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SIUC State of the University address
SIUC chancellor presents academic reorganization plan, announces University Museum will reopen

CARBONDALE — Transformation is critical to the future of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carlo Montemagno told a packed Shryock Auditorium in his State of the University address Tuesday morning.

The new SIU Carbondale chancellor, who assumed the role six weeks ago, sketched out a broad academic reorganization plan that he intends to implement at the start of the new fiscal year in the hopes of getting the university back on track.

He also announced that University Museum, which shuttered in July because of the state budget impasse, will reopen in January 2018.

SIUC has faced adversity and stagnation several times throughout its history, but has always benefited from a collaborative spirit, Montemagno said.

The campus has 6,000 fewer students today than it did 10 years ago, and new freshman numbers declined almost 18 percent this year alone. The drop in enrollment over the last decade represents more than $1.5 billion in lost economic activity for Southern Illinois.

“In spite of these enrollment losses, we are operating much as we always have. We have had largely the same academic programs, administrative structures and processes for at least two decades. We have not adapted to a changing higher education marketplace,” Montemagno said.

‘Vision 2025’ survey

The chancellor’s recent “Vision 2025” online survey polled students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and local business owners on what the university should look like in 2025.

Respondents reaffirmed every component of the university’s mission statement, Montemagno said. The full results of the survey will be available to the campus soon.

“The results of the survey center around the continued belief in our mission as a university that provides and delivers nationally ranked educational programs,” Montemagno said. “We are dedicated to the creation of knowledge and engagement with our communities that contributes to inclusion, diversity and opportunity.”

The results will aid administrators in charting SIU’s path forward, he said.

Academic reorganization

Montemagno briefly outlined a new academic structure organized by schools that he hopes to implement by July 1, 2018.

He said administrators are currently looking at SIUC’s academic structure to identify opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning.

“Imagine the synergy, energy and strength we could build, and duplication we might avoid, if we broke down walls and brought programs and faculty together for joint exploration of knowledge,” Montemagno said.

Some initial possibilities include the creation of a College of Health and Human Services; creation of a new college of agriculture and life sciences that will include a School of Sustainability and Earth Sciences; and the addition of analytics and big data to business programs.

“Yes, we will still need to close some programs. But I want to be clear that academic reorganization itself is not about eliminating programs, faculty or staff, but about creating new scholarly communities that will lead to innovation in teaching and knowledge creation,” Montemagno said.

The reorganization effort would reduce administrative costs by about $2.3 million, he said. Deans, department chairs and directors will review a draft proposal in October. A new draft will be released to the campus community for input in November, and a finalized plan will be delivered in the spring.

“I know this is very fast. For academicians, we will be running at warp speed,” Montemagno said. “But time is of the essence. If we don’t redefine and execute quickly, we may be faced with an institution that must abandon our core mission and values.”

He said he hopes to see SIUC achieve an R1 classification in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which denotes the highest research activity for doctoral universities.

“Academic reorganization is an important first step to achieve this. I believe it will reenergize our academic enterprise, encouraging faculty to engage in multidisciplinary partnerships that will fuel extramural funding.”

Student engagement

For SIU to uphold its mission statement, it must offer a “world-class educational experience,” Montemagno said.

That means providing students with opportunities for experiential learning, along with international and service opportunities.

He said he also hopes to bolster engagement by attracting more concerts and speakers to campus. To support students’ access to the arts, University Museum will reopen Jan. 1.


Molly Edwards-Britton of Makanda places flowers outside of the University Museum at SIU on June 30 in Carbondale. Supporters of the museum placed flowers throughout the day to mark the closure of the museum due to the state budget impasse.

University College — which offers peer mentoring, academic advising, academic coaching, career advising and student success courses — will be restructured in an effort “to better integrate student support and engagement initiatives.” Some positions will remain in Academic Affairs, while others will move to Student Affairs.

Academic Advisement will be centralized and will report to the Office of the Associate Provost for Academic Programs.

“In short, we must put students at the core of everything we do by engaging them in subject matter and campus life and by elevating the stature and rigor of the academic enterprise,” Montemagno said.

Administrators are also beginning a search for an associate chancellor for enrollment management, who will oversee and coordinate recruitment activities. Recruitment marketing efforts have also been expanded.

“Our goal is to connect with more than 1 million prospective students this year,” Montemagno said.

Final thoughts

Montemagno plans to have the restructuring plan completed in April and to take a proposal for salary increases to the SIU Board of Trustees at its April meeting.

SIUC must assert its position as a flagship university and must offer students a personalized education, he said.

“We must fight the impulse that many have to cut the tall, growing sunflower down to size, forcing us into the mold of a regional institution instead of a national institution that serves its region. Instead, we must reaffirm and embrace the future our mission calls for,” Montemagno said.

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Knee-high weeds and trash have overtaken Cairo's public housing complexes managed by HUD

CARIO — Housing and Urban Development, the subject of scrutiny for years of oversight failures that have contributed to a housing crisis in Illinois' southernmost city, is now failing to adequately maintain the grounds in the most basic of ways at Elmwood and McBride. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the grass apparently had not been mowed for several weeks. It was upwards of two feet tall in some places, and knee-high weeds — and even waist-high in some places — had grown around the perimeter fences, next to door frames, and in the playground areas.

Trash was everywhere.

HUD has allowed overgrown grass, knee-high weeds and trash to overtake the grounds of McBride apartment complex, including the playground area, as pictured here on Tuesday afternoon. HUD is operating the Alexander County Housing Authority in administrative receivership.

Overgrown grass and weeds also had overtaken the walkway leading to a statue honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The overrun memorial area — inscribed with King's face and the words of his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," is located in front of the McBride complex, which houses almost entirely black families in this predominantly African-American city where public housing residents have been subjected to decades of civil rights violations, and their housing allowed to deteriorate to such a state of abject ruin that it has been slated for demolition. 

Because of years of local mismanagement, and HUD's failures to intervene, people are being asked to relocate from their home city.

“Oh gosh. It’s disgusting. … I’m appalled by this actually,” state Sen. Dale Fowler said on Tuesday, while driving around the city with a reporter for a story about efforts to recruit new industry to the community. Upon seeing how run-down HUD had allowed the grounds to become, Fowler, a Republican from Harrisburg in his first term, said it is frustrating, primarily because people still live here, but also because it's a deterrent to efforts to bring new businesses to the community. Fowler's deep Southern Illinois district includes all or parts of 13 counties, including all of Alexander County. 

“There needs to be answers to this," Fowler said. "There needs to be accountability, continued accountability. It looks like there’s been no maintenance, no mowing. These kids, these children, have to go out and play in this?"

Fowler was visibly shaken by the scene. HUD has not set a deadline by which families must move, and many remain. 

“Have we already thrown in the towel? We’re supposed to be the greatest government in the world, the greatest nation in the world, and we are allowing something like this, we’re allowing the children to have to be exposed to a foot-and-a-half to two feet of grass to play in, and the trash — it’s absolutely disgraceful.”

Molly Parker, The Southern  

HUD has allowed overgrown grass, knee-high weeds and trash to overtake the grounds of McBride apartment complex, including the playground area, as pictured here on Tuesday afternoon. HUD is operating the Alexander County Housing Authority in administrative receivership.

Elmwood, the other complex from which people are being relocated in Cairo, was in a similar condition as of Tuesday afternoon.

Asked about the overgrown, trash-ridden apartment complexes of the Alexander County Housing Authority, which HUD is managing in administrative receivership, agency spokesman Jereon Brown said housing authority staff were in the process of cutting the grass as of Tuesday afternoon.

The newspaper saw one person cutting grass at McBride later in the day, some time after posing the question. The grass was so tall that the mowing process was moving slowly, and leaving behind large clumps of grass because of how long it had grown.

Brown said the issue for HUD staff overseeing the housing authority is that there are competing priorities for a small maintenance crew. In June, HUD moved to end the collective bargaining agreement between the ACHA and Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 773, which had represented housing authority employees. At the time, Brown said the housing authority could no longer afford to pay the salaries and benefits called for in the union contract.

As a result, a mix of 19 part- and full-time workers were given notice their positions would be eliminated in 30 days. The employees were given the option of reapplying for a downsized and realigned set of positions, all but one of them part-time. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which is pending.

Brown acknowledged that it is still the housing authority’s — and therefore HUD's, since it is in administrative receivership — responsibility to maintain the grounds even as the agency works to move people from Elmwood and McBride. The complexes are slated for demolition because they are no longer safe and sanitary. Dozens of families, including children, still live at both locations.

“It’s also their responsibility to get units turned (at other ACHA complexes) so people can stay, which they are making every effort to do. It’s also their responsibility to ensure that the financial stability for the long run is set up for when we turn it back over. They are all competing priorities,” Brown said. HUD is planning to turn the housing authority back over to local control sometime in 2018, which is relatively quick considering the extent of the damage done where it concerns mismanagement of the housing authority. 

Specifically concerning the trash issue, Brown said the ACHA recently switched trash vendors. It was unclear to the newspaper how that affected the trash that is all over ground and along the side of the roads of the two complexes that remain home to some 150 families. “We would hope people would put their trash in the dumpster instead of on the ground, but if it has blown out we’ll have people go by and clean it up.” There is more trash around both properties than there has been in months.  

Across a vacant field from McBride, a city sign in front of a vacant field reminds residents, "Litter and weeds draw rodents and rodents draw snakes." Rampant and uncontrollable infestation is one of the many health and safety issues that has been cited as to why residents must move out of Elmwood and McBride. Residents who continue to live at Elmwood and McBride while searching for alternative housing say the infestation also is worse than it's ever been.  

Molly Parker, The Southern  

Across a field from McBride, a city sign in front of a vacant field reminds residents, "Litter and weeds draw rodents and rodents draw snakes." Rampant and uncontrollable infestation is one of the many health and safety issues that has been cited as to why residents must move out of Elmwood and McBride. Residents who continue to live at Elmwood and McBride while searching for alternative housing say the infestation also is worse than it's ever been as HUD has failed to maintain the grounds.   

Brown said efforts would be made in the future to make sure the grass does not get this tall again, and that the grounds are adequately maintained. He added that it is difficult to discuss overgrown grass and trash given the widespread devastation and humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria, to which multiple federal agencies are preparing a response effort. 

HUD has been managing the day-to-day operations of the ACHA since February 2016. After taking over in Cairo and booting local managers, HUD waited more than a year to announce a relocation plan to address the woefully inadequate housing conditions of families living at McBride and Elmwood. At the time, HUD said it intended to have the majority of the relocation effort completed by the start of the school year, which did not happen. Only about 30 of 185 families have moved so far, according to the latest count the agency provided to the newspaper.

“It’s worse now that it’s in receivership than prior to it being in receivership as far as the appearance goes,” said Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman.

“They have a mowing staff so I don’t understand the problem either,” said Councilwoman Connie Williams. “There’s no excuse for it.”

Du Quoin State Fair
State Fair manager says attendance was up at 2017 Du Quoin State Fair

DU QUOIN — State Fair Manager Kevin Gordon released preliminary estimates that indicate that attendance at the 2017 Du Quoin State Fair increased by 3.5 percent as compared to 2016, according to a news release from Illinois Department of Agriculture.

"Each year, the Du Quoin State Fair strives to bring in new and unique entertainment for all ages to enjoy, while also making it affordable," Tibretta Reiman, assistant Du Quoin State Fair manager, said in the release. "When planning the 2017 fair we looked for various types of free entertainment and activities for kids to enjoy in order to make this a family friendly event ... We also expanded the carnival's footprint and brought back the truck and tractor pulls, which were very well-received."

Preliminary estimates show 109,305 people attended this year's Du Quoin State Fair, an increase of over 3,600 attendees. The highest attended day of the 2017 Du Quoin State Fair was Saturday, Sept. 2, while the lowest attended day was Wednesday, Aug. 30. The biggest increases in attendance year-over-year occurred on Saturday, Aug. 26 (an increase of 3,896 attendees) and Friday, Aug. 25 (an increase of 2,887).

The attendance breakdown per day at the 2017 Du Quoin State Fair is as follows, with 2016 numbers in parentheses: Friday, Aug. 25, 8,865 (5,978); Saturday, Aug. 26, 17,282 (13,386); Sunday, Aug. 27, 9,403 (8,700); Monday, Aug. 28, 6,031 (5,450); Tuesday, Aug. 29, 7,652 (6,407); Wednesday, Aug. 30, 4,240 (3,825); Thursday, Aug. 31, 6,135 (7,306); Friday, Sept. 1, 7,976 (11,463); Saturday, Sept. 2, 18,498 (19,366); Sunday, Sept. 3, 13,991 (15,689); Monday, Sept. 4, 9,233 (8,052).

Entries in livestock shows during the Du Quoin State Fair also saw increases. In 2017, overall livestock numbers increased by 27 percent over 2016 entries. Beef saw an increase of 25 percent, while dairy was up over 42 percent. Steer and goat shows, added in 2017 event, were responsible for bringing in an additional 100 head combined between the two shows.

For grandstand events, ticket sales were down slightly, but revenue was up, the release said. A total of 12,090 tickets were sold, resulting in $292,736 in grandstand revenue. Even though 2016 saw slightly higher ticket sales, Du Quoin State Fair was able to recoup 85 percent of the artist investment (as compared to 75 percent in 2016). In addition, ticket revenues from grandstand sales realized an increase of over $26,000 from the previous year.

The release noted that attendance was determined based on the number of tickets purchased and turned in at the gates. This takes into account anyone who contributed to the commerce of the fair. As in previous years, a formula provides multipliers, based on national averages, to count visitors who cannot be tracked by a ticket due to the fair's various free admission days.