Letter from the Dean
Spring 2018: End of Semester Letter
Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
It’s now been almost two years since I became the Dean of the College of Business at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. When I began, the university (and State) had no budget; Illinois was in crisis; we had no permanent Chancellor; faculty retirements and resignations were mounting; high school seniors were fleeing the state; and enrollment was declining. Now, two years in, I can report the prospect is getting better: we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. To parody a popular kid’s comedy, it’s Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!
First off, the bad news: although the State and SIU now have budgets, things continue to be pretty tight: The university has lost faculty and staff to resignations and retirements: Enrollment is still declining.
But this “bad” news can be given a very credible positive spin. The fact is, Higher Education is in crisis everywhere. The world has changed, and universities and colleges worldwide are scrambling to figure out how to change with it. This is where SIU Carbondale’s’ “bad” news can be construed as “good” news. Here’s how. Sometimes, a profound illness becomes the stimulus a person needs to get their act together, to set new goals, and think about the type of transformative life makeover that simply doesn’t occur to the healthy person. We’ve all seen this: a friend, who’s unhealthy lifestyle leads to heart problems. The heart problems in turn, wake that person up, and set them determinedly on a new course in life. That’s what’s been happening at SIU Carbondale. Like many state universities, we’ve had quite a cozy life, living off of a healthy diet of state funding. Because we didn’t have to do much to get it, that public funding has had the effect of freezing us in time: the perfect storm, we had yesterdays’ solutions for tomorrow’s problems. The budget crisis has been a rare gift: it has woken us up. Here’s how we are using the crisis to get our university (and college) into shape to meet the future:
- Resignations and retirements have slimmed us down and thinned out our ranks. That has made it increasingly difficult for us to cover courses. However (and this wasn’t immediately apparent to us), it has also given us a new culture. Fewer means less institutional inertia; less institutional inertia means it is easier for us to change ourselves today than would have been possible a few years ago. That’s good news!
- Similarly, budget cuts, and no budget at all for two years have brought us to our knees. The effect? Necessity has forced us to trim the fat out of the system in ways that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Public institutions simply don’t give up their excess very easily. The budget crisis has forced us to think carefully about which things are priorities, and which are not. That’s good news!
- Enrollment declines have hit nearly every college and university in the state for three reasons: 1) a general decline in high school graduates in nearly every county in Illinois; 2) a strong and negative reaction by high school parents and students to the handling of the state budget crisis, has led to an exodus of students to universities and colleges in bordering states; and 3) aggressive recruiting campaigns by universities and colleges in those states has accelerated the exodus of Illinois high school graduates. However! Again, this situation has brought us to a cold sober realization that we need to do something different in our recruiting efforts. The enrollment crisis has brought us to an extraordinary moment in the history of SIU. For the first time, efforts are afoot to break out of our stodgy rut and tell an electrifying story to the world. That’s good news!
So, in many ways, the current crisis has brought us to this historic moment of challenge, of truth, and of opportunity.
Enter Chancellor Carlo Montemagno! Chancellor Carlo Montemagno has been with us at SIU Carbondale, for a mere 8 months. From the moment he stepped onto campus, he recognized the historic opportunity that lay before SIU. He launched the first version of an ambitious reorganization plan—a makeover for our university. His goal: to reshape SIU into the university of the future (you can find college-by-college graphics of the proposed change here)
As the SIU Carbondale community began to engage his plan, there was (of course) opposition. However, as he initiated innumerable cross-campus conversations, the plan evolved, morphed and changed. The Chancellor has been eminently reasonable: listening, considering, and changing the plan when good ideas emerged. Currently, the organizational mechanisms, meetings, votes and paperwork for making the proposed reorganization a reality are underway. Once this bureaucratic process is completed, reporting lines will be moved.
From the College of Business’s perspective, the reorganization is, to put it simply, a no-brainer. We gain Hospitality and Tourism (currently housed in Animal Science if the College of Agriculture), the Master in Public Administration program (currently housed in Political Science); Sports Administration (currently housed in Education), Economics (currently housed in Liberal Arts), and Information Systems and Technology (currently housed in CASA). When completed, the college will have expanded its portfolio of offerings, and, will be in a stronger position to launch new initiatives. This is good news!
Seat backs and tray tables in their full upright positions, seatbelts fastened! We are in for an exhilarating ride!