I really like dealing with the college of business, they actually seem to value their EAB, have good people on their EAB, have interesting talks, want input and accept help when it is offered.
There were two talks of note - Glenn Poshard talked about the state of the university and of course the new business dean talked for an hour (a few comments on him later, but a good start from the new dean. Seems to have his head screwed on straight).
I like Poshard's talk in general. He talked about how SIU needs to reach out to the surrounding communities, talked about getting more competitive in politics and for students, about how some students come to universities are here for years, max out their loans and don't get a degree. He talked about how the public university movement started 150 years ago and how as a society we have decided to make all universities private by cutting funding to public schools. Since so much of our national wealth can be traced back to our public research universities you have wonder if this is a good thing. It was a good talk from a good man.
I asked Poshard if he had heard that CCHS and other local high schools had no SIUC literature to hand out to students. He talked about how he did know they were doing a poor job and talked about how he was working on fixing it. Good for him.
Poshard also talked about how SIU really needed to work hard to attract minority students that had better test scores, but they were in high demand. No joke. I guess trying would be a good idea, but I don't expect a student to come here and turn down Harvard or U of I.
Personally, I don't like the sequence of money spent on Saluki Way. Follow along on some assumptions - first you stop doing any maintenance of note on all existing buildings to save money and you jack up student tuition and fees. Let's call the amount of money going into the piggy bank $20M per year (an educated guess, but maybe someone knows the real number?). So you start building with a $20M a year budget and you do football, arena, administration building and general classroom building (assume it is another Lawson Hall) for $120M. We can expect another $30M in overruns, plus they always lie about costs at SIUC and suck in money from "other lines" to cover expenses. So that is about 7 or 8 years at $20M per year. Now you start on phase 2 in 2014 or so. In the mean time you have starved all of the 1950's and 60's era buildings of maintenance updates for over 10 years. Seems like you are on the road to heck with this plan.
Since there are less students attending SIU than there used to be, we know there is enough room under roof to house all the programs. The classrooms need to be updated almost everywhere. Many old buildings have desks and chairs from the 1960's still. If you go into Quigley Hall (the old Home Ec. Building), old Engineering building or Faner you can see corners are being cut. There is no internet, no computers with overhead capacity, no WiFi and power plugs, etc in classrooms on SIUC campus. It seems that going down the current Southern Way path without a magic amount of funding added from somewhere to do maintenance, it could go very bad for SIUC in the midterm. As everyone knows, once you start skipping maintenance it starts to get super expensive to get building right.
The best case way that academics would like to have their buildings is something like the
Trout-Whitman building attached to the Arena. A place for students to gather, study in groups, and work on problems. The model from 1960 of the small cinderblock office for professors, narrow hallways and no space for anything else isn't optimum anymore.
I went ahead and asked Poshard straight out about these spending priorities and he dances really well. He told us that we have to replace the football stadium, but I suspect it would be much cheaper to fix the one we have and replacement is thing we want. He said we have to replace the bleachers in the arena because older people don't want to sit on bleachers. I think updating the arena make some sense, but I kind of thought these games were for students. He went into the dream of moving all the people out of the houses that SIU has been buying up for the last 30 years and doing no maintenance on near Oakland and Elizabeth. I can tell you right now that class A space will not make those employee's work harder, good management will. I think that all these buildings are a great idea if you can afford them, but none of them is going to help to fix academic problems.
I also asked him if students are having trouble getting their math requirements completed, why doesn't SIU administer a test for incoming students and place them in the correct classes for their skills? He wouldn't touch that one. For the record, every other university in Illinois requires a math pretest and places their students in the right class for their skills. Why doesn't SIU do it too? Many, many students are taking math classes several times and are enrolled in classes that they can not pass because they simply don't have the skills. If you want to put your finger on the number 1 reason that students take longer to work through SIUC these days, start here.
I thought Poshard's remarks that the grade schools and high schools weren't producing students that were university ready at a high enough rate was right on the money. Watch your kids, if you don't it could be no one will.
I'm fairly sure that none of these moves are going to give the CoBA a space to attract students that is competitive with SIUC's peer universities. Why is it that we care about being competitive in sports recruiting and not in academics? Maybe this is why the football and basketball teams are doing well and SIUC's number of students is down? Could it be that when management spends all their time and money on sports that academics suffer?
To be fair, without Whitman's generous gift, the athletic departments are SIU would be really hurting.
I keep hearing that sports are good for PR at SIUC and how winning teams really make the difference. But our main teams are doing better than any other university in Illinois and all other universities have increasing enrollment. Could it be that academic results are more important than sports at a university? You know, the product the university produces is more important than the marketing sizzle?
The new business dean said something like this in his talk today, you need both the message and the results to have good marketing. I wonder, does anyone think the results from SIUC are good enough? It maybe time to wonder if the marketplace is trying to tell us something.