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Column

Another view: Painful change

With his campus in what he calls a “free fall,” Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno is asking his faculty and staff to embrace that which they hate the most – real change.

Contending that Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is spending way to much time and money on administration, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno insists change is necessary – big change to be implemented by next fall. To do otherwise, he said, is to risk “the health of the institution.”

“We are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today’s students. As we try to correct it, we face limited resources, declining faculty numbers and no help from the state,” he said recently in a State of the University speech.

Many university officials throughout Illinois probably feel the same way as it relates to monetary support from our financially failing state. But SIUC has been particularly hard hit, and not just during the two-year budget standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders.

It has 6,000 fewer students than it did 10 years ago. Over the past year, SIUC suffered a 9 percent enrollment drop, costing it roughly $10 million in revenue. Since 2015, the number of freshman enrollees has fallen from 2,177 to 1,319.

SIUC is vital to and located in an economically challenged region of the state, one more reason why state legislators should not continue to resist the policy changes needed to boost Illinois’ economy. Further, it has competing universities just across its Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky borders.

Since something has to give, Chancellor Montemagno wants to eliminate 42 academic departments by folding them into 18 separate schools overseen by five (reduced from eight) colleges. He estimates it would save $2.3 million a year.

Just think how many people would be affected by that kind of seismic change, how many fiefdoms will be roiled and how much anger will be generated.

But then, what is the alternative when academic institutions – or states like Illinois – simply don’t have enough revenue to finance business as usual?

It remains to be seen whether change on the scale Montemagno has proposed will become reality. SIUC’s faculty senate already has expressed its opposition by a 19-11 vote, a narrow enough margin to suggest many there understand the problem and are prepared to address it in a realistic way.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

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