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The long downhill slide of my alma mater depresses me. The need for significant change is evident to any and all who have been paying the slightest bit of attention. Yet, is Chancellor Montemagno’s quick fix via untested organizational restructuring the answer? I’m most skeptical, as are faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and Trustee Shirley Portwood, who have all expressed their views, as reported in The Southern. Furthermore, the proposed restructuring is not the vision and strategic plan mandated by the Board of Trustees.

Some background — most of my adult work life was spent at five major land grant universities. There I held various teaching, research, extension, and administrative positions. I retired as Professor and Dean, College of Resources, Mississippi State University. During my tenure, the School of Forest Resources was upgraded to a college. Other than more prestige overall, the three departments in the college were unaffected by the change in status. Nor was there any change in function of the department chairs.

“… experts estimate that more than 80 percent of all administrative decisions in universities take place at the department level." ( Trying to administer a college without the full support and cooperation of the department chairs can be a nightmare. Further, it is unimaginable that lead faculty would take on the responsibility of serving as program leaders without additional compensation. Where’s the incentive to do so?

Nowhere in my experience or recent research can I find a university whose organizational structure resembles that of the Montemagno Model in any way, form, or fashion. The question is, then, “Can SIUC risk being the Guinea pig for this unorthodox, unproven structure?" Being the risk averse person that I am (most people are, too), the answer is, “No.”

While the chancellor has touted the saving that will result from elimination of department head positions, the associated costs of the transformation are being overlooked or ignored. They are not insignificant and include relocating offices, new signage, new stationary, new catalogs, and webpage redesign to name a few. An itemized comparison of savings vs. costs that was shared widely would go a long way to shedding light on any actual savings.

Students are generally interested in the reputation of their chosen program of study, not its place in the organizational structure. (Forestry at SIUC is one of the top such programs in the country and has continued to do well in the current environment in recruiting, retaining and graduating students.) How the proposed structure will address the very real problem of continually declining student enrollment is a real mystery. Effort expended on such issues as affordability, diversity, housing, and campus security, especially for female students, and marketing such efforts would bear more fruit.

Change is difficult at best. Without a consensus buy in, change seldom occurs the way it is envisioned. Further, change for the sake of change is wrong-headed. Don’t respond to the pressure to do something even if it’s wrong. Undoing bad decisions has enormous costs. Let’s take our time, without dilly dallying, minimize the risk and get this right. Start with a vision and strategic plan. Analyze the pluses and minuses of all possible alternatives going forward and make an informed decision on the findings. The very future of SIUC is at stake.

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John E. Gunter, of Marion, retired as a professor and dean at Mississippi State University.


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