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CARBONDALE — The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce has publicly endorsed Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plan to eliminate the university’s 42 departments and reorganize degree programs into newly established colleges and schools.

In an open letter sent to the SIU Board of Trustees last Tuesday, the chamber board expressed its support of the proposed shake-up, which Montemagno hopes to implement July 1.

Introduced in September 2017, the plan has proven divisive on campus: the SIU Faculty Senate, Graduate and Professional Student Council, and Undergraduate Student Council have adopted resolutions opposing the unilateral elimination of departments, while advocates of the plan argue that something must be done quickly to combat the university’s precipitous decline in enrollment.

In Tuesday’s open letter, the chamber placed itself squarely in the latter camp.

“There is no doubt that Chancellor Montemagno’s plan is challenging and ambitious,” the letter reads. “We believe that the time for action is now. Reorganization must not wait for extended, lengthy discussion, reviews and inaction. With years of declining enrollments and numerous leadership changes, the University, the city and region and our businesses cannot afford any delay.”

Chamber President and CEO Les O’Dell said the board has been in discussions about Montemagno’s plan for several months. The letter was approved at the Jan. 17 board meeting.

“SIU is obviously the biggest economic engine in the community, so what happens at the university is always at the forefront of some of the things we look at, because enrollment, research dollars — all those things affect our businesses, even down to restaurants and realtors and all of those kinds of folks,” O’Dell said during a phone interview earlier this week.

Asked why and how the board feels the controversial restructuring plan could solve the university’s enrollment crisis, O’Dell declined to go into specifics, but said the time for action is now.

“I think the spirit of our letter is more that, hey, something has to be done, whether it’s the chancellor’s plan or some other plan, but that’s the plan that has been proposed right now, that’s the one that the university can act on rather quickly. … We just want to see action taken. We feel like the time for study, the time for discussion, has long since passed,” he said.

The full letter reads: 

An Open Letter to the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees

As representatives of the Carbondale business community, we hold a keen interest in the happenings and discussions at Southern Illinois University. We are paying special attention to Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plans for reorganization and restructuring of the University.

As the largest economic engine not only for Carbondale but for all of Southern Illinois, what happens at the University – its successes in all areas (enrollment, research, athletics, cultural and artistic endeavors and more) as well as its shortcomings – affect us all. In recent years, the continuing freefall in enrollment has negatively impacted most of our businesses, even forcing many once-profitable enterprises out of business.

There is no doubt that Chancellor Montemagno’s plan is challenging and ambitious. We believe that the time for action is now. Reorganization must not wait for extended, lengthy discussion, reviews and inaction. With years of declining enrollments and numerous leadership changes, the University, the city and region and our businesses cannot afford any delay.

Something must be done, sooner than later. The time for study, posturing and inaction is over. We stand with the Chancellor and his proposed plan and will do everything in our ability to support him and Southern Illinois University.

— Board of Directors, Carbondale Chamber of Commerce

janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Reporter

Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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