SPRINGFIELD — The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees on Wednesday reviewed a financial sustainability plan for the Carbondale campus that recommends the closure of seven programs and the consolidation of some departments.
Even with state appropriations restored after the passage of Illinois’ first full budget in two years, administrators say the sweeping structural changes are needed to account for SIUC’s dwindling student enrollment.
The financial sustainability plan recommends the closure of the following programs “based on a significant history of low enrollment and substantially weaker comparative performance on other metrics”:
- BS, Mining Engineering
- MS, Mining Engineering
- BA, Business Economics
- BS, Physical Education Teacher Education
- BA, Africana Studies
- MA, Political Science
- Ph.D., Historical Studies
University officials have either suspended or are considering suspension of admission to those programs.
The university is also considering merging and reorganizing some departments. Units in the colleges of Mass Communication and Media Arts, Liberal Arts, and Applied Sciences and Arts could be reorganized into a College of Media, Design and Fine and Performing Arts. A merger of the College of Science with the College of Liberal Arts is also on the table; alternatively, units in the College of Science could be transferred to the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Engineering.
Meanwhile, 15 academic departments have developed or are in the process of developing proposals for mergers reducing them to six departments.
“… It doesn’t take a lot to figure out that if you can combine three departments into one, you’re saving on the department chair costs, you’re saving on administrative support staff costs, and the beauty of that is you do it without disrupting your academic programs at all,” said Associate Provost David DiLalla, who presented the plan at Wednesday’s working session alongside Associate Provost Lizette Chevalier and Budget Office Director Judy Marshall.
The plan, which the board is expected to approve during its regular meeting Thursday, aims to address fiscal setbacks created by the state budget impasse with permanent budget reductions totaling $19 million in Fiscal Year 2018. The university also plans to repay borrowed funds with one-time cuts totaling $6.8 million, also due in FY18.
The bulk of the permanent reductions — $10 million — come from a strikethrough of the university’s vacant positions. Other significant cuts include $1.5 million in equipment, supplies and contractual services; $1.5 in plant and service operations; $1.2 million in partially self-supporting units; $1 million in academic administration costs; and $1 million in campus work opportunities for students.
System President Randy Dunn said that although he’s not fond of the word “right-sizing, “… a big goal here is getting a right-sizing of operating expenses with the operations with the university, with the organizational infrastructure we need at the university, given the size range we’re probably going to be in, even with some growth, for the future.”
Plans for new campus housing dead in the water
Also at Thursday’s working session, the board heard updates on a proposed public-private partnership for new east campus housing at SIUC. Representatives from Blue Rose Capital Advisors, a consulting firm SIUC’s University Housing department hired earlier this year to help develop a financial plan for the new housing, said they had reached the conclusion that such a project would not be financially viable.
That’s partially due to the fact that the university’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status, below investment grade, as a result of the state budget crisis. An independent feasibility study found that there is no new net demand for the housing project.
The new housing would have replaced either one or two of the Tower residence halls. Some board members expressed interest in moving forward with the plan to raze the 17-story high rises. The annual cost of maintaining each occupied Tower is about $1.5 million; it would cost between $3 and $4 million to tear each one down.
Dunn suggested the possibility of improving housing facilities by adopting a new long-term strategy: moving all student housing to the west side of campus.
“If this is what we’re looking at in terms of overall housing needs, maybe we take this time we have and think about a pivot on this, and just go to all west-side housing,” he said.
The board will reconvene Thursday morning.