The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Minish Fallout Continues

with 3 comments

As everyone knows by now, the Southern Illinoisan had an article Monday afternoon announcing that former provost Gary Minish will not be taking a tenured professor position in the College of Agriculture. From the article:

Rod Sievers, SIUC spokesman and assistant to Chancellor Rita Cheng for media relations, said Minish informed the university he no longer wanted any role on campus late Friday.

In my earlier post on the matter, I offered a guess that disagreements with SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng were the cause of Minish’s resignation. It appears the Faculty Senate, or at least its executive council agree. From a Daily Egyptian article, quoting an email sent by the executive council:

We feel that the resignation of Dr. Minish points to serious structural problems in this administration. A basic issue revolves around management style. We believe Gary Minish is a grassroots administrator, skilled at listening to those he leads and bringing their perspective to bear on university decisions. We also believe Chancellor Cheng’s style is characterized by a top-down, heavy handed approach. We concur with what seems to be a widespread belief that she has isolated herself within a small inner circle where all decisions are made.

It’s tough to say how much of this is accurate. The DE article quotes one member of the executive council as disagreeing with the council’s statement. We should remember that the faculty are currently negotiating with the administration over furlough days. Attempts to publicly discredit Cheng should be viewed in that context.

Still, there do seem to be some problems with Cheng’s management style. A university – especially one as unionized as SIUC – is not a private company and cannot be run like one. A dictatorial management style is certain to fail at SIUC. As I’ve said before, the perception that former chancellor Walter Wendler was a tyrant contributed to his downfall. Cheng should learn from his mistakes.

I want Chancellor Cheng to succeed at SIUC. If she wants to succeed, she needs to start building bridges rather than burning them.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. Kudos for your initial informed speculation that it was management style rather than differences over substance that caused Minish to quit. Most everyone other than Minish and Cheng (who must disagree themselves!) can only speculate about what went wrong, but this committee of the Faculty Senate is better placed than most of us to make this sort of observation.

    It’s important, I think, to keep in mind that the Faculty Senate is hardly in lock-step with the Faculty Association (Union); some support the union, some don’t. Presumably both union supporters and union foes signed off on this statement.

    I suppose we should look for patterns. This blow-up seems to be about the University College business. Cheng has clearly failed to widely consult before trying to implement her ideas. Not only haven’t faculty had a role in planning this change, they don’t even understand what the University College model means. So they naturally assume the worst, that it is an attempt to co-opt their control over the academic mission of the university by hiring second-class non tenure-track faculty to teach general ed classes on the cheap. This may well be completely off base: in this case, better communication on Cheng’s part would have avoided this tension with the faculty–though she would have still needed to allow the provost a meaningful role in planning the scheme in order to keep him on board.

    The previous (and continuing) problem, the furlough business, shows a similar failure to communicate. The Chancellor came up with a detailed plan to address what she characterizes as a budget crisis. She seems to have expected the campus unions to simply go along. They didn’t. The result (“administrative closure” days when the campus is half-closed and half-open) has been maximum confusion and ill will and minimal savings. Negotiation is of course a tricky business, but surely it is at least possible that if she’d come to the unions looking for savings, but open-minded about how to reach those savings, rather than attempting to impose her plan, she would have had better success.

    This all culminated with the draconian non-tenure-track layoff plan, announced just in time for the holidays. This called for substantial cut backs in NTT salaries and assignments, which was somehow, magically, going to take place without canceling classes (or closing the campus daycare one day a week when the director was cut back 20%!). Plus it seems to have violated the NTT contract. Then the administration capitulated on this plan, and we’re back to square one. It looks like the administration failed to think that one through, don’t you think? Cheng didn’t even consult with other administrators who, closer to the front lines, would have told her that her plan would lead to utter chaos. (Or at least she didn’t listen when they told her of the chaos.)

    Few chancellors have had terribly good relationships with the faculty unions (though the last round of negotiations went very smoothly). So conflict with the unions could be seen as par for the course. But Chancellor Cheng has now lost a dean (engineering), a provost, and the confidence of the faculty senate. As you note, she will need to show a remarkable ability to shift her M.O. toward bridge building if she is to be a successful chancellor. And the last thing we need around here is another failed chancellor.


    January 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm

  2. When Were the Alumni Consulted or even Briefed ?

    I don’t know about other alumni, but I came to SIU becasue it was an innovative University that was moving to be a top tier contender under the leadership of Delyte Morris. It seems that we are giving up those lofty goals and are moving to be a regional University. We all know that there are financial issues pressing, but we are not a Wisconsin-Milwaukee type of school.
    It would seem to me that everyone, students and alumni should have been made much more aware of this type of radical change.

    An Alum of 1966

    January 27, 2011 at 9:51 am

  3. Cheng is just acting like Wendler. No outsider will get the way this place works. What SIU needs is a revolutionary insider. In other words, someone who can look at what needs to be done, then stroke off the right people in order to get things done. A lot of the non-essential Union bureaucrats MUST go, however. The FA and NTT have to agree, this way they can save the jobs of their members.

    Saluki Touchdown

    January 31, 2011 at 3:13 am

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