CARBONDALE — Most of the five-person staff of the Saluki Success Program, which helps new students make a smooth transition to college through a popular one-semester orientation class, may leave SIU Carbondale at the end of this semester, according to Program Coordinator Nick Weshinskey.
The program has been selected for changes by Interim Provost Meera Komarraju, who will ask faculty from departments across campus to help teach the course to students in their disciplines.
As faculty take a larger role, Komarraju plans to offer the four instructors who now teach UNIV-101, also known as Saluki Success, semester-long contracts for Fall 2019, with no guarantee of spring employment, she told The Southern.
Ideally, she would make the same offer for Fall 2020, and beyond.
However, no contracts have yet been offered, and even if they are, part-time employment won’t be feasible for most members of the Saluki Success team, Weshinskey said.
“The phrase several have kept repeating is ‘I can’t pay 12 months worth of bills on four months of salary,’” Weshinskey said. “We would stay here if we possibly could, but this is untenable.”
Three of the four UNIV-101 instructors will refuse a fall-only contract, Weshinskey expects.
His contract as program coordinator will not be renewed for next year, Weshinskey added, though Komarraju has indicated to him she’d like him to help teach the course for Fall 2019.
“There’s been no conversation really even regarding a contract being offered to me,” to date, said Abigail Wheetley, one of the Saluki Success instructors who would not accept a fall-only contract.
“I would not want to work at this job … in any other environment that would not resemble the one that I have been working in for the last two years,” Wheetley explained.
Beyond teaching study and life skills, the current Saluki Success instructors have been uniquely effective at developing close relationships with new SIUC students, Weshinskey said, which is key to student retention.
“They are often the first point of contact for students who have been sexually assaulted, who have been discriminated against, who have been seriously injured,” he posted on Facebook Sunday.
“These are the motivated kind of people you say you want, and yet you’re driving them out,” he added. “I think the administration hasn’t recognized this impacts students first and foremost. We’re on the front lines of student well-being, and consistency is key to that.”
Data on the class show students widely agree it has helped them adjust to college life and take advantage of resources available on campus. It has also coincided with dramatic increases in the retention of “provisionally admitted students,” those who enter SIUC below the university’s academic standards.
In some areas, Komarraju sees room for continued improvement, she told The Southern.
Last year, around 85 percent of new SIUC students took UNIV-101 in the fall, while 15 percent took it in the spring. Besides adding curriculum to connect students to their majors, Komarraju would like to see all students take UNIV-101 in fall.
“This is a class to get students connected to our campus and our resources,” Komarraju said. “That needs to happen in the fall, as soon as they arrive to campus. I’ve always tried to do what’s best for the students, and in my role that means making difficult decisions, sometimes.”
Weshinskey believes his team has the capacity to offer the class to all first-year students in the fall, as Komarraju suggests, but said his team’s springtime course offerings also bring great benefits to students that now stand to be lost, from an intervention course for struggling provisionally admitted students, to UNIV-301, which shows students how to find a job and polish a resume.
Moreover, Weshinskey said, his team has not been consulted about the future of the UNIV-101 curriculum that they helped craft and improve.
“It hasn’t been a collaborative process. We can’t get meetings with the administration, to get them to at least hear us out,” Weshinskey said
Komarraju acknowledged there have been a few missed meetings in recent, busy times, but said she’s been “100 percent transparent,” about the changes that led to the likely contract offer.
Updates to UNIV-101 will begin as soon as commencement is over, Komarraju said, and current instructors will be consulted, if they remain with the program.
“Once it is final that they are the instructors, I will have meetings with them and ask them for input,” Komarraju said.
To Weshinskey, that commitment is not enough.
“This has been something she has had in mind for almost a year, and to make a decision without having built the curriculum first seems not a very planful way to make a change,” he said. “If we’re really the ones she intends to ask back, we could've been having those conversations for the last six months.”