FA News (5/29/2020): Transparency and Honesty

Dear colleagues,
This morning at the Board of Trustees meeting I raised some difficult questions, on behalf of the FA, about the appointment of SIUC’s new chancellor, Dr. Austin Lane. Our full statement is available on our website. These questions concern core issues about the honesty and transparency of the SIU administration, qualities which will be of the highest importance as we face the COVID-19 pandemic and the other issues before us.
I noted that the Houston Chronicle ran a story this morning about major irregularities in admissions and scholarships at Texas Southern University under Dr. Lane’s leadership. I also asked about the false statement in SIU’s press release about Dr. Lane, the claim that enrollment at TSU went up by 28% under his leadership. In fact, TSU enrollment from 2016-2019 went up by only 172 students, from 8,862 to 9,034, as one can confirm from the TSU website. That is an increase of 1.9%.

In response to my comments, President Mahony suggested that while my calculation was correct, the 28% figure is “a different way of presenting enrollment increases, and it’s not factually inaccurate.” Enrollment cannot both have grown by less than 2% and by 28% during the same period in time, and I stand behind my figure.
The Houston Chronicle story, based on a report done for the TSU board by the Berkeley Research Group, raises serious questions that are part of the larger controversy concerning Dr. Lane. The Texas Monitor also has a story based on the same report, which was evidently leaked to journalists by anonymous critics of Dr. Lane, and I see now that the Southern has an article up that summarizes the entire controversy.
At this distance, we are not going to be able to get to the bottom of what went on at Texas Southern. President Mahony essentially dismissed the new report as old news. It is true that the leaked report only claims that TSU was admitting unqualified students and giving them scholarships they were not eligible for during Lane’s tenure, rather than showing that Lane instituted that policy. But of course even this would undermine the claim that Lane has successfully led TSU. Mahony also argued that the state of Texas had already cleared TSU; but the report alleges that the information TSU provided to the state for that investigation was flawed, and current TSU leaders are taking the report seriously. President Mahony also noted that retention figures improved under Dr. Lane’s leadership, something unlikely to happen had TSU suddenly started to admit many more unqualified students. Retention rates (of freshmen to sophomores) did go up in the first year of Dr. Lane’s tenure at TSU (50.4% to 57.4%), but declined in the second two years, returning to 52.1% by 2019. The relevant figures appear to be those at #11 on this TSU chart; it is not clear whether a difference of a few percentage points in these figures represents signal or noise.
Our goal here is not endlessly to rehash Dr. Lane’s controversial tenure at TSU. And it is only fair to report that Dr. Lane has many supporters at TSU, who reached out to people at SIU in support of Lane’s application to be chancellor. The point is that SIU administrators must engage with the university community with transparency and honesty if we are to have any hope of progress for SIU. As enrollment figures will be a central part of our conversation and planning, we must be able to trust administrators when they provide data about enrollment.
More broadly, we need transparency and honesty because we have important work to do together as SIUC faces the challenges before our country. The SIUC administration has rightly condemned hateful racist comments posted on social media by a recent SIUC graduate. Leaders in the Carbondale community, including our colleague Father Joseph Brown, have spoken up with passion and principle against the racist killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We do hope that the hiring of SIUC’s first African American chancellor will help SIUC play a stronger role in addressing the structural racism in our society.
As Illinois slowly starts to reopen, we have assisted the SIU administration in preparation of a survey of instructors about the many questions posed by the fall semester. The administration has agreed to share data, and they have adopted many of our suggestions for the survey. We have yet to see the final version of the survey, and the FA will engage in impact bargaining with the administration as the plan for the fall semester is worked out. But I anticipate that this survey will provide us all with important information as we decide how to carry out our mission safely during the next academic year. Thus far, then, the work on this survey is a positive example of cooperation between unions (including the GAU and NTT-FA) and the administration. Look for an announcement when the survey is released, which we expect will happen shortly.
So can effectively work together—faculty, staff, administrators, and students. Transparency and honesty are the basis of a positive working relationship. That is why we raised the difficult questions today.
In solidarity,
Dave Johnson
President, SIUC Faculty Association

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

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