SIU Carbondale chancellor seeks to reduce number of academic departments
Carlo Montemagno is wasting little time in his effort to resuscitate Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
After just four months on the job as the school’s chancellor, Montemagno has proposed a plan that would eliminate 42 academic departments, ultimately streamlining them to 18 schools.
The plan also calls for reducing the number of colleges at the university from eight to five.
Observers note that such a plan comes as uncharted territory in the world of higher education, to which Montemagno seems to counter desperate times' call for desperate actions.
“Many of those I’ve heard from agreed that we cannot continue to do what we have always done and expect a
different outcome," Montemagno said in a video SIU Carbondale posted to YouTube explaining how he arrived at his decision. "We must change."
“[T]here is expected unease about the elimination of departments and the role of department chairs," he said in the video. "I wish we were in a different place."
Montemagno said the school has lost 50 percent of its freshmen class over past three years, and the 9 percent drop in enrollment this year reflects a $9.4 million loss in tuition revenue. Over the past decade, the school has also attracted 6,000 fewer students, resulting in a $1.5 billion activity loss for the entire region, he said.
In addition, since 2015 the Chicago Tribune has reported the school has suffered a nearly 40 percent drop in the number of first-time freshmen students, from 2,177 to just 1,319.
“Our own inefficiencies have been exacerbated by state budget challenges and enrollment decline,” Montemagno said of the state’s two-year budget crisis that ended last summer.
Over that time, the state’s debts and bills went largely unpaid and overall vendor debt crept well above $15 billion.
SIU Carbondale is not alone in its struggle to keep more of the state’s students at home and on the campuses of its universities.
With the cash-strapped state still mired in debt and reducing the levels of financial aid it offers, many students have taken to enrolling at universities in neighboring states, where aid and other resources haven’t been so drastically affected.
“Reorganization without addressing our current structural and financial inefficiencies is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Montemagno said. “Therefore, a reorganization must include all options even if it means a complete reexamination of our current practices and current structure.”
Montemagno said the reorganization plan will save the university about $2.3 million and he hopes to implement the changes by next summer.
Beyond the needed savings, Montemagno said his plan is about attracting prospective students and making the university's academic offerings more attractive.
As part of that plan, Montemagno has hinted he would like to see the university concentrate more on teaching and research and less on administrative responsibilities.
"I have been a department chair myself, and I know that it is hard work," he said. "I understand the importance of maintaining disciplinary identity around academic programs."
While faculty Senate recently passed a resolution opposing the elimination of departments, the 19-11 vote seems to suggest the plan may be gathering steam and open for further debate.