CARBONDALE — Last fall, the newly minted chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale announced that he intended to rebuild the struggling institution from the ground up.
SIUC's chancellor sketched out a broad academic reorganizational intended to get the university back on track. He also announced that University Museum, which shuttered in July because of the state budget impasse, will reopen in January 2018.
Carlo Montemagno’s all-but-unprecedented restructuring plan eliminates the basic academic unit in traditional university structures — departments — and combines degree programs into schools, which in turn belong to larger colleges.
The plan has proved controversial on campus, as some faculty protest that jettisoning departments will take power away from professors and upend a model that has worked for decades.
The chancellor, for his part, says the reorganization is the bold move SIUC needs in order to provide new forms of collaboration and to make programs attractive to prospective students.
At a standing-room-only work session Wednesday, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s new chancellor presented his controversial academic reorganization plan to the SIU Board of Trustees, eliciting an apparent mix of skepticism and support.
Stances on the plan aside, one thing is clear: restructuring a university is a complicated business. This article attempts to map out the thorny reorganization process and determine where SIUC stands now.
Montemagno’s academic reorganization occurs on two levels: colleges and schools. The more complicated process takes place on the school level because it is subject to faculty union review.
Based on Article 9 of the SIUC Faculty Association contract, the university must develop proposals for changes to programs.
“What the faculty union here bargained with the administration is a process to organize how changes would take place to academic programs … and it requires that there be a proposal developed to, in this case, merge such programs or such units, and that that proposal provide enough information for people to make a reasoned judgment on whether it was a good idea or not,” Faculty Association President Dave Johnson said.
In November, a series of proposals were distributed to affected academic units. Once those were handed out, the clock started ticking for 90 days of faculty review and discussion.
David DiLalla, associate provost for academic administration, is overseeing the bulk of the proposal review process.
“We had meetings with faculty with administrators present, we had meetings with faculty without administrators present, and then somewhere during that 90-day period, if the faculty said, ‘You know what, we already have all the information we need, we already had the discussion we need, we’re ready to move on,’ they could vote to close the 90-day window early. One or two did, but most did not,” DiLalla said.
At the end of 90 days, the discussion window closed, unless faculty voted to extend the discussion an additional 30 days — a power granted in the faculty union contract.
For the several academic units that voted for an additional 30-day extension, the discussion window closed in mid-March.
At that point in the process, “proposals” became “program change plans” — documents that include adjustments made to the original proposals based on discussion and feedback, but also include the form known as a “reasonable and moderate extension” (RME).
An RME is the mechanism by which program changes are implemented through the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
DiLalla and Associate Provost for Academic Programs Lizette Chevalier are currently putting together program change packets that go out to faculty, the Faculty Association, the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council.
Each department will have the opportunity to cast a vote, and the union will make reports to the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council.
“Faculty don’t have a veto over changes in the contract, but we do get to vote, we do get to suggest changes, we do get to make our voices heard. So it’s an example where the union has worked hard to make sure that faculties are partners in running the university,” Johnson said.
The Faculty Senate and Graduate Council will also then take votes and make recommendations, and the plans are returned to the chancellor.
“The chancellor at that stage will have access to everything — he’ll have department vote, he’ll have the Faculty Association report, he’ll have Faculty Senate report, Grad Council report … and then the chancellor is making a determination about whether this proposal or plan should continue and go forward or should not,” DiLalla said.
As program change plans leave campus review, they will be brought before the SIU Board of Trustees. DiLalla said it is unclear at this point whether the board will take a formal vote on the plans.
The chancellor originally hoped to get the plans before the Board of Trustees at the April 12 meeting in Carbondale.
The process is behind schedule, but DiLalla said he could not provide an updated timeline.
“I really can’t speculate. It takes the time that it takes. … It is a complex process, and we had some goals about how we would like to see the process move forward, but we recognize that it takes the time that it takes,” DiLalla said.
Once the RMEs are completed, they will be submitted to the IBHE for review and approval, either by staff or by the board itself, according to Stephanie Bernoteit, IBHE deputy director of academic affairs.
If there are issues with an RME application, a staff member will issue technical questions to provide SIUC to clarify or add missing evidence and information, Bernoteit said.
“The typical process is to use technical questions and responses to bring an application to a place where it can be fully considered,” she said.
Bernoteit said she couldn’t say how long the review process might take, as it depends on the workload of IBHE staff at a given time.
DiLalla said he wasn’t sure whether the RMEs would be submitted individually or all at once.
“It’s not moving in lock-step — we’re moving at varying rates depending on where a given proposal is … my guess is that these are probably going to go to the IBHE in phases, but I can’t say that for sure,” DiLalla said.
In late March, departments were asked to vote to approve college RMEs, which are not subject to faculty union review. Some departments were given as little as a week to vote, according to Johnson.
The union saw this move as an “end run around the Article 9 process” because it would lay the framework for the reorganization without waiting for votes on school-level plans, Johnson said. In other words, new colleges would be established without any schools to fill them.
Later, the administration changed tack and retracted deadlines for college RME approval. DiLalla said renaming the colleges while simultaneously pursuing the proposals for schools “raised confusion” among faculty.
Instead, newly formed schools will temporarily report to the provost rather than to a college.
“ … We temporarily place that school kind of in a holding pattern in the provost’s area, and when we finally get the schools that are all going to be in a college through the system, we’ve got them all ready to go, then we turn our attention to the college renaming and then independently prepare the college rename or whatever we might need to do in order to then have those schools assigned to the college,” DiLalla said.
Bret Seferian, a Uniserv director with the Illinois Education Association who works with several of SIU’s unions, said he believes having schools report to the provost could lead to workload issues.
“The administration keeps changing what the plan is, and my guess is it’s because they don’t really know what they’re doing. It looks like they’re scrambling to me,” Seferian said.
DiLalla said he could not estimate when the college renaming might be in place or how long schools will report to the provost.
“I think it’s best to say that it’s dependent on the speed with which school-level proposals were to emerge,” DiLalla said.
This story has been updated to correct Bret Seferian's title.