Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s open forum on Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s academic restructuring left us hungry for more — more facts, more figures, more details.
Given the university’s recent history of dwindling enrollment, budget and staffing cuts, there is no doubt some housecleaning is in order. But, as with everything else, the devil will be in the details.
The centerpiece of Montemagno’s plan is a reorganization of academic units. Each of the current 42 departments would be eliminated. The eight separate colleges would be pared to five, those colleges would contain 15 schools, which in turn would house any number of programs.
To those of us outside academia, what exactly does that mean?
According to Montemagno, the restructuring will save $2.3 million in administrative costs, primarily by eliminating department chairs. It’s difficult to judge from a distance, but in an institution as large as SIU, it’s conceivable there are bureaucratic redundancies that can be eliminated to improve the school’s financial health.
But, the restructuring also raises questions.
How will the restructuring help recruit, and just as importantly, retain students once they arrive in Carbondale? Will changing the institutional flow chart make SIUC students more confident in the university’s future? What becomes of the department heads? Will priceless institutional knowledge be lost?
Another key question: What metrics are being used to determine the value of academic programs? Is it the number of students enrolled? The intrinsic value to the university? The amount of grant money the program generates?
At this point, this isn’t a criticism of Montemagno’s plans. It’s just difficult to get a handle on the university’s future when details are in such short supply.
We’re not alone in this thinking.
The question-and-answer session after Montemagno’s address was spirited — as it should be. Faculty and students alike asked pointed questions, a healthy sign.
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Montemagno addressed their concerns, although those answers were long on assurances, but skimpy on details.
Again, this isn’t meant to be overtly critical.
Events are unfolding quickly at SIUC. Montemagno has been on campus for just a couple months. We applaud him for diving into the deep end of the pool and addressing the university’s most glaring needs. At this point, it’s unrealistic to expect minute details.
Conversely, unveiling an outline of this scale while offering scant details is going to make people nervous. Faculty members certainly have concerns about their continued employments. Students are understandably nervous about the future of their academic programs.
We hope details of the Montemagno’s plan will be released as they are ironed out. Additional knowledge will go a long way toward allaying fears on campus and squelching the counterproductive rumors that inevitably appear during reorganization.
SIUC is clearly at a crossroads. The university, like other state institutions, spent the last five years treading water because of financial uncertainty. Tough decisions were placed on the back burner. Now, the heat is being turned back up.
It’s obvious there will be some dissension regardless of the final outcome.
In essence, the university community and the public are asking Montemagno to predict the future, to anticipate the needs and desires of future SIUC students. With that in mind, it is vital that the university move carefully. It’s difficult to believe that programs eliminated during this process would be easily restored.
One of the numbers Montemagno tossed out at the forum was 18,300 — his target enrollment for SIUC by 2025.
It’s a number drenched in irony. By 2017 standards, 18,300 students is a remarkable step forward. Fifteen years ago, that same number represented an alarming decline.
Like the rest of Southern Illinois, we eagerly anticipate addition details regarding SIU 2025.