FA News (11/13/2017): Eliminating departments

Dear colleagues,

Things are moving at what Chancellor Montemagno has himself called a “feverish” pace [FS minutes: see below]. I begin with a summary of the most important points right now.

After six weeks on the job, Chancellor Montemagno decided, without consulting with faculty, that he would eliminate all departments on campus, replacing them with schools. Now he is citing “contractual and policy issues” and “our relationship with the FA” for the impossibility of preserving departments [FS minutes]. This is misleading. The chancellor cannot have both schools and the units within them function as “basic academic units”—as academic structures with the same level of autonomy. This is a logical impossibility, not a contractual glitch. Blaming the CBA or SIU policies for his inability to call the residue of eliminated departments “departments” is the equivalent of blaming the military code of conduct for your inability, after you’ve demoted a captain to the rank of corporal, to keep calling him or her a captain.

By eliminating departments, the chancellor would eliminate the autonomy of faculty in those units to control their own hiring procedures (including selection of chairs), tenure standards, curriculum, and workloads. The elimination of departments means that faculty, most of whom now work with elected chairs, would instead serve under appointed directors and under new policies and procedures that are subject to administrative approval.

This Tuesday (11/14), the faculty senate will discuss a resolution that would oppose the elimination of all departments. We encourage faculty to read the resolution and share their views on it with members of the senate.

 Here are some links to recent developments.

  • Last Tuesday (11/7), the chancellor met with members of the faculty senate. Informal minutes of that meeting are now posted here. These will be cited as “FS Minutes.”
  • On Friday night (11/10), as part of the Article 9 process, Vice Provost DiLalla shared all program change proposals with me as FA President. All campus proposals, together with some initial commentary, can be found here. These will be cited below as “A9 files.”
  • As I type this, faculty are now receiving proposals in their areas from chairs, together with the administration’s summary of the Article 9 process. We have not yet had time to review this summary document, nor has the administration clearly outlined just how it sees the Article 9 process moving forward. We are also awaiting the chancellor’s presentation on Friday, when he will present the revised proposal to the campus community. But the administration has decided to distribute proposals as quickly as possible in order to get through the 90 day deliberative period called for under Article 9 as quickly as possible. We will provide more guidance to faculty on the Article 9 process in the days to come.

There are a great many points to discuss here. While there are some significant changes in the chancellor’s plan, there is still no meaningful evidence that the changes would increase enrollment or research productivity, and there are still no relevant models for the proposal. While the question of how the work now done at the departmental level could be done within schools is now at least raised, it is hardly addressed in a satisfactory way. And while a number of programs have been shifted from one place to another in the revised plan, many faculty preferences were not met. We will address such points later: for now we concentrate on the contractual ramifications of the plan.

Administrators have started to talk about the “shackles of contractual limitations” and to claim that the FA contract is an impediment to change [FS minutes]. Yet they have made no effort to reach out to the FA to resolve contractual issues. The contract, moreover, is an agreement between two equal parties, the FA and the administration. Our reading of the contract thus has the same status as any reading done by the administration. So we encourage faculty with questions about the contract to contact the FA.

Administrators’ comments have given some faculty the impression that the contract rules out retaining departments while adding schools. Obviously the contract does not rule out having both departments and schools in different areas on campus: that’s the situation we have now. And the contract rule does not rule out adding schools as an administrative structure while retaining departments as basic academic units.

Elsewhere in his meeting with the Faculty Senate on 11/7, Chancellor Montemagno gave a different explanation for the need to eliminate departments at once. He plans to make the elimination of departments a centerpiece of his marketing campaign next winter; given that, we don’t have time to discuss whether or not to eliminate departments, and “you’re going to have to trust me” to make that decision [FS minutes]. I have no reason to doubt that the chancellor is doing what he deems best for SIU. But shared governance is not a matter of trusting administrators to do the right thing. Nor does an artificial marketing deadline justify turning a university inside out in a matter of weeks, without pausing to deliberate about the central feature of the entire restructuring plan.

Departments matter, among many other reasons, because the contract and other university policies provide current departments and schools, as basic academic units, with a certain degree of autonomy. One of the changes in the revised plan [FAQ and A9 files] is the term “division,” which would apply to the shells of former departments within the new schools. But divisions are not departments. They would have a limited institutional status and their faculty would have far less control over their affairs than departments do now.

An important feature of departmental autonomy is the right to draft operating papers. Under the administration’s view, all current departmental operating papers would be null and void should departments be merged into schools (FAQ). Faculty in the new schools would write new operating papers. But this process would take time, and new operating papers would be subject to administrative approval. Current operating papers, by contrast, have already been approved, and cannot be changed unilaterally by the administration. Under the administration’s restructuring plan, the protections in current operating papers would be lost.

The contract (5.02) requires that operating papers address a wide range of issues, including tenure and promotion guidelines and procedures; criteria for workload; the qualifications for new faculty; and the role of chairs and procedures for selection and review of chairs. The contract (13.01.c) expressly calls for faculty to be judged for promotion by the guidelines in the operating paper at the time of hire or last promotion, unless both the faculty member and the administration agree to adopt new rules, and the administration has said it will follow this mandate. But in the administration’s plan, tenure would now be housed in schools, not departments, and faculty up for tenure or promotion would apparently be voted on by all school faculty, not just departmental faculty; this would be a very different set of faculty from those who voted to hire faculty or promote them to associate professor. Tenure would remain, but it would change.

Not only would all current operating papers be swept away, on the administration’s view: so too would all current academic administrators. The only academic administrator to have a permanent position, should Chancellor Montemagno’s restructuring plan go through, would be Chancellor Montemagno, and Chancellor Montemagno would choose interim deans, who would make hiring recommendations for interim directors. He would also choose a provost. And while the chancellor said in his open forum on 10/19 that “ultimately, directors of the schools will be chosen by the faculty,” the new Article 9 files reveal that this will not be the case, if the chancellor’s proposal is implemented as he plans. Faculty would provide input on search committees, but directors would be chosen by deans, and faculty would not vote for their unit leaders.

So the restructuring plan does not only move programs and faculty into new units; by eliminating departments and departmental operating papers it removes important safeguards for departmental and faculty autonomy.

As we have said many times before, the FA does not oppose change. We in the FA will have no objection if faculty in any given area wish to merge their departments and form schools, or adopt any other administrative structure that will better serve our research and teaching mission. But the FA has worked hard to ensure that faculty are full partners in the process of program and unit changes. This is why we bargained Article 9, which will guide the restructuring process, and this is why we are striving to inform faculty of the consequences of the restructuring proposed by Chancellor Montemagno. The chancellor has been willing to make many minor changes in his proposal; and he also deserves credit, as we’ve said before, for promoting an overdue conversation about the future of SIUC. Our goal is to empower faculty to make informed decisions as we work with staff, administrators, and students to shape the future of our university.

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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