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On March 20, I stepped down from my post as SIUC Faculty Senate president, a month before the end of my one-year term. I had become a controversial figure for supporting Chancellor Carlo Montemagno — and for trying to maintain a functioning shared governance system that was being hijacked by distorted political machinations on campus.

This year, a small group of faculty and students has been purposefully disrupting badly needed renovations to the SIUC organization. This disruption has allowed SIUC’s reputation to be harmed to where it is now an opportune time to request that over $5 million be reallocated from SIUC to SIUE. Last week, the “Authorization for Phase I Reallocation of Appropriation Budget, SIUC and SIUE” was placed on the April Board of Trustees agenda by President Randy Dunn, blindsiding the SIUC leadership. I don’t understand how President Dunn could find any managerial wisdom in such a move.

In my 25 years at SIUC, I have seen 14 permanent, acting or interim chancellors. With that degree of leadership turnover, it is very difficult for an institution to enact any kind of vision. We have seen enrollment decline since our peak enrollment in 1991, with the steepest declines since 2015 — likely exacerbated by interim leadership unwilling and unable to make tough budget decisions. The structure and functioning of SIUC has suffered from planning by attrition, rather than thoughtful deployment of our resources to maintain the well-being of the institution, its most productive academic programs, and its most important non-instructional units.

In my role as faculty senate president, I participated actively in the interview process for the new permanent chancellor at SIUC, chairing meetings between the candidates the faculty constituency groups and gathering feedback about the candidates. Of all the candidates interviewed, Montemagno seemed to have the most comprehensive and accurate understanding of SIUC, our mission, our strengths, our human and infrastructure resources — and our potential.

Over the last eight months, Chancellor Montemagno has been true to his words, and consistent with those first interactions with us. He introduced his “straw man” proposal, which was built on those initial assessments of our programs and resources. The straw man strategy provided an unprecedented opportunity for shared governance — as faculty were provided with a basic framework and charged with developing what their units would ultimately look like.

The initial straw man proposal nailed some changes right on the head — consistent with things faculty had been discussing for years. Where the straw man didn’t fit, faculty have proposed alternatives, and Montemagno has worked with those proposals — resulting in more than 100 changes so far.

Over time, I have seen an evolution of thinking on the SIUC campus. When reorganization was first announced, many members of the campus community were skeptical. There has been a steadily building and now sizeable group of faculty and other stakeholders, who have come to see many possibilities in the reorganization — and who have come to trust Montemagno, having seen him repeatedly be true to his words and forthright in his deeds on behalf of SIUC.

In the meantime, a small but vocal group rejected the chancellor’s proposed reorganization, particularly the proposed elimination of departments. The problem is not with departments, rather the way that departments are defined — as independent units that control their own budgets and activities, a structure that promotes self-focus and allows for a lack of accountability to the broader institution. In schools, programs must work together, and we can lift each other up. Interestingly, the SIU system used to be organized in that way, with all three campuses contributing to the same budget and tied to each other’s successes — such that SIUC’s revenues during our highest enrolling years supported the fledgling SIUE campus.

Instead of offering ideas that would help the campus achieve the necessary objectives, the group known as the Coordinating Committee for Change (CCC), has looked for ways to divide the campus and directed a chorus of orchestrated negativity toward the chancellor, his proposals, and anyone supporting his efforts — using the media, students, and various other tactics.

The CCC is a group which overlaps substantially with the SIUC Faculty Association. As of last fall, just 21 percent of SIUC faculty were FA members. Recently reported CCC survey results, in which it was claimed that the “majority of SIUC stakeholders disapprove of restructuring,” included the views of just 24 percent of faculty and even smaller proportions of other stakeholder groups.

The CCC has manufactured controversy over various aspects of the reorganization. Much energy has also been spent launching exposés over the chancellor’s moving expenses and the jobs offered to his daughter and son-in-law — despite the fact these things were negotiated and approved by President Dunn, although apparently not put in writing, and mysteriously revealed and used against the chancellor, who never hid these details in the first place.

In retrospect, I realize that this group of faculty and students never intended to work with Chancellor Montemagno, or even give him an unobstructed chance to succeed. In fact, I believe FA leaders were involved in meetings that set these events in motion — before Montemagno had even arrived on campus. At the December Board of Trustees meeting, Montemagno read a threatening email from an FA member, bragging about the many previous chancellors the FA had undermined. The FA has been in place since 1998 — that would account for much of SIUC’s chancellor turnover.

The SIUC faculty, staff, students and community should be thanking Montemagno for being willing to stand up to President Dunn and SIUE, as well as the future of SIUC. As Montemagno observed in his blog dated April 4, 2018, “a sudden, $5.1 million reduction in SIUC’s state funding: (a) could compromise our financial recovery and stability, (b) would be equal to the layoff of as many as 110 faculty and staff, (c) could damage our student recruitment efforts, and (d) would take more than $39 million from the local economy.”

We should also be thanking Montemagno for all of his other activities and accomplishments this year, such as raising more than $20 million for SIUC, actively interacting with the students, and bringing Coach Jerry Kill back as an ambassador for SIUC — energetic engagement despite the onslaught.

In my personal remarks to the BOT in February (about which I was publicly attacked by the CCC), I found myself musing about how we had gotten to such a place — where my esteemed colleagues, friends and neighbors had taken such a negative stance against Montemagno. I also conveyed my worries that, in their efforts to scuttle the reorganization plan, this small group might inadvertently scuttle the ship that is SIUC. Little did we know how easily those fears could be realized. The CCC’s efforts have only made us more vulnerable to not only the residual effects of the state budget crisis and higher education trends, but to threats from a “sister campus” that has somehow gotten the message that it’s OK to kick us while we’re down.

Kathleen Chwalisz, Ph.D., is a professor and former faculty senate president at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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