Friday, October 06, 2006

The sad state of the Electrical Engineering department

Or maybe it should be titled "The Sad State of the EE Department Chairman?"

I was invited to join the College of Engineering, Department of Electric Engineering's Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) about a year and a half ago. As a review, the IAB is required for accreditation for EE. I went to the first meeting and it was a full day and a half affair. Dinner on Thursday, Breakfast Friday morning, meeting, free lunch, party with faculty and students in the afternoon.

After receiving my first agenda for the first meeting, I wrote back to the department chairman with a simple message "Is this it?" We had a friendly meeting in the chairmen's office and he told me we were going to do lots of things, come and see. I had the strong feeling that he was lying to me, but decided to wait and see. OK, I went and we did nothing but get free food. It was 1.5 days of wasted time and more than that if you traveled from out of town.

At that meeting I asked the other IAB members if we were going to do something. We had a discussion and decided we wanted to have content in the next meeting. I went away thinking the next meeting would be better.

A year goes by and the next agenda comes out, it is the same as the last meeting. I wrote the follow in reply and copied all the IAB members -
A little background before I begin. I am a Carbondale native, live about a mile from the Communications building (after an 18 year adventure on the West Coast), my father is still teaching in the Math department here at SIUC, I have a BA in CS 1984 from SIU, I am currently a software entrepreneur and angel investor with a deep interest in Southern Illinois economic development. I have a brief bio and picture on my current company's website http://www.boundlessgallery.com/customer/people.php (buy some art while you are there, your office would so much better with an original painting ;)). I have a fair-sized emotional investment in this little town and I hope you will join me in helping our biggest employer to improve. Sorry it is so long, but it grew. Now, on to the meat of this message.

I have been on a number of advisory boards in the last few years and I'm finding the scope of this agenda to be "limited." I joined this board to try to help the department, college and SIUC get better, that is my goal. This agenda provides us with only 30 minutes of meeting and the rest is filler.

I propose that we change the agenda to this -
Friday March 31:
7:30-8:30 am Breakfast with Faculty at Mary Lou's Grill (it is no
smoking now!)
8:45 - 10:00 am Meeting with Faculty and briefing by the Chair
regarding
the state of the Department
10:15 - Noon IAB discussion about how to help improve the EE/CE
department. Brainstorming on finding new members and other strategic subjects.
Noon - 1 pm Lunch - more IAB and Faculty discussion.
1 pm - 2:30 pm Meet with Dean and Chair to discuss how the IAB can
help the College and Department improve. Switch this to meet the Dean's schedule, if necessary.
3:00 pm to ? Waste time at the meet and greet. Go home burned out on talking.

Before my first IAB meeting last year I was bothered by the total lack of content in the agenda and met with Dr. Galanos about my concern. He asked me to attend and be patient. OK, I was patient and we did the least of any advisory board meeting I have ever attended (and that is saying something).

At the meeting the first thing I noticed is that the really senior people on the board didn't show up. If this doesn't bother you, it should.

Here are the four (4) things I would like to talk about at the meeting -

Last meeting I was impressed by the large number of major and grad students that the department has recruited. The next week Business Week had a story about how the number of engineering majors was going down in the USA, the contrast caught my eye. As fall semester started I started getting pleas from a number of Indian EE graduate students searching for support, they are bugging everyone at SIU it isn't just me. I would like to understand how the department is recruiting so many students when other Universities are seeing declining enrollment. I would ask someone in the department to bring a breakdown of how many majors are reaching a degree, incoming test scores, country of origin of students in the graduate program would be very helpful. I can get this information fairly easily through other channels if this is going to be to much work (http://www.irs.siu.edu/webRoot/index.htm).

As many of you know the major top-down management initiative at SIUC these days is called "Southern at 150." One of the driving forces in this plan is to raise more money in outside grants for research. I did some investigation into this and I think the IAB should be informed of how the EE/CE Department is doing increasing their outside research budget. Also, how the department compares in national rankings and against peer institutions. I think we should see if we could help the department raise more money, offer suggestions or at least understand these issues better.

The students I am interviewing coming out of SIU in the technical areas are weak, there is no other way to say it. I would like the department to improve instruction or at least add instrumentation of student instruction. I think the IAB has something valuable to add in this area and I feel it should be put on the agenda for discussion. Back in the day I was a student worker at an administrative office called Institutional Research and Studies (same website as above http://www.irs.siu.edu/webRoot/index.htm) and they had all the information needed to track student and teaching results on tap.

The College of Engineering has a new Dean this year (http://www.engr.siu.edu/dean.html). Thus far I have been nothing but impressed with him and with the actions I have heard about him taking. But, I love business guys in academia, they always have a clue. I called him and he agreed to find time to come and speak to us if we invited him. It would be interesting to hear his stump speech and his views of how the IAB can work with the college and department.

Here is a very different proposed agenda for this IAB and some items I feel we should discuss. I'm sure that other IAB members have other ideas to contribute, please feel free to help set this agenda and contribute to the discussion.

I feel if you serve on a board like this you should put some effort into helping improve things. Hopefully this will help other IAB board members who don't live in Carbondale and aren't University Brats some items to think over before the meeting. I suspect that I'm the first person to attempt to change the agenda, hopefully this doesn't blow anyone's mind. Challenging the status quo has made me a successful businessman.

Hope to see some email from a few of you in the next few days with your comments and ideas.

Best regards,
Peter

PS - I'm giving a talk at the Intelligent Systems Exposition, (SIUIS)(see Dr. G's mail below) the students are trying to startup on Saturday and I'm likely to write them a check too, please hang around an extra day and give a talk. Don't be put off if the title doesn't match exactly, I only talk about being a money grubbing pig at these things and they are letting me in. Each of us can contribute to the education of these kids and have some fun talking about what we do for a living. They just love it. Contact Anil Mehta (anil@siu.edu) for more information and a pitch. :)

After 14 days I had received no reply, so I sent a new mail to the chair and dean -
I sent the previous email out with some purpose. I wanted to know if your
EE IAB was in place to rubber stamp department policy, help accreditation
and look pretty or if it was a gathering of customers, advisors, donors and
partners for the department. I also wanted to point out to both you and the
IAB members that if we were supposed to be moving the department forward,
the IAB was doing a bad job. The lack of response to this email seems to
speak pretty clearly doesn't it?

I'm busy, I have a company, investments, a wife, small children, a couple of
hobbies that don't get enough attention and my workout schedule to attend
to. It is easy for me to make this board not fit into my schedule,
certainly this is what is happening for the other board members like me.

Are you guys going to change the agenda for this meeting and treat the IAB
members like advisors or are you going to blow it off? I hope that when I
show up for this meeting, there will be more than 30 minutes of content.

At the moment I'm looking for the truth. Just tell me what you are going to
do and I'll make plans accordingly.

The ball is now officially in your court.

Best regards,
Peter
I got this really helpful response from the chair -

The Department Faculty welcomes and considers ideas and advice, from the
IAB and other equally important sources. The final decision on academic
issues, however, is made exclusively by the Faculty in accordance to the
Department Operating Paper. The itinerary of the upcoming IAB meeting
(attached to the invitation you received) was designed and approved by the
Faculty. The time slot 8:30 to 11:30, is devoted to the briefing by the
Department Chair and to the interaction between the Faculty and IAB
members. The time slot 11:30 to 2:30, is devoted to the meeting of the IAB
chaired by Karl Kiefer who is the current Chair of the Board. Karl will
soon be contacting you with regard to the agenda of the IAB meeting (time
slot 11:30 to 2:30). This itinerary serves the needs of all constituents
of the Department and cannot be changed because it has already been
approved by the Faculty.

Finally, I would like to inform you that the Department Chair is always
available to meet with you (or any citizen interested in the Department) in
the Department office, to respond to any questions that you may have, to
provide data and to address any issue related to the Department.

Best Regards,

Glafkos

Glafkos D. Galanos
Professor and Chair
Electrical and Computer
Engineering Department
Southern Illinois University
At this point I was going to ignore EE until this chairman died, but after talking to a few professors the encourged me to continue. Only by working on this problem today, can we get things to change in the future. OK, I contined to work on it.

There are so many issues that are fun about this reply. I just assumed I was being told to go screw myself, "This itinerary serves the needs of all constituents of the Department and cannot be changed because it has already been approved by the Faculty." is my favorite part. This sounds like a group of engineers, we will not change for a better idea and will not even discuss it. Right.

At this point, I went to work figuring out what is really going on in EE/CE and what this clown is hiding. When you will not discuss reasonable things with your IAB you are hiding something. If you have been reading this blog you can assume that I used the same style of investigation to do this, followed by detailed emails about how they are screwing up. It would have been better to agree to discuss these issues at the IAB meeting and have the Dean speak, but that wasn't one of the options.

The main funny business going on in EE/CE are -
Open admission of graduate students.
Many graduate students without support. Almost all graduate students with fractional support to gain the tuition waver.
Cutting off support of some graduate students without warning.
Pipeline to second rate Indian EE programs to pump the graduate student numbers. The Indian students tell me they were not accepted at any other university. Including Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois. So SIUC's admission standards for EE grad students is lower than those schools it seems.
Almost no external funding for research. Read the WAG report for details, you can pull a copy off my server from this entry.
IAB is treated as rubber stamping chumps and the best and most able to contribute don't come to meetings.
Pocket veto of American born professors who might challenge the chair's power base.
Payoffs to potentially strong voices in the department with unearned summer funding. People who have done no research for years with research funding is a really bad sign.

After using an email bat on our "fine" chair for a while, I conducted a poll of the IAB members. The poll was simple, who wishes to hear the new Dean speak at the IAB meeting? The results were 18 for hearing him and 0 against. What a surprise. After I sent email to the chair telling him of the results of our little poll, he sent this email message -
The ECE faculty (at the Faculty Meeting of March, 23 2006) has unanimously
decided to postpone the IAB meeting (scheduled for March 30 and 31) and to
reschedule for a later date to ensure the participation of many IAB
members. We hope that the members who were planning to participate in the
SIUIS EXPO, organized by the students, will do so despite the cancellation
of the IAB meeting.

The ECE Faculty would like to thank you for your continuing support of the
Department.

Best Regards,

Glafkos
What I like about this is how he couldn't change the agenda a couple of months before the meeting, but he could cancel the meeting 3 days before. I think he realized the level of beat down he was looking at up close and in person at this meeting and ducked and ran. I can't really blame him.

When the chair did not want the IAB to hear the new Dean speak, there is something very wrong with chairman.

Turns out that EE had a previous advisory board and Galanos made the disappear when they started to ask questions. After I did all that work and figured out how screwed up EE is, he disbanded last year's IAB too. I'm wondering why have an advisory committee if you aren't going to allow any input from it? Oh right, he needs one for accreditation? Guess I'll write a letter about this, give them something to talk about with the auditors.

The amazing thing is that the EE/CE department is full of good professors and good people, but they are all clones of each other. They are all foreign and very soft spoken, (which is OK with me, but statistically improbable) except for one mild mannered woman. Anyone who develops into a political power leaves SIU or is paid off with unearned summer support (the people who are good at research and politics I assume are resting next to Jimmy Hoffa). There are reports of some very high handed politics played by this chair against department professors. Where this makes it easy to be "KING", it means there isn't anyone to go sell the department and its ideas to make research money. EE is the one department in a university that has the easiest time raising money from industry, but they raise none for all practical purposes.

In a world where EE/CE are the fastest growing industries, a real accomplishment is to be Chairman for 20 years and at retirement leave a department with no internal leadership, no funding and in worse shape than when you started. At other universities, EE is doing well and earning an honest way in the world.

Everyone in the other engineering departments at SIUC knows EE isn't pulling their weight and is playing games with their graduate students. The series of temporary and weak deans might be a reason. I wonder how long this game can go on? Will the current chair die, retire first or will the dean bring in someone from outside to replace him? There is no one inside, because eliminating your successors is part of this political drill.

The results speak for themselves, it is to bad that SIUC's administration has allowed this department to have marginal results for so long. A nice summary of what management should do and hasn't for many years at SIUC. What a waste.

As always, your comments are welcome.

8 comments:

nobody said...

of course, in defense of Electrical Engineering; these are the folks ultimately responsible with educating the producers of electricity. Since we all still like electricity, we should be willing to make accommodation for the necessities of such high technology.

whew! somehow having said that, a critical eye towards improvement is nice... you haven't a special bee in your hat for EE?

Jonathan Bean said...

"This itinerary serves the needs of all constituents
of the Department and cannot be changed because it has already been
approved by the Faculty."

*The Faculty run the place ("shared governance") and aren't interested in anything they don't approve. Built-in NIH ("Not Invented Here") bias. This is what makes German universities such dreadful wastes of talent.

*Note "constituents" -- who are they, other than the faculty, who are the only ones asked to approve anything? Badly-run corporations spend too much time talking about pleasing "stakeholders" (not shareholders), as if a firm were an exercise in sociology. A board is just one "stakeholder" among many.

"Finally, I would like to inform you that the Department Chair is always
available to meet with you (or any citizen interested in the Department) in
the Department office, to respond to any questions that you may have, to
provide data and to address any issue related to the Department."

Ha! Ha! Ha! Really successful people (like you) are chosen for a volunteer position that costs them money (time is money). But the chair will deign to speak with "any citizen." What is this, a town meeting? Democracy has its place, but this is ridiculous and insulting. "Any citizen?" Any Joe Schmoe? Believe me, if you are a "citizen" who bones up on an area where the university needs improvement, you file a FOIA and the "sunshine" turns to darkness. After all, this nosy person must have an "agenda" (note that agendas not approved by faculty or administrators are evil and driven by some suspicious motive...).

Take your EE experience and replicate it across campus. I've dug deep in areas where I know something, where I served on a high advisory committee, and the responses to quite sensible questions are cold shoulders.

We call this "tyranny of the status quo" (Milton Friedman term and book title).

Anonymous said...

What function do such boards have at other universities? Can you give examples? Do they really give advice, or are they mainly cheerleaders who donate money? I have never been involved with such a body, so I really have no idea.

Seems like you might have first talked with Karl Kiefer, the IAB chair, in person or by phone. Or, perhaps you did.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I think that SIUC's EE department is a perfect storm of corruption in management to pick on.

First, the IAB has no published rules. There is no elected chair that I have ever heard of, the chairman picked him out because he has a relationship with Karl. As far as I know Karl was choosen after my email were sent. Basically, he has Karl under control and Karl has no roll in the meeting agenda I was sent. Only after my email was an IAB roll considered.

EE/CE is a department of the haves at SIU. They can raise money and they are well paid. For example, they have one of the newest buildings on SIUC because there should be growth in engineering. Undergraduate enrollment should be down, but they should be raising research money like it is going out of style.

Their acceptance of unqualified graduate students and manipulation of the tutition waver system is unethical. That is according to any engineering professor outside of EE that has looked at the situation. I'm not inside enough to know, but it sounds fishy.

They are paying off professors to keep quiet. Why do professors who do no research for many years get summer months from the chair each year?

I didn't go looking for the "honor" of serving on the IAB. They came looking for me. It isn't acceptable to ask me to spend 1.5 days in a meeting where you know ahead of time that my input will not be considered. As I wrote before, every high powered member of the IAB stopped coming to meetings leaving the meeting full of CIPS low level manager and a couple researchers who one professor is working with.

I have served a quite a few advisory committees, but formal and informal. They are places you can make a difference. In the College of Business, I used my advisory board position to help the college leverage the start of their Partnership for Innovation Center. Generally, you sign up high powered, rich and powerful people because they can help you. It is the standard non-profit idea of Wealth, Wisdom or Work. If you don't listen to them, they stop helping you. EE has decided they don't want that help.

The EE IAB exists to server the accrediation requirement for engineering and I guess for no other reason. It is to bad, the people on that board know so much more about almost everything than the department, the department is really losing out.

Anonymous said...

Note, the former head of the Faculty Association at SIU is an EE professor. I'll ask him about the corruption in his department and see what kind of answer I get. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

If that's the best the FA can do, then they're really no better than the administration.

Anonymous said...

"Their acceptance of unqualified graduate students and manipulation of the tutition waver system is unethical. That is according to any engineering professor outside of EE that has looked at the situation. I'm not inside enough to know, but it sounds fishy."

If any concerned "citizen" is reading: Blowing the whistle on fraudulent use of federal dollars violates a civil rights statute that can then result in major damage award against the violator, with high rewards to the whistle blower. Unlike most whistleblowing statutes, one need not be a government employee...

Recent cases under the "False Claims Act" certify suits for fraud that includes admissions, financial aid, and much more.

Of course, the sad thing about SIUC is that some of us who have crossed "whomever" need to waste time gathering such info. just to protect ourselves from attacks. Sad, very sad.

Peter in Carbondale said...

There is a difference between unethical and illegal. I'm don't believe we are seeing illegal, just something that no other department is willing to do because it is bad for the students who are left unsupported.

Anonymous said...

Offline I'll talk about possible illegalities...

and "no other department?" I could name a few...