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CARBONDALE — The incoming chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale said he believes the university must define a vision for itself in order to move beyond the financial hardship caused by the state budget impasse and declining enrollment.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Carlo Montemagno expressed optimism about the future of SIUC.

“I look at the infrastructure associated with it, I look at the town and the community that’s here, I look at how it’s positioned itself within the landscape of higher education, and I saw a distinct opportunity for advancing the institution, to dust off that jewel and make it a bright maroon jewel in the crown of higher education, not only in Illinois but the nation,” Montemagno said.

The appointment of Montemagno, a professor of engineering at the University of Alberta's Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and founder of the Ingenuity Lab for the Province of Alberta, was officially approved by the SIU Board of Trustees last Thursday after an extended search. He will be the university’s first permanent chancellor in three years.

Montemagno stressed the need for “shared governance” in administrative decision-making and said he planned to engage with faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community to “chart the best course moving forward.”

He said he plans to launch an initiative in the next few weeks asking students and staff what they think SIU should be in 2025.

“We’re going to distill this information and then by the end of October, we’ll have crafted a defined vision of what the objectives and goals of SIU will be,” he said.

“From that point, we’re going to look at our resources and the things that we do, and we’re going to start pivoting those resources to try and achieve that vision. We will not define ourselves by the resources that we have in hand. We will define ourselves by the vision.”

Montemagno will assume the office Aug. 15 and will inherit the university’s new financial sustainability plan, a strategy that calls for a total of $26 million in cuts, the elimination of seven programs and the consolidation of some others.

The three-part plan, unveiled last week at the SIU Board of Trustees work session in Springfield, “sets the foundation for providing a platform of financial stability,” Montemagno said.

Montemagno said he was not deterred by the state budget crisis before legislators passed the first full budget in two years earlier this month, and that he never had second thoughts about his decision to take on the chancellor role.

“I’m accused of being the eternal optimist. … Money, resources, do not define your vision, they don’t define your success. They define that you have to take to achieve it, and I have led organizations that have faced just as dire of financial circumstances, and we were able to make them successful,” he said.

What he did find encouraging, he said, were the students and faculty he spoke with on campus.

“I saw people who were total committed to the institution and who were dismayed that they weren’t able to achieve the things they wanted. But the fact that they were totally committed to this institution told me that the framework was there, that if we provide the proper path, they will follow … and we’ll be successful,” Montemagno said.

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On Twitter: @janis_eschSI



Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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