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SIU Restructing Plan
SIUC faculty, students speak out against restructuring plan at Board of Trustees meeting

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s impending academic reorganization became the focal point of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in Carbondale Thursday, despite appearing nowhere on the agenda.

During a fiery public-comment period, several speakers argued against SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plan to restructure the university by eliminating its 42 departments and housing programs in newly created schools.

Even at the tail-end of finals week, the board meeting drew a lively crowd of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty, filling the Student Center’s Ballroom B to capacity.

Critics raised concerns about the speed of the restructuring — Montemagno hopes to implement the changes July 1, 2018 — in addition to the unprecedented nature of the plan and what they called the administration’s “top-down" approach.

Vice Chair J. Phil Gilbert said he was surprised to learn at Wednesday’s work session that studies and reports conducted several years ago had found that SIUC should eliminate redundancies.

“Organizational change does not come easy. But in tough times and uncertain times, it’s necessary for the good of the future of this university, and I think everybody agrees that at least there need to be changes,” Gilbert said.

Trustee Marsha Ryan said reorganizing and revitalizing SIUC was what the board hired Montemagno to do.

“We asked for a vision and a strategic plan to be developed within six months, as we saw the need for haste in the face of rapid decline,” Ryan said. “ … There was a time, several years ago, when we had the luxury of time, but not the will. Now we have no time and we are required to find the will. Change, as you see, is hard, but change will come, either actively, like the plan, or passively, like the gradual decline and degradation we’ve been seeing. My personal preference is that we manage that changing quickly, lest it manage us.”

Early in the public-comments portion of the meeting, Faculty Association President David Johnson said people must work together to solve the university’s problems.

“What I fear is a reckless, hasty, top-down slew of changes that have nothing more than a leap of faith in an untested leader,” Johnson said. “What I fear is us wasting a year or more fighting about a grandiose, unprecedented, evidence-free restructuring plan that the chancellor himself has admitted won’t fix our enrollment problem, instead of coming up with shared solutions that will fix it.”

Natasha Zaretsky, an associate professor of history and a member of the Coordinating Committee for Change — a group formed in opposition to the restructuring plan — said the chancellor’s proposal raises questions about whether the dissolution of the university’s 42 departments will help SIUC’s enrollment crisis.

“The problem to date is that the chancellor has not been able to answer any of these questions. He’s provided no data, no evidence, no models and no best practices that he can cite to back up his plan,” Zaretsky said.

Faculty Senate Chair Kathleen Chwalisz said she was “embarrassed” by the way some faculty members were responding to the restructuring plan.

“There are people who are sort of shaping the conversation, and it’s a relatively small group of faculty. … I see more negative energy coming out of (the CCC) than I see positive,” Chwalisz said.

Lauran Schafer, a representative of Graduate Assistants United, criticized Montemagno for his plan to no longer allow graduate students to serve as instructors of record. She questioned the idea that elimination of departments will solve the university’s enrollment crisis.

“It is asinine to say that people are not coming to this university because it has a structure like most universities,” Schafer said, adding that SIU Edwardsville has not been plagued by the same enrollment problems.

Vicki Carstens, chair of the linguistics department, said she would not have come to an institution without departments as a graduate student and that she worries that the change will have a negative impact on enrollment.

“The chancellor seems confident of this course of action, though, and has asked that we ‘just trust him’ to know what’s best for this campus. Like most academics, I prefer to base my trust on evidence,” Carstens said.

Undergraduate Brandon Kyles, a member of the Undergraduate Student Government, said students feel unable to provide input in the restructuring process.

“If we are all here, especially during a time of finals, if we are all here, especially during a time when we are ready to go home, obviously we have a stake in this conversation,” Kyles said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Montemagno addressed the repeated claims by faculty and students that they have been shut out of the decision-making process.

“I have met with virtually every constituent person there who has spoken and issued that,” Montemagno said. “The faculty and the students also have provided me numerous input, both to me personally through emails and online. So all their voices are being heard. We have official constituency meetings, and I meet with all of them in those constituency meetings. So we are engaging with them dynamically and in discussion, and so I’m actually perplexed why they would feel that way. Obviously I need to redouble my efforts at reaching out to many of the constituents, but we are reaching out to all of them, and they have all had meaningful input into the plan as it evolved.”

The chancellor said that his plan was a “natural outgrowth” of the 2012 and 2013 studies referenced by Trustee Gilbert in the meeting.

“There comes a time when you have to stop studying and engage in action,” Montemagno said.

Despite all the negative feedback, Montemagno said he was “feeling really good about what’s going on.”

“We have probably, I’m just guess-timating, but probably 70 percent of the response I’ve gotten has been positive, and it’s only a very, very small number that are negative, and the negative ones are usually not focused on the entire plan. They’re usually focused on small elements of the plan … but in general there’s significant, overwhelming support, from both here and off-campus in particular,” he said.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved the appointment of John Shaw as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, with an annual salary of $160,004 effective January 16, 2018.

Lori Stettler was approved as vice chancellor of student affairs with an annual salary of $178,000, effective December 15. Stettler had served as interim vice chancellor of student affairs since July 2015.

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Marion | The Bark Park
The Bark Park: Marion Park District shows off new dog park

MARION — On Thursday, Marion Park District unveiled The Bark Park, a new 39,150 square foot park for canines located at 1100 W. Goodall St. Jack Reed, director of parks and recreation at Marion Park District, said the park is expected to open in January.

Reed said the project began in October and was completed by park district staff.

Ashley Gott, president of Marion Park District Board, said the Bark Park is the result of the park district listening to its constituents.

“A lot of peopled expressed a desire to have an area to bring their dogs to play. They wanted to be able to enjoy the park with their dogs,” Gott said.

Reed said Erica Pancoast-Carnine of Doggie Stylz was very instrumental in planning the park.

“She really moved it forward,” Reed said.

The park has separate fenced areas for small and large dogs. The large dog side is 80 feet by 290 feet. The small dog side is 55 by 290. Each area includes a pavilion with concrete flooring and picnic tables, as well as electricity and running water. Visitors should bring a water bowl for their dogs.

“We tried to make is nice for our patrons to be able to relax in the pavilion,” Reed said.

One of the most unique features of the park is its play structures for dogs. Each side contains three structures: a ramp feature with a crawl-through tunnel, a curved tunnel and a jump. The play features were constructed by Marion Park District personnel from outdated play equipment. For example, the curved tunnels were part of a spiral slide that used to be on the playground at Marion Soccer Complex.

Each area also has a “dogipot” waste container for disposal of pet waste that includes baggies and a receptacle.

The Bark Park is membership-based, meaning you have to join to bring your dog to play. Membership for the first dog in a family is $20 per year, and $5 for each additional to the maximum of four dogs per member. Also, patrons will be required to provide vaccination information.

Members do not have to be residents of Marion.

“Anyone can pay the membership fee and go through the registration process,” Reed said. “A lot of people visit our parks who are not from Marion.”

A secure keypad will be installed on the gate. New passwords will be emailed to members each quarter.

More information on registration and application process is available at the park district administrative office in Ashley Park at 519 Parish Ave. or by calling the office at 618-993-3940 or by visiting the park district website at

Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
State Sen. Daniel Biss campaigns in Southern Illinois

CARBONDALE — Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat who represents the Ninth District in Illinois, spent Thursday in Southern Illinois campaigning for governor.

“I think we can build a state government that works for all of Illinois,” Biss told the editorial board of The Southern Illinoisan.

Biss added that no part of the state has been more harmed by the failed policies of the current administration than Southern Illinois. In fact, Biss believes those policies have failed to work for the entire state, from his hometown of Evanston to the southern tip of Illinois.

To get into the race for governor, Biss will first have to defeat six other Democratic candidates in the primary, including J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy. He believes the race is about the future of the Democratic Party, which has lost the presidency and the governors and state legislators across the country.

He believes the question in Illinois and for the party is whether to elect a billionaire with no experience, or a progressive with a record of boldness of policy.

Biss said Illinois is a state of unbelievable prosperity, but also is state with failed school funding and tax systems.

“The key question is who’s willing to fight all of that — income tax, property tax and school funding,” Biss said. “If we do it right, it will change the economic system in Illinois.”

Biss added that middle income families are hurting in Illinois.

“A few people are doing better and better, and the rest are left behind,” Biss said.

The cost of higher education, healthcare and retirement continue to get higher and higher, he said.

Biss said many of the people in their 30s in America today are doing worse than their parents were at the same age. “That’s the American dream teetering on the edge,” he said.

The real problem, according to Biss, is that it is impossible for people to work with dignity and raise their families with dignity.

State leaders need to restructure state finances and create a tax system that works in a modern economy, he said. Illinois has 628 different pension systems. Biss said other than Pennsylvania and Florida, no other state comes close to that number.

Biss used the police and firefighter pensions as an example. They each have separate pension systems in every municipality. Each system has a board that consists of five trustees, one retiree, two current employees and two appointed by the mayor. Each also has a financial consultant, investment consultant and training vendors.

“It’s an insane system that allows for corruption,” Biss said. “Ohio put all of its pensions into one system and saved massive amounts of money.”

He added that the system creates "silos of protection" for those involved. Biss said Illinios needs a governor who "knows where these bodies are buried" and is willing to take on those battles, and he believes he is that person.

Biss also wants to streamline state government. Illinois has more local governing bodies than any other state in the country with just under 7,000. He said he has fought for municipal consolidation.

He knows it is important to deal with Mike Madigan rather than make him an opponent, but that does not mean doing everything Madigan wants. Biss said he has learned through his years in the state legislature to successfully negotiate with Madigan.

“We have been on the opposite side of every major party battle,” Biss said.

He believes Madigan has been speaker too long and is too powerful. The first legislation Biss sponsored was to limit the term of the speaker of the house. If elected, he will try to enact term limits for legislative leaders and the governor. He is not in favor of term limits for rank and file legislators.

Biss also favors campaign reform, saying he may be biased because one of his primary opponents has spent $42 million dollars.

“This is scary. This is not OK. This is not the way a democracy is run. Are we going to have an election or are we going to have an auction?” Biss said.

Biss said the state has a role to play in Cairo. While the state has no jurisdiction over federal dollars, it can help by backing real public investment to put people back to work and ensure the money gets into the hands of the broader public.

He also would favor legalizing recreational marijuana, but added that he does not think it is “no big deal.” From a public health point of view, the consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating, he said. He said marijuana is much less dangerous, but it has to be regulated and taxed appropriately.

“The state is really in trouble. It is in a worse financial condition than any other state government and worse than it has ever been,” Biss said. “This state is also a prosperous state, with the fifth-largest economy.”

While Chicago is doing well, much of the rest of the state is suffering, according to Biss. Fixing the problem does not take a complete transformation, just a change in trajectory.

For more information about the Biss platform, visit

Rep. Mike Bost signs letter opposing plan to tax graduate stipends


CARBONDALE — As the ever-evolving GOP tax plan makes its way through the two chambers of the U.S. legislature on its way to President Donald Trump's desk, many, including U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, are asking that two education provisions be left untouched under the new tax bill.

Bost, of Murphysboro, who represents the 12th District of Illinois, signed a letter Dec. 7 with more than 20 other representatives asking the writers of the tax bill to maintain two portions of the Internal Revenue Code relating to education.

First, the letter asks that Section 117(d), which allows employers to exclude qualified tuition reductions as income, remain intact. The letter said were this to change, it would “raise the barrier of entry to college for many individuals.” It said this could create a burden on taxpayers whose only way of attending college is with these tuition breaks.

Click here to read the full letter.

The second request asks that the tax plan's writers maintain Section 127 of the IRC, which “incentivizes employees to accept tax-free educational assistance from employers to further the employees’ education and obtain skills to thrive in the workforce.” The letter goes on to ask not only that this provision be maintained, but also expanded to include “employees who have already accumulated student loan debt.”

The letter points out that seven in 10 college seniors graduate with student loan debt, which now represents the second highest form of consumer debt.

“This debt harms our economy because it prevents many young adults from buying a house, purchasing a car or saving for retirement,” the letter states.

Graduate and Professional Student Council President Johnathan Flowers said seeing that Bost signed a letter of support for graduate students is “a welcome change from his previous position” of coming late to the fight, particularly for education.

Flowers said graduate education is something Bost should be “extremely concerned with," due to the fact that Southern Illinois University is in his district. He said he wonders what it means for the rest of Bost’s term.

Graduate students from SIU staged a walkout in November to protest a House version of tax reform that would have taxed graduate student stipends.

SIUC graduate students stage walkout to protest tax bill

CARBONDALE — Graduate students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale joined a nationwide walkout Wednesday to protest the House Republican tax reform bill, which includes a measure that would classify their tuition waivers as taxable income.

“My main concern is, is this a one-time action on behalf of Bost, or does this signal becoming a true advocate of higher education, particularly SIU, in the future?” Flowers asked. He said he hopes for the latter.

“But I am not holding my breath,” he said.

In an emailed statement Thursday, Bost said that restructuring the tax code is no simple thing; however, he was adamant that Southern Illinoisans have input in the process.

“... it’s vitally important that the voices of my constituents are represented in the final product,” Bost said.

Bost said his decision to back this request came out of his support of students.

“It is critical that our young people have the means to get an education, jumpstart a career, and help build a brighter future for Southern Illinois,” Bost said. “I’ve heard from many Southern Illinoisans who depend on the tuition waiver, and I wanted to do my part to try and ensure it remains intact.”

Republicans are hoping a complete version of the compromise tax bill will pass both the House and Senate and be sent to the president by Christmas.