Friday, May 6, 2011

Chancellor to Unions: Get Your Heads Out of the Sand

[Note: I've rather amped up the rhetoric of this post after mulling it over. Pictures being worth 1000 words and all.]

Just got back from the Open Meeting today. The main takeaway was the following picture, which formed one of the Chancellor's slides.

This picture brilliantly encapsulates the Chancellor's attitude to those who don't agree with her: If you don't see things my way, your head is in the sand.

The lead, to put on my objective journalist cap, would have to be that she performed well, managing both to sound reasonable and compassionate and to belittle her critics as a few small bands of myth-mongers with their heads in the sand. Nothing here like her flubbing the question of four or six furlough days.

Of course it is another question whether her approach to things will help solve our problems or help exacerbate them. If you think the picture above is a good way to refer to the attitude of the unions on campus, you would have liked what you heard and saw. One of her seven or eight powerpoint slides consisted of this image. I'll be curious as to whether this one makes the web edition of her remarks.

The student center auditorium was roughly 2/3 full. The Chancellor gave half her time to prepared remarks (which she said would appear on her web page, where she has in fact been doing a nice job of posting her slides and texts). This left time for six questions (by my count). The best indication of the temperature of the room came on three occasions where more contentious issues were raised. The image I've found on Google was presented as one slide, and got a fair amount of laughs. It refers most specifically to those who challenge her view that the budgetary situation justifies the salary cuts she has imposed.

On another occasion, the Chancellor expressed her commitment to making progress in negotiations, and got what I found to be rather tepid support in applause (one-half of the audience applauding?). But when she attacked people for spreading myths, i.e., that she was hoarding money somewhere, that she meant to attack tenure, or that she was union busting, she got warmer applause. My objective (of course!) verdict: if the people in the room weren't overwhelmingly in her camp, they were certainly more sympathetic to her than to the head-in-the-sand union crowd. Of course attendance in the room may well have been stacked in her favor (just as attendance at union meetings is stacked pro-union).

To her report of our/her "accomplishments and achievements". She said we have 22% more incoming freshman registered so far (I think it was registered), and similarly good trends in other indicators for incoming students. But we continue to have troubles retaining students already on campus (though she provided no figures here). An interesting bit from the research done by our marketing firm: SIUC ranks decidedly below rivals Northern and ISU in reputation for academic quality, and apparently retains its reputation as a party school. Then to the budget, where she put up slides too quickly for anyone to evaluate them (though she will post them, to be fair, and thus allowed for half the time in her town hall meeting to be given over to a town hall meeting format--questions). The budget for 2012 looks worse than that for 2011, at least as far as state appropriations go.

The question period in another post--I've promised my students a review sheet for next week's final, and need to pull that together this afternoon.


  1. I'm sorry Dave, could repeat the whole post. I have so much sand in my eyes and ears that I just can't see or hear you. God, where have I been to be so out of it? Oh, now I remember, I was sitting across the table from her negotiators. How could I be so out of it? Just like my colleagues in the FA. Just, out of touch, you know?

  2. Is this an objective write up of what happened? Sounds pretty biased and one-sided to me! It's a pity there was no attempt to talk to members of the audience to find out what all that clapping was about. Why all this praise of Rita Cheng? It seems to me that lately some people have taken to praising Cheng. This is the problem with some faculty--sitting on the fence or praising the administration. May you be blessed with a zillion administrative goodies!

  3. Due to a last minute commitment I was unable to attend The Rita Show and missed the wise words of our Great Communicator. The slide was deliberately insulting like the picture of insects introducing the section on Faculty in the renamed Employee's Handbook a decade or so ago. Sadly the applause for Rita now appears to represent a Nuremberg Rally composed of those who do not intend to question her leadership but will take whatever punishment she will decide to dish out next year. Unfortunately, they do not realize that they will be fired along with the union membership. For a strike to succeed, it must be a General Strike involving Physical Plant employees, Police, and all who have suffered so far. Switching off the air-conditioning to the Stone House and Antony Hall will be a good beginning.

  4. Wait. Are you serious? She actually used this image in her presentation?

  5. People on this campus who believe there is a budget surplus DO have their heads in the sand. We have had declining enrollment for several years coupled with state budget cuts. Where do you think this budget surplus came from?

  6. Yup, Natasha, that's her actual picture.

    I'm not sure where the budget surplus last year came from. But if you want to confirm its existence, check out the end of year report at

    The Chancellor herself rather nicely spelled out how we calculated the $15.8 million surplus in her "leadership remarks" posted here:

    She doesn't deny the surplus, and thus demonstrates that our heads have been buried in the SIUC budget books. But she goes on to inform us all about various reserve funds we need to allocate this surplus to. In today's presentation, this argument came in the slides she showed too quickly at the meeting for anyone to digest. This is the equivalent of throwing sand in your audience's eyes.

  7. Part of the budget problem is that money collected in student fees cannot be diverted to academics. But I think the real purpose of this law was to stop universities from spending state money on non-academic areas like athletics. Could the law be amended to allow BOT's to declare 'a financial urgency' and then be able to move funds from non-academic areas to academics? Administrators like flexibility, so they should like this.


  8. Dave,

    You went to the effort of finding the picture on the Web, but you didn't note the site from which the picture came. It advises employees who face circumstances similar to ours to brush off resumes and start looking for other work.

    "He knew something was in the wind, but he stayed away from 'office politics' choosing to play the part of the faithful employee; and he did so, to his detriment."

    Is someone in University Communications sending us a coded message that layoffs are planned?

    - Just trying to live up to my name :)

  9. Paranoid, Of course, layoffs are planned and they will begin immediately after the semester.

  10. Sung in tune to "Oh, dear! what can the matter be?"

    Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
    Dear, dear! What can the matter be?
    Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
    Our school is in need of repair!

    Cheng promised to win us a bunch of blue ribbons!
    By appointing some people in puffed up positions!
    Cheng promised to bring us a bunch of new students!
    But her plans all blew up in hot air!

    Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
    Dear, dear! What can the matter be?
    Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
    Our school just ain't going nowhere!
    we have to think of creative ideas to revive what has been lost in the big "MUDDLE"!
    Can we go back to being NORMAL again!

  11. Back to paranoid: my google image search didn't land me on that site, though it is an interesting coincidence. (We who aren't paranoid start out by assuming there are coincidences. But of course some coincidences are more coincidental than others).


I will review and post comments as quickly as I can. Comments that are substantive and not vicious will be posted promptly, including critical ones. "Substantive" here means that your comment needs to be more than a simple expression of approval or disapproval. "Vicious" refers to personal attacks, vile rhetoric, and anything else I end up deeming too nasty to post.