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SIU | Restructuring plan
In open forum, SIUC chancellor confronts questions, concerns about restructuring plan

CARBONDALE — At an open forum Thursday, Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno offered a more detailed look at the restructuring plan intended to save the university from its “free fall.”

The chancellor’s presentation of what he refers to as a “straw man proposal,” delivered to a standing-room-only Student Center Auditorium, was followed by a Q & A segment that grew tense at times as faculty and students loudly questioned the proposed elimination of departments and the planned cutting of the Africana Studies major.

SIUC has lost 50 percent of its freshman class in the last three years alone, the chancellor said in his introductory remarks.

“The biggest limitation in our ability to change has been bureaucratic, artificial boundaries created by the way we count effort and resources. In numerous conversations with faculty, I have heard about great ideas to deliver new programs that were stymied because of bureaucratic obstructions,” Montemagno said.

The solution, he argued, is for the university to restructure its offerings to allow for greater “synergy.”

The proposed shake-up would eliminate all 42 departments across campus and pare the university’s eight academic colleges down to five: College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; College of Business and Analytics; College of Engineering, Physical Science and Applied Technology; College of Health and Human Services; and College of Liberal and Performing Arts.

The five colleges would contain a total of 15 schools; those schools, in turn, would house programs. The School of Law, School of Medicine and a newly established School of Education would be freestanding.

According to Montemagno’s State of the University address, delivered Sept. 26, the reorganization would cut $2.3 million in administrative costs — primarily by eliminating department chairs.

While the overarching structure is firm, placement of individual units and the names of colleges are still up for discussion, he said Thursday.

“I know that the final structure will look different at the end of the process. Faculty, especially, will have insights that may lead to changes, since they are the experts on the programs,” Montemagno said.

Faculty within schools will make decisions about whether programs stay the same or are changed.

“This is shared governance in its most basic form. The faculty have the opportunity to define their educational programs,” he said.

The chancellor also addressed the university’s ideal size. He placed SIUC’s target enrollment at 18,300 by 2025.

“A lower target will affect our capacity to be a comprehensive institution. A higher target risks our ability to provide a personalized educational experience. I believe that 18,300 is realistic and achievable,” Montemagno said.

He also proposed changing SIUC’s core curriculum to include communication skills, cultural competency, multidisciplinary foundation, leadership skills and emotional intelligence.

“I propose all of our graduates must have strong written and oral communication skills, an appreciation for living and working in a multicultural and global society, emotional intelligence and leadership skills. We also want our students to have a multidisciplinary foundation that allows them to be able to assimilate knowledge that comes from multiple sources. This is one of the primary benefits of attending a comprehensive research institution,” he said.

Montemagno said he had tasked the Diversity Council with finding ways to integrate diversity into the core curriculum.

During the subsequent comment period, Montemagno faced a tough crowd; almost all the students and faculty members who asked questions were critical of the proposed changes, and the mood was sometimes hostile.

Anne Fletcher, a theater professor, asked whether faculty will retain tenure despite the elimination of departments.

Montemagno answered that faculty members’ tenure will be transferred to the new schools.

“You’re all set,” he said.

Sara Beardsworth, a professor in the philosophy department, said she’d had experience with a similar restructuring plan at another university, which eventually did away with the humanities and became a technical school, and that she was “concerned” and “not very hopeful” about the model.

“Well, I’m sorry you’re not very hopeful about it,” Montemagno said. “… I can tell you unequivocally that I did not come here to create a polytechnic university. As you heard me say, I talk about us being a comprehensive, four-year research university.”

When Beardsworth said she believes there is a need for department chairs, Montemagno said, “I think the chairs have provided an opportunity for you people, for the faculty not to be able to realize what they want” because it is harder to transfer resources across departments.

“You’re still going to have program directors to take care of the managing and shepherding of the program within the schools,” he said.

One woman questioned the idea that eliminating chairs and changing the structure would increase SIU’s ability to recruit and retain students.

Montemagno said the bureaucratic structure “prevents the faculty from engaging in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

“If we had the proper academic programs for (students) to come, they would be here. Otherwise, why are they not here?” he said.

“They’re not here because we’re not treated as we should, because me being a minority on campus, I don’t feel like I’m accepted. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells,” one woman called out.

Montemagno countered that he plans to incorporate multicultural competency as part of the core curriculum.

Undergraduate Student Government President Joshua Bowens asked for more information about the possible elimination of the Africana Studies major, proposed in the Financial Sustainability Plan presented to the SIU Board of Trustees in July; several other members of the audience also voiced concerns about that reduction.

“The minor will be there and all of the courses will be there,” Montemagno said.

He said new courses might even be created.

“But right now, given the climate you talk about, it’s not working. And my job here is to figure out how I make it work. And so I’m relying on the talent and the people we have in our Diversity Council of how I make it work, and how do I touch every single student who goes through here in a meaningful way so that they understand the differences between peoples, and that they are competent to be able to work with people of different types,” he said.

Faculty can offer feedback on the restructuring proposal by going to chancellor.siu.edu/Vision2025/feedback.

The chancellor plans to finalize the restructuring plan in February, bring a budget based on the final plan before the Board of Trustees in April, and implement the changes by July 1.


Murphysboro
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Murphysboro | Life Skills Re-entry Center
1 year after Rauner pledged to reopen IYC as adult re-entry center, open date remains unclear

MURPHYSBORO — A year after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced plans to create a re-entry center in Southern Illinois for inmates returning to the community, the facility in Murphysboro is still working to open.

On Oct. 14, 2016, the governor traveled to Murphysboro, holding a press conference and touring the shuttered former Illinois Youth Center on the northeast edge of Murphysboro. The governor announced the reopening as part of prison reform in the state. Built in 1997, the center was closed in 2011.

Questions about the facility's status and possible opening date were answered with a general response from Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dede Short.

"The Illinois Department of Corrections still plans to open a Life Skills Re-entry Center in Murphysboro, but there are no new details to report at this time," Short wrote in an email to The Southern.

A sign reading "State of Illinois Department of Corrections Murphysboro Re-Entry Center" was on the front lawn of the facility Thursday.

At last October's press conference, the governor said the new center would house about 300 prisoners who are scheduled to re-enter the community and employ about 120 people. It will be managed under the Pinckneyville Correctional Center.

At the event that day were Illinois 115th District Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Mayor Will Stephens, who both said they had no word about when the project was set to be completed. Almost a year before the 2016 press conference, in November 2015, Bryant had called for the closed facility to be reopened as an adult work camp.

During the 2016 news conference, the governor said the center should never have been closed, drawing applause from some in the audience.

He said this site was chosen over the Hardin County Work Camp because this one was much better maintained. The Hardin County site, he said, would cost too much money to repurpose.

The Murphysboro facility would cost $800,000 to reopen and repurpose, a Rauner press secretary said.

Stephens said he was never given a firm date for the reopening, but does know work has occurred there.

He said $100,000 has been spent on upgrading the facility, and that new beds, kitchen freezers, and other items have been moved into the facility. Stephens said the security system has been updated with new computers and cameras.

"The pace does concern me," Stephens said. "Murphysboro needs the jobs, and more importantly the inmates need a legitimate second chance. The longer the reopening of the facility is delayed, the less-equipped parolees are to re-enter our communities. In turn, that makes our communities throughout Illinois less safe."


bhetzler / The Southern file photo 

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens (left) and Gov. Bruce Rauner speak in October 2016 at the Illinois Youth Center in Muphysboro.


STEVE BUHMAN, SIU MEDIA SERVICES 

SIU chancellor Carlo Montemagno speaks in September during the State of the University address.


Crime-and-courts
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Former Zeigler treasurer pleads not guilty to federal embezzlement charges

BENTON — Ryan Thorpe, the former Zeigler treasurer who has been indicted on federal embezzlement charges after allegedly stealing more than $300,000 from the city, pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday.

Randy Patchett, representing Thorpe, told Judge Leona Daly his client would be waiving a formal reading of the indictment, which accuses Thorpe of three counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement from a local government. An audit released last week said that Thorpe allegedly stole a total of $315,890.94 between Jan. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2017.

Daly asked Thorpe if he had gone over the indictment with his attorney, however Patchett interjected.

“No, judge. We just got it,” Patchett said, later telling the newspaper he had entered appearance in the case a few days prior to the hearing.

Daly asked Thorpe if he understood the charges against him, to which he replied, “Somewhat.” Patchett said Thorpe primarily had questions about the wire fraud charges, but added that he would explain them to him.

Daly then approved the government’s bond restriction request. Daly told Thorpe he was to maintain or seek employment, report any contact with law enforcement to the U.S. Probation Office, he was not to possess any firearms and was not to seek a passport. She also told him he was not to seek any new credit without prior permission. She said she was releasing him on recognizance bond with these stipulations.

Thorpe’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Dec. 26 with a final pretrial Dec. 12. 

Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and each count of embezzlement comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

After the hearing, Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell said he was surprised by the not guilty plea.

“I’m actually shocked that Ryan pleaded not guilty,” he said, adding that the city will let the process play out.

He said the entire situation is still “surreal.”

“I can’t believe it, but it did happen.”

As for the financial status of Zeigler, Mitchell said he anticipates receiving Saturday a $100,000 check from Brad Cole, representing insurer of the Illinois Municipal League.

“$315,000 is our loss, but $100,000 would help us catch up on some of our local vendors,” he said.

Looking back at just how someone would have been able to steal about $315,000 from the city, Mitchell said the numbers weren’t always easy to see. He said the ebb and flow of late bills — Thorpe allegedly would write his name in the payee line for checks supposed to go to local vendors, falling behind temporarily in their payment — made it difficult to catch. Mitchell said to be a few months behind on bills in the city of Zeigler could be $300,000, explaining that because of this, their financial strain during Thorpe’s alleged theft did not feel out of the ordinary.

With pension costs and rising insurance costs, Mitchell said small governments are likely to think their cash problems may be external as opposed to an internal leak.

That said, Mitchell explained that the city is in no danger of defaulting. He said it does not have any outstanding loans.