Newsletter – April 15, 2015

As you know, our campus faces the possibility of drastic budget cuts due to Governor Rauner’s call for a 31% reduction in state appropriations to higher education in Illinois.  And as President Dunn pointed out in his March 3rd “Morning Conversation” on WSIU, whatever happens with the upcoming 2016 budget, more cuts are probable as Governor Rauner’s term continues. While we await the final decisions on state appropriations, our campus administrators have been discussing models to address the possible areas to cut. President Dunn has discussed a model based on layers. Cuts would first be made to the outer layers of non-academic university services such as Touch of Nature and WSIU, which have been asked to submit a report on the effects of a 50% cut (see Chancellor’s Budget Website,   The inner core of this “onion” model is academic programs and critical student services; possible immediate cuts to these have not been identified.  Neither have we yet heard about plans to assess administrative expenses or possible cuts to administration. Administrative bloat is a widely acknowledged problem in higher education media – we urge President Dunn to consider this layer of the onion for cuts as well prior to considering cuts to the academic core.
Clearly, as President Dunn has said, now is the time for our entire university community to unite to “tell our story” to legislators and state budget cutters.  If successful, this budgetary attack on higher education will devastate not only our students and campus, but also the surrounding region, which relies on SIUC as an economic engine.  The costs associated with undercutting the quality of higher education by starving public universities around the state are enormous, and we can no longer keep quiet, hoping that someone else notices and does something to save us.  Along with university presidents and students from around the state, our state union—the IEA—is taking the lead in addressing these possible outcomes.  As SIUC Faculty, we too can take a leadership role in organizing a unified campus-wide response that includes our students and all our fellow SIUC employees.  With this in mind, the IEA unions on campus are organizing an on-campus march and rally against budget cuts, scheduled for May 6 at noon.  We hope to involve students, parents, other unions both on campus and in the region, and the SIUC administration in order to get our story out as widely as possible.
Meanwhile, we as Faculty must consider the probable longer-term cuts that will affect the “academic core.” President Dunn and Provost Ford have both spoken of the need to begin program review and prioritization within the next year, calling on the Faculty Senate to create a committee to assess academic programs. President Dunn has said that the long-term issue of academic cuts must be approached carefully and methodically, taking the time to “make sure that we’re not doing something for the sake of the theatric” that won’t actually create significant savings.  The Faculty Association agrees wholeheartedly.  Given experiences on this campus with “reorganization” in the recent past, it is imperative that key questions be answered before discussions begin: What are the reasons for prioritization, in detail?  What are the projected savings from academic cuts, how are they to be achieved, and when are they expected to be achieved? How will administrative units be assessed and prioritized?
 It is vital that the principles of shared governance guide any discussion or planning for program changes, particularly in the context of the current and future budget crises.  Indeed, faculty should be significantly involved in the evaluation of non-academic budget items—such as athletics and administrative salaries—as well.  At the same time, we should not allow calls for faculty-led program prioritization projects to undermine the unity that is absolutely necessary in facing attacks on public higher education.   In order to maintain our cohesion as a university community, a broad spectrum of faculty members must be systematically involved in all phases and elements of planning for program changes and budget cuts both short- and long-term.  The voices of all programs and interests must be taken into account.  Principles of collaboration and a shared mission must be the foundations of our efforts to meet this crisis.  The hierarchical and divisive implications of “prioritization” must be rethought; and any program assessment process should begin with the departments themselves.

Given the timing, it is clear that the main driver of this initiative is budgetary.
  Program changes—reductions, eliminations, mergers—can be attractive measures for immediate dramatic action, but their budgetary effects are usually limited, especially in the short and middle term.  The primary savings in the long term comes from reductions in faculty lines.  Thus, meaningful program change plans must take into account not simply potential savings, but also long-term goals for research productivity, advanced degree production, overall student enrollment and retention, and, indeed, the mission of SIUC.  At the same time, the processes used for prioritization in program changes are often opaque and divisive.  “Metrics” for evaluating programs are often conceived and implemented in a “one-size fits all” mode, despite profound differences between colleges and departments.  The elimination of faculty lines may save money eventually, but can create lop-sided situations where poor performance by a department or program becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Other factors must also be taken into account when contemplating significant downsizing, such as the balance between Tenured and Tenure-Track (T/TT) Faculty and Non-Tenure Track (NTT) Faculty, and the overall ratio of FTE students to faculty.  Clearly, there is a great potential for contention and demoralization in the process of “prioritization” for program changes.

  The Faculty Association represents all tenured and tenure-track faculty on the SIUC campus with the exception of the Medical and Law Schools.  Our collective bargaining agreement with the SIU Board of Trustees contains provisions that are meant to assure meaningful T/TT Faculty participation in the process of program changes, as well as a mandatory ratio of FTE students to T/TT Faculty on campus.  We are currently in negotiations for a successor agreement that will also contain such provisions. It is vital to the preservation of shared governance, principles of collaboration, and maintaining a shared mission that these mechanisms—and the principles behind them—be incorporated into any discussion of campus-wide program changes.  

Meanwhile, please be sure to contact your state legislators to make sure they are aware of the possible devastating effects of major cuts to SIUC’s state appropriations, and save the date—May 6, at noon—for the rally against those cuts.

I hope to see you there,

Rachel Stocking

President, Faculty Association

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