FA News from 12/6/2019

This edition includes an announcement about an election, quick report on bargaining, then longer commentary on some recent events.

1. Election. It’s time for FA members to elect someone to serve as a delegate to the IEA Regional Assembly, the body that sets IEA policies (including dues). Our colleague Jacob Haubenreich has agreed to put his name forward, and we need to hold an election to ensure we are represented at the Assembly. To vote, stop by my office in Faner (2037) any time between 9:30 and 1:30 on Monday. If you are an FA member and will be on campus on Monday, please consider coming by to vote.

MONDAY 9:30-1:30 IN FANER 2037 
(Second floor, near south end of the building, west hallway) This would also be a fine time for anyone to stop by to discuss any FA business they would like to with me.

2. Bargaining. The FA’s bargaining team has now met twice with their administrative counterparts to get bargaining on a successor contract underway. These initial conversations have focused on the ground rules for bargaining, and each side has shared interest statements regarding matters they’d like to address in bargaining. Another FA team is meeting with the administration to address the university’s new proposed conflict of interest policy. 

3. Recent events. As you will have heard from other sources, the Board of Trustees this week approved the appointment of Daniel Mahony as SIU System President and Meera Komarraju as SIUC Provost. The first hire was the result of a full national search, and I can confirm that Mahony was among the candidates that most on the advisory committee for the search thought the BOT should interview and consider for the job. (The only role played by the committee, on which I served, was to forward a list of names we believed should be considered for interviews.)
The provost search was not the result of a full national search, to say the least. It was, to speak frankly, a phony search, one that predictably garnered only one applicant, and thus allowed for the appointment of a permanent provost without any meaningful input from faculty or other constituency groups. A search committee was formed, but it had nothing to do, as the only role of such advisory search committees is to select a list of semifinalists, and there was no need to cut down a list of applicants with only one name on it. Rather than proceeding in a rational manner, hiring a president, then a chancellor, and then a provost, the board, following the lead of Interim Chancellor Dunn, decided to anoint the interim provost permanent provost. They have thus endeavored to lock in the current provost, with her current agenda, thereby limiting the flexibility of the new chancellor, who has been given no say in the appointment of the provost. I can only hope that this decision does not lead some potential chancellors to decide not to apply, given that their hands have been tied in advance. A new chancellor could reassign the provost, of course, but only at the cost of a considerable amount of political capital; an interim provost, on the other hand, could be readily replaced—or apply for the permanent position, and win it fair and square in an open search. Instead the second most important job on campus has been assigned with no meaningful input from anyone other than the past chancellor and the current interim chancellor.
The justification for this move is the desire for stability. Not that long ago, the talk at SIUC was all about change. We seem to be an institution that can only muster one-word strategic plans. In the summer of 2017, the board hired a new leader, Carlo Montemagno, who promised change, and who delivered a plan to remake our entire academic structure soon after he arrived on campus. It somehow didn’t matter that his plan didn’t address the enrollment crisis; it didn’t matter that his plan didn’t save any money; and it didn’t matter that students and faculty opposed the plan.
Now the talk is all about stability. Montemagno’s plan was all about change, but now, two years in on a plan that was supposedly to be complete within one year, changing course from it would apparently produce instability. This dead man’s plan is the only plan we’ve got, and we’re going to stick with it. To ensure as much, we’ve engaged in the absurd and pathetic pretense of a search to make his interim provost permanent, and thereby reward her for continuing to push his plan and empower her to keep pushing it. This appointment will make precisely the same contribution to stability that you’d get by giving a rickety old bridge a new coat of paint and calling it fixed.

The other big news at the BOT meeting was the report that undergraduate applications are up by more than 20%. This could ultimately prove to be very good news indeed, provided that a healthy chunk of these students go on to enroll at SIUC. But there’s at least one reason to be worried that this will not be the case. SIUC waived the application fee until December 1. This must have increased the number of applications, and garnered some from students whose interest in SIUC may be less than those who were willing to pay to apply in past years. It’s also possible that many students who would have applied later in the year applied earlier in order to avoid the application fee. To be clear, I don’t mean to criticize the decision to waive the application fee, which may well result in more students attending, and also removes an obstacle to college attendance for low-income students. The problem is that as the SIU administration touted everything it’s doing to drive up enrollment, they neglected to mention the decision to waive the application fee, presumably because they feared that someone would put two and two together and challenge the meaning of the increase in applications. 

If you regard this as overly skeptical, please consider this. As all faculty with any connection to graduate programs will know by now, graduate school applications are down by well over 50%.   These catastrophic figures have been widely shared on campus, yet when she was asked about graduate enrollment at the BOT meeting, I’m told, Provost Komarraju claimed that no such figures were available. This level of deceptiveness is shocking. It calls into question the fundamental trustworthiness of the current administration. 

We all want enrollment to stabilize and increase. And we all recognize the need for SIU to put its best foot forward. But there’s a distinction between a positive message and a deceptive one. Imagine this positive but truthful message instead. SIU proudly announces the hiring of a new system president; SIUC touts the 20% increase in applications, but provides the context fairly; and SIUC also transparently discusses the decline in graduate school applications, while announcing a plan of action to address that decline. Of course SIUC apparently has no such plan to address cratering numbers of graduate applications, other than attempting to hide it. The failure to be frank about our challenges goes hand in hand with the failure to address them substantively.
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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