CARBONDALE — In what was dubbed a community conversation, community members and Southern Illinois University Carbondale faculty members got together Tuesday to talk about SIU’s future.
The conversation, at the Varsity Center for the Arts, centered around SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s reorganization plan, which calls for the elimination of 42 departments across campus and a reduction in the number of academic colleges from eight to five.
The forum was hosted by the Shawnee Green Party and included faculty members from SIU Carbondale. Each panelist shared insight about his or her issues with the reorganization.
The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce was also invited to attend the conversation, but a representative was not able to attend. Instead, the board of directors sent an open letter in support of the chancellor's reorganization to the SIU Board of Trustees, and the letter was read aloud at the forum.
“Something must be done, sooner than later. The time for study, posturing and inaction is over,” the letter reads. “We stand with the Chancellor and his proposed plan and will do everything in our ability to support him and Southern Illinois University.”
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In the panelists’ discussion, Dave Johnson, SIU Faculty Association president, said he doesn’t think the chancellor has provided evidence his proposal will work the way he wants it to. He said the chancellor is proposing a one-size-fits-all approach and it could do much more harm than good.
“We are wasting time on reorganization and fighting about reorganization,” Johnson said. “Time that we could be spending on teaching and research, on attracting more students to Carbondale and keeping them here with high-quality academics and programs.”
Natasha Zaretsky, of Coordinating Committee for Change at SIU, said she has repeatedly asked questions about the chancellor’s plan, to which she says she hasn’t received answers.
She said the university needs to lower its fees, invest in its students to increase the retention rate, create an academic infrastructure to serve the current student population, and take the portions of interdisciplinary schools and run with it as long as faculty is on board.
Johnathan Flowers, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, said for a plan that is supposed to be student-centered, it has “shockingly” ignored the input of students.
Also, having additional resources for graduate students will help to recruit and retain those students, Flowers said, adding that the plan does not address student support structure needs.
“The reason this is a concern is because you cannot have an R-1 institution without healthy graduate programs, nor can you have healthy graduate programs without a healthy graduate school,” Flowers said.
Joseph Brown, professor in the Africana Studies program, told the audience that SIU’s lifeblood depends on black and brown students and the university has never admitted that everybody is interrelated. He said 28 percent of the student population are minority students.
“We built the Africana Studies major to be interdisciplinary, innovative and inclusive, and no one has asked us to model that for other people,” he said.
He also said that support programs for students have been diminished.
Daniel Silver, interim director of the Paralegal Studies department, said there is an opportunity for SIU to lead the charge in the state by lowering fees and tuition to attract new students from surrounding states.
He said SIU’s tuition has grown 56.6 percent since the 2006-2007 school year, and fees have risen more than 120 percent in that same time.
“We can advertise to all the surrounding states now that Illinois finally has a state budget, SIU will lead the state with lowering fees and tuition to provide our students with their best deal in the most beautiful setting for the finest educational experiences of a lifetime,” Silver said. “It’s not that difficult.”
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