CARBONDALE — The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Faculty Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution opposing the elimination of the university’s departments — a key feature of Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s controversial restructuring plan.
The resolution, which was presented to the Faculty Senate by history professor Jon Bean, opposes the elimination of departments on the grounds that the shakeup threatens “principles of shared governance and academic freedom” and will cause institutional instability.
Montemagno in October first released a so-called “straw man proposal” outlining his Vision 2025 plan; a revised version that includes changes to the placement of some programs has been circulating on campus since late last week.
Broadly, the restructuring would reduce the university’s eight colleges to five, and those colleges would house schools, which would in turn house individual degree programs. The university’s departments and department chairs would be eliminated, freeing up about $2.3 million in administrative costs.
Critics say those savings don't amount to much of the university's overall budget and that the restructuring will cause a major disruption.
The Faculty Senate resolution also “recommends that faculty be encouraged and allowed to pursue all productive proposals for change, including those that retain academic departments.”
The Faculty Senate, which serves in an advisory capacity to the administration, debated the particulars of the resolution for close to two hours Tuesday afternoon. A total of 33 votes were cast by ballot. 19 senators were in favor, 11 opposed and three abstained.
The SIUC Faculty Association and the Coordinating Committee for Change at SIU — a group that formed after an Oct. 25 open meeting to discuss the chancellor’s plan — prompted the resolution, according to Faculty Senate Chair Kathleen Chwalisz.
Representatives of the administration, including Montemagno and the university’s co-provosts, were not present, as they were away on university business, Chwalisz said.
Segun Ojewuyi, a professor in the theater department, said he was in favor of the resolution.
“We’ve gone through several changes and we have been willing participants in those journeys. ... The resolution opposes universal elimination of departments. It doesn’t destruct the wish of those who want to have school, but what it encourages is a more robust conversation and the participation of faculty in the process,” Ojewuyi said.
Gary Kinsel, a professor of chemistry, spoke in favor of the resolution, questioning the idea that the elimination of departments would do anything to help SIUC’s declining enrollment. He said the chancellor’s arguments in that regard have been “extraordinarily weak,” and that departments are what attract students.
“This plan will undermine that process,” he said.
Kay Zivkovich, a professor in the communication design program, said the resolution opposes the elimination of departments and does not necessarily oppose the formation of new schools.
“I think my colleagues in COLA (College of Liberal Arts) are concerned that across-the-board elimination is not really allowing us to have a choice. … To just arbitrarily say this is it, you’re done, it’s over, is wrong,” Zivkovich said.
Chwalisz said she was struggling with conflicting information, as administrators have indicated that it would be impossible to create new schools at the university without eliminating departments, due to the way departments are defined in faculty collective bargaining agreements and other university policy documents. But the Faculty Association has said that the contract does not rule out the possibility of having both departments and schools in the same structure.
“I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know the facts. … I really would like to know, what are the legal limits of the contract?” Chwalisz said.
Several other senators echoed those sentiments. A motion to table the vote until the Faculty Senate’s next meeting failed to pass.
Cherie Watson, a non-tenure-track representative from Library Affairs, said she felt Montemagno has so far proved himself to be “a man of his word.”
“We don’t have any guarantees … but I would hate for us to get bogged down in something like this and miss an opportunity to realize our success in the future,” Watson said.
Wendi Zea, associate professor of costume design, said the resolution leaves plenty of room for change.
“I think the chancellor was being somewhat disingenuous last week when he talked about this all being about shared governance and the faculty getting to make their own decisions, when in fact his proposal takes a lot of power away from the faculty. Most of us, through the operating papers and all that within our department, that’s how we make the decisions that affect our curriculum and our students,” Zea said.