Pick up any news article relating to the Board of Trustees from the past two years or so, and it will scream one thing: turmoil. Even now, with this new phase of reconstruction, the board still has many issues to navigate, and it needs support from all campuses to succeed. But trust must be earned, not freely given.
A good chunk of last month’s board meeting was spent going over basic functions of a university board. We at The Alestle feel with new members this training was needed, but as leaders, this information should have already been made aware prior. These members have already sat in on a meeting, so this just felt like poor planning.
Furthering problems, it was clear much of the board did not know former president Randy Dunn had drafted a system-level strategic plan for the board to follow. Because nobody knew about it and according to university principal adviser Carol Cartwright of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges Dunn almost single-handedly came up with the whole thing, it was not followed. Had the board been aware of it and discussed it, maybe they would at least have a starting point or a model — even if it was a flawed one — of what their new plan should look like.
Right now, the BOT should be focusing on pressing issues such as the presidential search and prepping for the potential enrollment crisis that will affect Illinois within the next 10 years, not playing catch up.
Yes, focusing on system unity is great, and we at The Alestle agree with it, but who is the board trying to convince at this point? There have been multiple meetings talking about system unity but no real movement to push that unity. At last month’s board meeting, the board finally talked about actual steps to take toward unity. However, there have not been any emails or clear new marketing pushes to show this, there’s still only divisiveness.
For example, Carbondale just opened a new Nursing program while SIUE already has a nationally-recognized program. There is still argument over funding allocations. Nothing has been done yet, and the campuses, including us at The Alestle, are getting impatient.
The board has made it clear in every interview and recent board meeting that the system will not separate, preaching we are stronger together. But in order to truly move forward together, the board must address the issues that each campus faces. It must walk a fine line between system-level governance and individual campus autonomy.
It seems fitting that the board prioritize debunking myths of separation. When asked how to do this at the last meeting, Cartwright said that it’s up to the chancellors and the board to change this culture with their behavior.
Yes, the board and chancellors need to continue to promote unity in their words and actions, but it only goes so far. They can talk about what’s best for the campuses, but it won’t make a difference to those of us working and studying on campus until we can see progressive change in response to our concerns.
Such concerns were outlined in a PowerPoint presentation made by Cartwright and presented at June’s meeting. In April, Cartwright interviewed stakeholders about the biggest concerns they had. Of course, the need for fair funding was mentioned, along with the need for a transparent financial model and the need for the development of system branding.
As for the SIUE campus, until a fair funding allocation model is proposed, or at least until we get some worthwhile updates, separation will always be in the back of our minds. We at The Alestle are looking forward to reporting on these steps when they are taken.
We also hope that in this fragile time the board will come up with proactive guidelines instead of being reactive. If crisis strikes again, what will be done? The system cannot afford any more scandals, not only with its leadership, but also with the individual issues on each campus.
How is the board going to react when sexual assaults on campus are in the public eye? They were told in the meeting that this could destroy a university, but let's talk about how it impacts ours and the individuals who attend SIUE. A system-wide talk about this issue needs to happen, especially with upcoming Title IX changes.
How will the board react when two employees are facing charges of aggravated battery and unlawful restraint of children? This happened at a Head Start/Early Head Start classroom in the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center at East St. Louis, however, this incident still impacts SIU’s reputation because of its affiliation with the program.
It’s great that the board is taking steps to improve its function and to start setting concrete goals. We at The Alestle understand the importance of planning and doing things the correct way. However, we also know what it’s like to be on a deadline.
This board is on a deadline. People are growing impatient, expressing the need for answers to come soon, and until things start moving, the board will miss out on much-needed support from all campuses. System unity is great, but we need action to make it happen.