Friday, February 15, 2013

Sitting On Top - my buddies claimed that Wendler was a great Chancellor?

I was sitting with the good old boys at lunch a couple of weeks ago, and one guy showed up late.  He sat down and ordered, he always gets a Reuben sandwich, which is good at Quatro's.  Not long after ordering, he announced that Walter Wendler was a fine Chancellor of SIUC and he doesn't know why he doesn't still hold the job.  There were some nodding heads from other people, but I was shocked at his opinion.  I announced, in my typically shy way, "I thought that Wendler sucked."

After the torches were extinguished and the pitch forks put away, we started to talk about why we thought what we thought.  Their argument was that Wendler is a Christian Conservative, a gentleman, a fine fellow, a man of well measured thought and excellent manners.  My argument is that Wendler, as leader of SIU had a simple job, that was to write the master plan, man the bully pulpit to support that plan, and try to steer the bureaucracy that is the SIU administration to have the best results possible.

So, I asked my friends, "did any of you believe that Southern at 150 was a good idea, or even possible on the day it was published?"  The answer all around was no, everyone knew that Southern at 150 was rubbish.  So, Wendler was a terrible Chancellor and I think they now agree.  Still a man you would be happy to call your friend, but who cares?

There are two reasons I write about this now, first, I see the new Chancellor has thrown Southern at 150 into the trash (where it has always belonged) and is starting again.  Don't know if she will write a plan that is possible, that the people who work at SIU might support, but it can't be much worse then Southern at 150.  Second, I found an old DE article about my blog yesterday.  From the end of the article -
"He may be one of those people who wants to keep it the way it was 20 years ago," Wendler said.
 I have to admit, yes Uncle Walt, I wish SIU was as good as it was 20 years ago.  I wish the Football team was playing in the old stadium, and that money had been spent on the mission of the University.  I wish the enrollment was as high.  I wish the standards for grades were as high.  I wish the students were that skinny.  I wish the graduates were as employable.

I have written here about my failures, and I'm going to write more about success and failure.  In Carbondale, SIU is the big fish and this is how you make a big fish fail.  I don't see Poshard doing better, but maybe Cheng will?

Of course, your comments are welcome.


Jonathan Bean said...

To paraphrase James Watt:

We have had a Baptist, a Jew, a Latino, an architect, education prof, M.D., and now a finance person as chancellor.

Watt went on to say of his affirmative action list (that got him into trouble) "and they are all highly qualified."

But, really, does it matter? Leadership counts, no doubt about it. But SIUC is largely a creature of the State and this state is at a serious self-inflicted competitive disadvantage compared to nearby states that focused on a few things (like higher ed) rather than everything.

Here are some ways SIUC is way different than 20 years ago when I arrived here. Could a leader change any of them? I doubt it.

*Outflow of students to other states (increased) because

*Cost disadvantage compared to schools in MO, IN, elsewhere. I know - my daughter is comparing in all the surrounding states and the cost differential crushes SIUC.

*Textbook rental - and other schools have $25/course textbook rental. That adds thousands more in savings. Can a chancellor change that? I don't know but when we visited SEMO and I found out about $25/course I calculated thousands in savings over 4 years.

*Union: Came in 1996. Wendler and the rest just have to deal with it. True, universities get the unions they deserve (for past mismanagement or whatever) but that was long before Wendler-Cheng came along. And the union has changed the whole dynamic. Can you imagine if you had a union - not just any union - but something like the FA - organize all your workers back 20 years ago? Ha!

*Community colleges: when I arrived in '95 Logan was there but its offerings were nowwhere near what they are today. Plus in 20 years community colleges have taken control of the state body that automatically gives course credit for x, y or z requirements at the four years.

*Online ed: leadership could have helped here. SIUC was way, way behind other 2 and 4 year schools. But by the time they started to take it seriously in the past five years, the incentives to colleges (faculty gets overload, colleges get a cut for sponsoring online courses) - that incentive was taken away because of budget cuts. That really damaged morale.

***CONFUSED MISSION: Here is where leadership would help but, boy, the culture sure bucks this much-needed change. When I arrived here 20 years ago, they were still getting away with "we are BOTH a research and a teaching institution. The best of both worlds." But in my mind it was the worst of both worlds. I saw we would be dependent on undergrad enrollment and undergrads/parents don't give a darn about the PhD production or articles in the Journal of Postmodern Agribusiness.

This last item is and always has been something that needs to be changed but it is the "third rail" of SIUC politics - touch it and you die.

PeterG said...

All you can do as a leader is to do the best you can, making right decision, after right decisions. 10,000 wrong mistakes have taken SIU where it is, and 10,000 more will be required to get it back. You example of Online education is a perfect example, there are always chances to take to improve things. The football stadium was never one of those things.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I enjoy your comments on SIU and Mr. Bean's. He's right nobody cares about SIU being a research school. I think they are worried a lot about cost as they have watched their investments sink, salaries stay flat and taxes increase. Logan prospers because of cost and also academic and vocational offerings. Why would you go to SIU for a nursing degree when it costs 5 times more than Logan or Shawnee AND you cannot get to be an RN until completion of a 4 year degree, but at the JR colleges you can attain it in years and begin working? I think SIU has shunned vocational programs and exhibits an elitism in many areas that could only exist in higher ed. Where else would so many people stick their heads in the sand and refuse to see all the issues facing the school, like enrollment and the financial crisis that plagues the state. I think you should have added to the sports criticism the hiring at 650K of Lowery and the dismissal of him before the end of his contract. He should have been made to stay and suffer, like the rest of us poor working slobs that paid his salary so another bunch of elitist jock sniffing basketball fans could watch hoops. Give me a break. How many scholarships could we have awarded with that money. How many police cars, garbage trucks, and fire trucks could the city of C'dale have purchased with the 1 million dollars a year it gives SIU, not to mention the property tax relief it could have given and the community pool we could have built!!!!!!