The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

State of the University – Southern at 150

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As everyone undoubtedly knows by now, SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng delivered her first State of the University speech last week.  I may blog more on this later, but for today I just want to hit one point:  Southern at 150.

For those who don’t remember, Southern at 150 was the big strategic plan developed when Walter Wendler was chancellor.  The plan was controversial when t was released, mostly because its goals seemed unachievable.  Later it was discovered that the plan was plagiarized from a plan Wendler helped develop when he was at Texas A&M.

Near the end of her speech, Cheng said “It is also time for us, as a campus community, to re-examine Southern at 150.”  Later she asks “Are these realistic goals?  Should our strategies, and our goals, be different today and in the years ahead because of changes in our circumstances, most notably our economic situation?”

Cheng then quotes from the recent report from the Higher Learning Commission, which recently re-accredited SIUC.  This is worth quoting at length:

However, the final report also says:  “…it is also evident that the university has failed to make progress with respect to several of the priorities and now finds itself nearly rudderless during these turbulent economic times,” (5)  The rather blunt, but honest appraisal must capture our attention.  To quote the final report:  “Southern at 150 has reached a point where its vision, priorities and goals must be re-evaluated to ensure that the university not only maintains unambiguous alignment with its mission, but also establishes realistic and attainable goals consistent with changed times.

I think this is a step in the right direction.  As soon as I read the original Southern at 150 plan, I knew the goal of becoming a top 75 research university would not be met.  Wendler clung to the plan even after a report from consultants at the Washington Advisory Group indicated that substantial funding would be required for Southern at 150 to be feasible.  After Wendler was pushed out, talk of Southern at 150 dropped away and the plan seemed dead.

Goals and plans can be good things, but they have to be achievable.  No one was going to drop a billion dollars on SIUC, and Wendler (and everyone else) knew that.  Setting goals you can’t achieve is a quick path to discouragement, which is the last thing SIUC needs.

SIUC needs a new plan.  It should take a fair and honest look at the university’s strengths and weaknesses, and set achievable goals for improvement.  I am not the only one who thinks we need a new plan. Here’s Cheng again:  “The evaluation team felt so strongly about this, and the Higher Learning Commission agreed, that we must complete this process by 2013.”

I hope Chancellor Cheng will leave the grandiosity of the Wendler era behind and chart a new path toward a better future for SIU.

Listen to the full speech here or read a transcript here (pdf).  [Note:  all of my quotes came from the transcript.]

I couldn’t find a full copy of the Washington Advisory Group report online.  If you have one, could you email it to me at carbondaleobserver(at)gmail.com?

Your comments are welcome.

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