Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Five Problems that SIU Has To Fix

  1. Marketing story has been broken and needs to be rebuilt.
  2. Oversight by the BOT is suspect.
  3. Financials are hidden and obfuscated.
  4. Quality should be more important than Student Retention in Instruction.
  5. Management Performance is a big problem.

1. -
I have written (and been taken to task) about how I think that in 10 years Wendler will be remembered as the worst leader of SIUC ever. People put forward others instead (check the comments of this entry), and maybe they are right. But I think that Wendler and SIU'’s BOT has broken the 50+ year marketing story of SIU and no other SIUC leader has done something so stupid before. SIUC's marketing story was this, "Great education at a great price" (my words here).

Now it could be that SIUC needed the money for Saluki Way (and other toys) and raising tuition and fees was the right thing to do. But when you break one marketing story, you must replace it with another one right away. The reason that SIUC is losing students is they haven't executed any new plan.

When you are good at the lowest price, you can get away with not having contact or literature in all the high schools, not advertising like all the other schools, having poor press releases, and a poor website. Now that the prices are about the same, there needs to be a story to sell.

You might be amazed to know that parents and high school juniors and seniors (AKA - their children) don't really care if there is a rock climbing wall, a French chef in the dorms, valet parking at the student center, a new football stadium or if the administrators have $20,000 custom cherry office groupings. What the people want to know is if the university will educate well and what the trajectory into work life will be. They want to hear about placement centers (SIUC'’s sucks rocks if you aren't in CoBA), percentages of graduations in 4, 6 and 10 years, percentages of graduates with professional jobs in their field after graduation. They want to hear the university understands that undergraduate education is important to its mission. That their students will rub shoulders with the research professors and maybe some of it will rub off. They don't want to hear about cheating, plagiarism, underpaid faculty, emphasis on retention, or deferred maintenance on classrooms. Of course, the worst result of a college education isn't the expense, student loans, years of tears over math tests; it is that your now young adult moves back into the house. I will not be able to sleep tonight thinking this might happen to me when my kids are 22 (23, 24, 25, 26?).

I have written about this before, the PR department is broken, the marketing is broken at SIU. The solution the administration has come up with is to make the Dean's of each college responsible for recruiting with no personnel or budgets. This is really stupid and needs to be fixed.

Let me suggest a new marketing slogan "Great undergraduate education."

I'm crossing my fingers that the administrators who are running the "SIUC business" figure out how to run a business. Marketing is how their fellow business owners spend at least 50% of our time.

2 -
If you read Dan Brown's book "Angels and Demons" ($.01 on Amazon used!) he really slams on the Catholic Church, but he also writes about how it operates for a very long term result. Decisions are made today understanding the world is going to change faster than the church, but the continuity is necessary. It turns out that this is the way universities need to operate as well, maybe not in centuries, but certainly change happens over decades. Let me suggest this as a fun read for you SIUC business people who are management geeks like me.

As the Southern at 150 plan was hatched there was a lot of rumblings across the campus that it was a really bad idea from the professors. Letters were written, phone calls made and the complaining has continued until today. It turns out the complainers were right, Southern at 150 was poorly conceived, poorly executed and has been thrown on the trash heap of history. It is just a matter of days until it is forgotten; only Wendler's need to save face keeps it alive in name today. The surest way to identify an administration lackey is they have the Southern at 150 pin on their coat and most of those seem to be in the trash bin now.

The question that needs to be asked is who owns the blame for this failed plan and clearly the ultimate blame falls on the BOT members who allowed it to happen. The main problem with SIU's BOT is they don't know anything about how a university operates, they don't live in university towns, they don't have professor friends (please exclude Sam Goldman who wasn't on the board for the Southern at 150 votes and clearly does get it). It gets worse, that they are successful and busy people who don't have the time to learn what is going on (your choice is flight on a private jet to Hilton Head for golf with your friends or coming to Carbondale to canvas professors? Not a hard choice is it?). This means that the BOT mostly rubber stamps everything, because they really can't be bothered to really dig into the details. BOT member don't have skin in the game and just aren't motivated to really care about SIUC, their rubber stamping results speak for themselves.

The BOT trusts the senior administration to plan and execute (because they can't be bothered to do the work), they only tinker a little here and there. There is a claim that the BOT added the one academic building to Saluki Way phase 1. Because they don't know what is going on, this is the best they can do. Clearly Saluki Way phase 1 is unsellable in public without the building, a blind person can see it. It is unsellable this way too, but don't worry the students will pay because they have no choice.

Let me point out that this isn't a problem of only the last 10 years. The BOT of SIU has been terrible for the last 30 years. IMHO the problem is the system that appoints the board, but this is the story of the Illinois state government in a nutshell.

We have seen lots of boards in the business world with this kind of oversight and combined with the right kind of managers this can be a destructive combination.

3. -
When you start to think about SIU's finances, the term that should jump to mind is "Enron". The money is going up, no it is going down, $40k for Poshard's party (but we aren't counting everything), $4M for this building (but really $6M), Oracle database for $2M to $20M depending on how you count the lines, don't worry we are wasting money but it isn't public money, it is a joke. If SIU was a public company, people would be going to jail over the public announcement of costs that they know or reasonable should have known to be false.

The rumor mill says that there are administrators stashed in every "budget line" on campus to keep "administrative costs" down. Just because you move someone to a new budget line doesn't stop them from being an administrative cost, it just makes the management a bunch of liars.

You would think as an organization that is owned by the taxpayers of Illinois this would be transparent, but SIU does not report like a public company and allow analysis from the outside. Can you image the amount of potential abuse that can be hidden in a budget this large that has little oversight from the board?

I estimated recently that there is around $45M to $50M of additional revenue per year being "earned" by SIUC because of tutition increases since 2003. I know there are more expenses too and some state cuts, but don't you wonder how the extra money is being used between the sheets? Because it is all secret, we will never know.

4. -
As the students arrive back on campus in the fall, a memo goes out to the professors from the Provost (he is their boss) calling for the students to be "retained." Now there are two ways for this memo to be interpreted (well really 3), first the way "I'm sure" (wink, wink) it was intended to help the students pass their classes and excel at SIU. The less strong minded who want to receive high pay raises might read the memo as a call to give away grades, because management is watching. There is the third way of reading it, which is the Provost has lost his marbles and the memo is quickly sent to the circular bin. Professors are really smart and I'm sure most just trash it and wonder what the heck Dunn is thinking.

There are only two metrics for teaching performance at SIUC. First, your student evaluations and second your pass and retention rate. Student evaluations are handed out to the kids at the end of the class and when I was a student I might be more included to give a good report to a great professor or one who gave me an A on a silver platter. SIU keeps statistics of how many students pass each section of each class and the GPA of each section. These two items are all your boss goes on in your annual performance review to evaluate your teaching skills. Seems like if you wanted a larger raise, maybe it would be a good idea to give away grades doesn't it?

Now in the real world if you wanted to improve teaching performance the first thing you would do if figure out how to reward the professor for doing better and try to keep them from giving away grades to game the system.

If I was managing professors I would visit their classrooms while they taught to see if they were effective. If they weren't effective I would figure out a way to train them to make them better. If there were an opportunity for common test and finals, I would keep track of those results and compare them to final grades to make sure that a professor wasn't raising grades to get a better job review. In my world this is called management and most universities don't do it. Why can't SIU go figure out best practices and implement them? There is an Ed Psyc program at SIUC, you could ask them maybe?

Why is this a problem? Because as you graduate weaker students, over time you weaken the university's brand. University brands are hard to build and quick to fall. Once you interview a few dummies with good GPA's from a school, you get the picture fairly quickly as a hiring manager that the university has lowered their standards.

5. -
The management of SIUC is piss poor. Some people do no work and aren't fired. A majority of the chairmen have given up managing because they have no guidelines or support from above. Administrators hide behind ranks of administrative assistants and duck out of the office a whole bunch. No one has metrics for performance and certainly no one is rewarded for doing good or penalized for screwing up (please no crap comments about tenure, I know all about it).

The management agenda of calling students the customers is just crazy. The students are the product, the students, their parents and society are the customers and the tax payers of Illinois are the owners. Only by balancing the students, facility and staff with the state's interests as the university'’s owner can the organization work well.

The number one management problem is the people who really care are penalized. For example, no employee of SIUC could have written this blog and survived (even if they did it nicely). Good places to work welcome the input of the employees, SIU goes after the people who try to improve the place and try to kill their spirit. This leads to the very best people leaving, even though it isn't in their financial interests to go.

It is such a shame, there are so many good people, so much talent, so much potential, but the results are not acceptable to me. Hopefully, they are acceptable to you either and you will step up and try to fix this formerly proud university.

It is such a shame to have leadership without a clue; it just destroys everything around it like a cancer.

Look how far I got without talking about fixing the football stadium, upgrading the Arena, or building the administive palace. Best undergraduate education should be the goal, marketing a sports message without real performance isn't going to work.


Jonathan Bean said...


Let me suggest a new marketing slogan "Great undergraduate education."

Whoa! I've been preaching this for years. They can't get it that 90% of the students are undergraduates, they have the widest influence, they have parents (who vote with their pocketbooks and in November). Yet, since I have been here since 1995, I have found it very difficult to get anyone to take undergraduate education seriously. It's all about top 75 (for the university) or top 100 (if you're CoBA or another college). Hello?! This is vanity, ego stroking stuff.

I heard ONE honest answer one time: We don't graduate that many of our undergraduates, so we focus on graduate students. Cynical "to the max," as we said in the 1980s. Yet that's the bottom line for many faculty -- more clones of themselves. In some fields, that benefits humanity, the economy, and even the university but mostly....not.

Someone said a Ph.D. education starts in kindergarted. If we don't pay attention to undergraduate education, then we will never compete with the big boys at the grad level. They have more money, more prestige. We need to build from within.....and if our "star" undergrads go off to Caltech or Harvard, more power to them. They will certainly remember SIU (if it were actually memorable).

Peter in Carbondale said...

Always great to hear from you.

I think the main factor in becoming a professor is the skill to learn through lecture and reading. The rest of us who don't learn that way (conversation an reading for me) aren't going to make the cut.

One of the great things about blogging is you can complain about stuff like this and hopefully change the majority to think clearly and differently by planting seeds.

Bull Dog said...

Larry G. Brown and Ralph E. Becker, two significant donors to SIU's Department of Radio-Television, have retained the Five Mile Group CPA of Darien, Connecticut to conduct an audit of their respective endowments. The audit firm sent a document request letter on October 25 to the Executive Director of the SIU Foundation that holds the endowments in Trust. The letter was also sent to the Illinois Attorney General's office which has been in contact with the Five Mile Group. Brown and Becker believe the spirit of their agreements have been violated, there has been little or not accountability and the legendary Department of Radio-Television has been decimated. More than 300 senior alumni signed a Protest Letter in July 2006 to the SIU Board of Trustees calling for the dismissal of the Dean.