Friday, June 01, 2007

How NASA screwed up and then applying it to SIU

There is a great little article in Wired Magazine this month about "How NASA Screwed Up (And Four Ways To Fix It)" by Gregg Easterbrook. What I really like about the article is the little lists of what NASA's objectives should be and what they really are. The article says -
Here is a set of rational priorities for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in descending order of importance: (1) Conduct research, particularly environmental research, on Earth, the sun, and Venus, the most Earth-like planet. (2) Locate asteroids and comets that might strike Earth, and devise a practical means of deflecting them. (3) Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe. (4) Figure out a way to replace today's chemical rockets with a much cheaper way to reach Earth orbit.
Then -
Here are NASA's apparent current priorities: (1) Maintain a pointless space station. (2) Build a pointless Motel 6 on the moon. (3) Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe. (4) Keep money flowing to favored aerospace contractors and congressional districts.
I think this is an interesting way to look at SIUC too.

A set of rational priorities for SIUC might be 1) Graduate excellent students that will contribute to society in a positive way. 2) Generate original research at the quality and quantity of a world class research university. 3) Recruit more and excellent students through the use of direct recruitment and PR. 4) Preserve the quality of facilities on campus, for future generations.

What SIUC's real priorities seem to be 1) Use upper management positions to create and maintain powerful empires. 2) Build expensive buildings that don't have much to do with the mission of the university. 3) Pander to students by pressuring teachers to give away unearned grades. 4) Preserve management stability, even it is bad for the university in the short, medium and long term.

This is just off the top of my head. Anyone have a better list of the objectives SIU should pursue or the real objectives of the last 10 years?


Jonathan said...

I'd disagree with #2 -- Wendler's gone, no big building to go on. Library needed revamping (though it may be done the wrong way). I suspect even the football stadium may be put on hold?

I don't know if we can be a "world class research university" (aren't we giving up the top 75 thing?). Departments need to be more market-oriented and not ignore undergrads. That would be a great start -- from liberal arts to business and beyond.

cynical prof said...

Other claimed objectives are helping out the local community (I'm not sure exactly what this means, but I suspect it means somehow getting money to the Southern Illinois area) and helping minorities get college degrees. I'm skeptical about whether we ought to be doing this.

Anonymous said...

If SIU-C were run like NASA it would have a diversified bottle rocket program with a perpetually wet fuse.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I don't know about the football stadium being put on hold, Poshard gave a pretty impassioned plea to an advisory board I'm on for it. If they put Saluki Way on the back burner, great.

I like the mission of helping Southern Illinois excel, but I only have 4 items. ;)

NASA uses $6B per shuttle launch and has 50,000 support personnel to keep it running. Give SIU an extra $1B one time and it changes the world.

I think that SIU is a world class research university. You think it is in the top 250 world wide? It could just be a whole lot better, without much more work.

Higher Ed said...


Your set of rational priorities is essentially Southern at 150.

(Maybe you agree with Poshard that Wendler's plan (priorities) was correct and that he just didn't have the ability to get it done?)

The only priority that a state public university should have is providing a public broad-based education to all citizens of the state who desire one.

Peter in Carbondale said...

This argument reminds me of the "W" "War with Iraq." Wendler's plan was pretty standard boiler plate of what a research university should do. It was the money for buildings, money for research, the management statements about what was important and most important, management implementation that was screwed up. In the end, it really isn't that important what you say, it is what you do that is important.

I think Saluki Way is just plain stupid, Southern at 150 had many merits, once you are beyond Top 75 issue and the stupid decisions that happened because of it.

In the end, I wrote here what I think happened because of Wendler and his plans. I'll stick by it. It is the SIUC culture and it needs to be changed. I'll grant you that if Wendler could have fired anyone he wanted to, been given $3B to spend anyway he wanted, SIUC was moved near a city and he didn't have any Illinois politics, he might have done OK.

Fraydog said...

It depends on what you define as broad based. If it's just liberal arts, great, but expect enrollment to take a hit while you build liberal arts up.

As far as the Wendler dead horse, you can't put the cart before the horse. That's all I'm saying about that. :p