The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Archive for the ‘Southern Illinois University’ Category

Long Time, No Post: Catching Up

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I haven’t written a post in quite awhile. I was travelling earlier in the month and I’ve been preoccupied with other matters since then. I thought I’d write a catch-all post commenting on a few of the things I missed.

City Council 9/6/11:  Nothing much happened at this one. The micro-distillery ordinance was a good idea and I’m glad it passed. Still no action on the refuse and recycling rates, but it’s back on the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

Murder on Brush Street: Another murder in Carbondale, and it looks like this one was committed with a gun stolen from the chief of police. There was an armed robbery on the same block on the Saturday before the shooting. I wonder if the two events might be connected. Either way, I think I’ll stay away from the 400 block of North Brush St.

Brush Towers Riot: The administration swung into action trying to spin this one, and the Southern Illinoisan helped carry the water. Check out the pictures on the Daily Egyptian’s site. It looks like a rowdy party until you get to the photos of the beating in progress and the victim on the ground with blood coming from his nose. Not a riot, huh? I’m sure the spin must have fooled someone. I’m glad the administration has decided to investigate the incident. The people responsible for the beatings should be expelled and prosecuted.

SIU Enrollment Drops: Here’s another example of administration spin. Most of what I’d say has already been said on Deo Volente. I will say that I didn’t expect enrollment to turn around overnight. Cheng has been in office for just over a year and that isn’t enough time to turn everything around. But I’m put off by the spin.

Strikes at SIUC: Four SIUC unions are planning to take strike votes later this month. I think a strike is likely to fail, and I think the administration knows it. The union leaders must think otherwise. I guess we’ll see who’s right soon enough. But if I belonged to a union that had substantially fewer than half the represented employees as members, I’d be very reluctant to vote for a strike.

City Council: Meets tonight, and there is a lot on the agenda. The main things are proposed reforms to the primary election system, the District 95 summer reading and math program, the recycling and refuse fees, and the chicken ordinance. I’ll be watching on channel 16.

Comments are welcome.

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Written by The Carbondale Observer

September 20, 2011 at 7:45 am

Article by a Former SIUC Grad Student

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In my meanderings around the web, I found an article called The True Confessions of a Former Graduate Teaching Assistant, written by Kathleen Hale, a former SIUC grad student.

She’s no fan of our students:

Did I mention we are totally unprepared?  But then, so are our students—that is, if one considers basic writing skills or being up-to-date on current events to be a prerequisite for college.  Last month I showed my students a documentary outlining 9/11 conspiracy theories, and one of the response papers began as follows:  “The movie tries to say that 911 got fishy! Be-cuz we knew the Hispanic hijackers and then how their wasn’t no wingspan imprints when that plane hit the octagon” (my italics). [Hale’s italics, not mine. CO]

On the curve I established for the class (a necessity for most GTA’s because otherwise half our students would fail) this paper received a B-.  (Note: said student later attempted to give me a high-five in response to news of Bin Laden being murdered.)

In the fall, this kind of writing would have thrown me into a tailspin.   Back then I was fully equipped with a naïve snobbery that compelled me to wave my hands frantically in front of the chalkboard and ask, “WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU EVEN LEARN IN HIGH SCHOOL?” Back then I spent four hours on every class, cried a lot between lesson plans, and didn’t say anything when my students brought their babies to class.

The author also isn’t too fond of our faculty:

At first, these notions stressed me out—I wanted to be a good teacher and was pretty won-over by the school’s apparent mission (“Admissions requirements?  Who needs them!  Everyone deserves a college education.”).  But eventually I picked up on the dismissive attitude of those around me and learned to follow suit.

“They’re sweet, dumb kids.  Emphasis on the dumb,” said one professor, describing the undergraduate population.  “Do what you can, but don’t overdo it.  If you try too hard, you’ll go nuts.”

“Once I brought up Dante and they said ‘What’s a Dante?’” lamented another.

“Try and remember what you came here to do,” a more experienced colleague instructed.  “Focus on your own work and don’t get caught up in the teaching.”

Or, as was pointed out at the recent MFA gala, “Congratulations to our third year graduates!  You’ve all dealt with some of the worst students in the world, and survived.”

If this is really how the faculty at SIUC see the students, the university’s problems are worse than I realized. If the students really are this bad, then SIUC is finished.

When I read the article, I knew instantly that the university she calls SFCI (state funded college in Illinois) was in fact SIUC. A quick search of SIUC’s people finder confirmed my suspicions. Since she’s left the university, I captured a screenshot, included below for any doubters (click the image for a larger version):

The author acknowledges her own privilege – she went to Harvard for undergrad. I’m sure that experience colors her view of the students who attend SIUC. I don’t know if there is anything that can excuse the behavior of the professors, assuming the author describes them honestly.

I’ll also note that she uses two student’s real names in the article, which seemed unwise. I would have left the student’s names out. I checked the people finder, though, and they are real students.

I realize this post is a little light on commentary, but I’m a little demoralized. I think that was the author’s point.

It’s worth reading the whole article, which you can find here.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 23, 2011 at 7:45 am

Minish Fallout Continues

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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

Minish Out as Provost, Resigns After One Month On Job

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The big news of the day is Gary Minish’s resignation from his position as SIUC’s new Provost. Minish was appointed Provost on November 18 and took office on December 15, 2010. Minish is said to have resigned over opposition to unspecified changes under way at SIUC.

Chancellor Cheng confirmed Minish’s resignation in an email to SIUC employees:

Dear Colleagues:

SIUC Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Gary L. Minish submitted his resignation to me this morning. He has requested to be reassigned to a tenured faculty position within the College of Agricultural Sciences.

While words cannot express how deeply disappointed I am that Dr. Minish’s service as provost was so short lived, I respect his decision.

In just the past few days, I learned that Dr. Minish is concerned about the direction in which the University is moving.

It is clear that he has misgivings about the changes that have been implemented over the past several months and the initiatives that are planned for the future.

An interim provost will be named in the near future.

Sincerely,

Rita Cheng, Chancellor

This is very strange. Consider the timeline. On November 18, 2010, SIUC publicly announced that Minish had been selected and had accepted the job. Presumably, whatever changes were being planned at that time were discussed in the interviews. If Minish opposed the changes, why would he take the job? Considering the slow pace of change at SIUC, could any new changes have been initiated between Minish’s accepting the position and today? Unlikely.

The announcement on the Saluki Times contained this quote from SIUC President Glenn Poshard:

“Dr. Minish’s administrative experience made him well qualified to serve as provost; however, he has only recently expressed strong disagreement in the Chancellor’s implementation of the university’s goals and objectives, which are established by the Board of Trustees, the President and the Chancellor. Given the short amount of time Gary has served as provost I would have preferred that he would have given us more time for his concerns to be addressed. The board and I strongly support the direction that Chancellor Cheng is taking the university. Fundamental change at any large institution is never easy and can only be accomplished through teamwork and a shared vision.”

This is interesting too. Poshard voices “support [for] the direction that Chancellor Cheng is taking the university.” I have made it a general policy not to post rumors on this blog, but I’m going to violate that rule in this case. I have heard rumors that Poshard and Cheng have had fairly heated discussions since Cheng took office. I have heard that voices may have been raised during these discussions. In his statement, Poshard supports the changes Cheng is making, but does not specifically support Cheng herself.

Obviously, there is no way to know exactly what disagreements prompted Minish to resign, unless he publicly announces his reasons. This seems unlikely. Since we are left to speculate, I’ll offer my best guess. I’m betting that Minish did not like Cheng’s management style. If Minish disagreed so strongly with the direction SIUC is taking, he wouldn’t have taken the Provost position in the first place. Of course, I have no idea if this explanation is correct.

I was initially optimistic about Chancellor Cheng. I haven’t fully abandoned that optimism, but I am having some doubts. That’s another post for another day.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Pulliam Christmas Songs: National News?

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I don’t like to get into the culture war on this blog, but I am going to have to make an exception for the Pulliam clock tower Christmas song controversy. Last Tuesday, I was on campus and I noticed that the Pulliam clock tower was playing “Christ Was Born on Christmas Day.” I thought it was odd that a state university was playing a religious song, but I didn’t pay much attention.

Then on Thursday I saw this in a Daily Egyptian article:

Brad Dillard said as of Wednesday, the clock tower will not chime its annual Christmas carols through the holiday season. He said ridding the clock tower of Christmas carols is an initiative put forth by the university to ensure that campus atmosphere is comfortable for people of all cultural backgrounds.

“After talking to the Chancellor’s office and the vice-chancellor’s office, we decided to stop the Christmas carols until we figure out something that is for every student,” said Dillard, associate director of the physical plant.

Now that he knows that the Christmas carols may make students uncomfortable, Dillard said the clock tower will remain without songs for the time being.

“It’s very important that we listen to what the students have to say and take it into account,” Dillard said. “There are a lot of voices out there that have different perspectives, and it’s important to take all of those into consideration.”

Fair enough, I thought. Someone called the university’s attention to the religious music and SIUC decided to stop playing it. I was impressed and so were two students quoted in the article.

The next day, the Southern Illinoisan reported that the Christmas songs would be back. The religious songs would be dropped until songs for other religions could be added. Secular Christmas songs would continue to play. The article noted that SIUC “received a few phone calls and a lot of e-mails regarding the supposed removal of Christian-based music Thursday, after the campus newspaper reported on the matter.”

This still seemed reasonable to me. I’d prefer that state organizations stay entirely separate from religious organizations, but it seemed like a fair compromise. I wouldn’t have written a post on it except that Fox News is now reporting on the story:

It’s unclear who complained, but Cheng denied the silenced chimes were part of a war on Christmas.

“Students who were on the campus from across the world raised the issue and we’re trying to be as responsive as possible and as inclusive,” she told Fox News Radio. “Christmas is a wonderful time of year and we don’t want to dampen the spirit and the good will people have.”

But that’s exactly what it’s done among some students and the Carbondale community. [Emphasis added.]

This is hardly national news so I have to question Fox’s decision to report on it. Still, aside from the war on Christmas stuff the Fox News article was far from the worst they’ve produced. Predictably, though, bloggers have now started posting some pretty hostile comments, which you can view here and here.

Worse, the Daily Egyptian reported Monday that there have been “multiple comments that were anti-Semitic” posted on social networking sites since the university dropped the Christmas songs.

I don’t like this kind of politics. Some other communities in the area have decided to jump into the culture wars. I don’t want Carbondale to follow them. We are a diverse community. We don’t need fanatics whipping up hatred toward religious or ethnic minorities. And for the record, there is no war on Christmas.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 14, 2010 at 7:45 am

Performance-Based Higher Education Funding?

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WSIU has an article on the demolition of McAndrew Stadium, but the last few paragraphs are about a different subject. The Illinois Board of Higher Education is considering a switch to performance-based funding. From the article:

SIU’s President is concerned about next year’s funding from the state… and it has little to do with the current budget crisis facing Illinois.

At a recent meeting of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, leaders began looking at proposals for performance-based budgeting. Several factors would be looked at, including enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

SIU President Glenn Poshard says if that system is approved in the legislature next spring, university leaders all over the state will have to re-evaluate how their institutions do business. [Emphasis added.] Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 10, 2010 at 7:45 am

Dietz Out as Vice-Chancellor

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SIUC announced that Larry Dietz is leaving his position as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. The change is part of a larger reorganization with the goal of setting up a University College. From the Saluki Times release:

Within the University College framework, the following offices will report to Gary Minish, incoming provost and senior vice chancellor: New Student Programs, Career Services, Supplemental Instruction, Pre-Major Advisement, University 101, Center for Academic Success, Student Support Services, and Residential Life.

In addition, Disability Support Services, Veterans Services, Student Legal Services, Student Judicial Affairs, and Multicultural Programming report to Peter Gitau, dean of students, who also reports to Minish. The provost and senior vice chancellor’s office also will have oversight of International Programs and Services.

The bursar’s office is now part of Enrollment Management.

The following units report to Kevin Bame, vice chancellor for administration and finance: Housing, Recreational Sports & Services, Student Health Center, Counseling Center, Rainbow’s End, Student Center and Student Development.

It looks like Minish and Bame are the big winners here, as they basically split the Student Affairs division. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 8, 2010 at 7:45 am

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