and this country. The chancellor made a point of stressing inclusivity at one point in his address, but he outlined no actions to follow up on his words, and gave no hint of how a commitment to diversity and inclusion would inform his plan.

While most academic programs would remain under the chancellor’s new structure, the move from departments to schools would transform the professional lives of faculty. It would force many faculty to pack up and move to new offices across campus; it would remake the tenure and promotion process and alter workload and service assignments; it would destroy (or at least dilute) existing faculty, staff, and student communities of research and teaching. The chancellor himself noted the “heavy lifting” that would be required to provide new governance documents for units across campus. In some cases, new schools may indeed have positive effects; but all such changes will certainly prove disruptive in the short run, consuming time and effort that could go to research, teaching, or recruitment and retention.

The chancellor provided no direct evidence or argument to show that this complete reorganization of our campus would do anything to address the enrollment crisis. He did note that the plan would save $2.3 million in administrative costs. We welcome such savings, but it is important to put this figure in perspective. It amounts to 1.3% of our state budget for FY 2018. The chancellor did not address the issue of potential savings from non-academic areas of the budget.

Talk of finances takes us to the issue of salaries. The chancellor said he would like to bring a plan for raises to the board of trustees at the same April meeting at which he aims to present his final plan for restructuring the campus. But the timing of faculty salary decisions is not solely up to the chancellor. The FA contract signed last spring contained an option for negotiating potential salary hikes in the event of a state budget, and we have now exercised this option. The administration is obligated to negotiate with us in good faith over salaries, and to begin these negotiations without undue delay. As a first step in this process we are working together with the administration to study just how far our salaries are below those of our peers. We will release overall figures from this study once they are in.

Let me close by saying that the FA does not oppose all change on campus. The enrollment crisis is very real, and it must be addressed. We welcome vision and leadership from the campus administration. But we must make changes based on a reasoned analysis of why enrollment has fallen, and how to attract and educate more students. Rapid, massive innovations will not be effective simply because they are rapid, massive, and new. It may well be that merging departments into schools will make sense in some cases, but faculty must play an integral role in determining where this makes sense, and how best to structure the new academic units.

The enrollment crisis demands decisive action, but we must make the right decisions, and make them in the right way.

In solidarity,
Dave Johnson

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

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