Friday, June 17, 2011

Cheng: no layoffs or furloughs next year

I finally made time to listen to the Chancellor's regular "morning conversation" gig on WSIU radio from Tuesday (6/14). The big news item was her statement that "the deans" have informed her that there will not be a need for either furloughs or layoffs next year. This even if cuts to state allocations are somewhat worse than the 1.1% in the current budget, perhaps as high as 3%. Thus the overall state budget news, and its impact on SIUC, is good, at least in comparison to last year.

Cheng did return to the issue of a "structural deficit" on campus, and said that "right sizing" the budget (a lovely corporate euphemism), together with meeting this year's cuts, would result in a reduction on campus of somewhere between 2.5% to 5%. Those cuts sound pretty steep, and I also don't fully understand what Cheng means when she talks about a structural deficit, since SIUC ran a surplus last year. My guess is that some of these cuts will mean cutting positions that are already empty--i.e., resigning ourselves to the fact that we're going to have fewer staff in some areas.

Cheng also characterized this good news as meaning that we would be able to move forward to a "better and brighter future" with "employees and programs" intact. This line, if taken literally, will come as a comfort to any worried about the sorts of large-scale program cuts that have gone on elsewhere. Apparently our "right sizing" is going to be done largely via attrition. No suggestion of an end for the hiring freeze, however, or hint of an end to the freeze on salaries.

As I suggested in response to Poshard's email announcing the better than expected state budget, this relatively good news ought to make negotiations easier. But if the administration insists on retaining the power to unilaterally declare furlough days, even if they say they won't need it next year, we'll still have are real debate on our hands. And of course there are other issues, starting, for the FA, with the status of tenure.

Three more matters after the break: the GA healthcare debate, Cheng's more general statements on negotiations, and Cheng's evaluation of her first year in office.

Asked about the attempt by GAU (Graduate Assitants United) to improve their health coverage, the Chancellor ably played the traditional administration response: gosh, we'd like to help out, but it just hasn't proved possible so far. She said her representatives were working hard with the "GUA" (sic) to make progress, but hadn't yet found a better option that was affordable for the GAs.   She claimed that the current campus plan is "very comprehensive" in comparison with other campuses.  Certainly the GAU argues that their plan isn't comprehensive by comparison; I don't have enough mastery of this issue to judge (but discuss it a bit more in an earlier posting, where you can find a link to an excel sheet outlining some of the issues).

Asked about the Unfair Labor Practice filing, Cheng said that it was no surprise, that the charges were "just plain false", and that she could go to sleep each night confident that her negotiating teams had given the full measure of devotion.  It all comes down to finances, she argued: they want things we can't afford (and we want some things from them they don't want to give up).  Hence the impasse (though she didn't use that word).  She stressed that the administration is again back in negotiations. [This is again the traditional administrative/employer response: we're sympathetic, but it's all about money, and we don't have any. The unions argue that it is all about power & respect--and that there is also more money than the administration says, by the way--an addition 6/19.]

Asked about the campus climate and the image of SIUC in the broader community, Cheng said she hoped positive news was starting to dominate things.  The main positive news she claimed was regarding enrollment.  We apparently have about 100 students more on campus this summer than last, a difference that Cheng claimed, rather disingenuously, to be able to see on campus already, and projections for the fall are also up.  Cheng gave no details on these fall projections, however, and her language was so vague as to lead skeptics to worry: new freshmen and transfer numbers are "healthy" and current students continue to register for fall classes. Asked whether a push at the end of the spring semester helped increase registration of continuing students, Cheng said yes, but again provided no details.

Finally, Cheng summed up her achievements in her first year as follows:
  1. Turning around enrollment.  [This has, to say the least, yet to be demonstrated, though I certainly hope enrollment turns around.]
  2. Putting new leadership in place. [Cheng now has her second provost, and announced new hires of permanent deans in Engineering and Liberal Arts.]
  3. Getting more attention to our strong academic programs. [Presumably more attention relative to our reputation as a party school?  Cheng cited no evidence on this front--again one we will all want SIUC to win on.]  
My guess is that this fall may well make or break Cheng's Chancellorship. If enrollment numbers do indeed increase in a meaningful way, and she manages to get contracts with the IEA unions without strikes, she could be, after a rough start, well-positioned for a successful term. But if enrollment continues to decline (despite her now at least twice pretty confidently predicting improvement, in her spring town hall meeting and during this radio conversation), if the unions get SIUC less than flattering PR by going on strike, or both, then she'll be in serious trouble.  


  1. Let’s take a different look at top 10 at SIUC in the last 1 year:
    (1) Campus climate is worst than what I have ever seen
    (2) Faculty and Staff morale is at the lowest level
    (3) Bad PR - she fired NTT faculty members and then rescinded the layoff letters
    (4) Had surplus money, but employees had to take pay cut for the first time (don’t forget that she refused to take more than 4 furlough days)
    (5) Number of buildings is increasing and number of people on campus is decreasing (have you seen the construction going on around the campus?)
    (6) We have bigger stadium but lowest number of spectators
    (7) The first major appointment she made ended up in disaster
    (8) Only people in the inner circle are being appointed on leadership positions. I heard that the new Provost is her neighbor and the new CoLA Dean is a member of the bargaining team. Just review the new Provost’s credentials (I read somewhere that he was considered unqualified for the Engineering Dean position at SIUC just a year ago).
    (9) Too much focus on enrollment numbers at the expense of quality. A slight uptick in enrollment, if any, may be due to new (lower) admission standards or may just be a minor adjustment after so much decline in previous years.
    (10) Made into Chronicle and other newspapers more time than ever before with negative news. Publishing a few pages in Southern Illinoisan about research does not bring attention to our academics but what gets published in Chronicle does bring attention to SIUC.

  2. To the first anonymous comment, the engineering dean was an outside hire, so the chancellor is certainly not hiring from within an "inner circle" as you describe. The liberal arts dean is also a respected scholar both inside and outside of her college. Your statements suggesting that these hires (and even that of our current provost) were made on the basis of personal relationships with the chancellor rather than qualification are insulting. Perhaps you should read John Nicklow's vita and see how impressive his record is before you spout off about his qualifications.

  3. Anonymous #1: "I read somewhere that he was considered unqualified for the Engineering Dean position at SIUC just a year ago." I read that too, but it was from an anonymous comment on this blog, certainly not the most trustworthy of sources.

    Anonymous #2: "Perhaps you should read John Nicklow's vita and see how impressive his record is before you spout off about his qualifications." I've read Nicklow's CV and paid attention to some of what happened in the College of Engineering. An anonymous comment on this blog summarizes why Nicklow does not have the experience that typically is expected of a provost.

    On the other hand, only two of the four candidates who were interviewed for provost had administrative experience as dean or higher; one of those two hadn't been at that level for decades. In other words, three of the four finalists would have been open to this criticism for inexperience. The fourth would have been open to criticism for other reasons.

  4. Haven’t you read how Cheng pushed her friend into the pool for engineering dean after being rejected twice by the committee? It is only when the committee and college faculty and staff openly criticized the chancellor and showed strong opposition to her favorite candidate; she offered the position to an external candidate.

    To Paranoid: I also read the information about Provost’s qualification on this blog. I respectfully disagree that the information submitted as anonymous means the information is not trustworthy. Not everyone may be as bold as you are. It is not difficult to verify the information submitted by anonymous. Looks like someone already removed that posting from the blog.

    I agree with your analysis about the provost candidates. However, I believe if we don’t have qualified applicants for any position, it is better to open the search again rather than appointing an unqualified or weak candidate. SIUC has several excellent candidates for the provost position. After what happened with the last provost, not everyone would be willing to apply unless chancellor is willing to solicit application from them. Don’t forget that Cheng also did not apply for the position; a BOT member solicited her application.

  5. The comment about Nicklow's qualifications can (still) be found here:

  6. A couple of more substantive comments in response to some above.

    1. There certainly can be too much emphasis on enrollment at the cost of quality. But we are in a long term enrollment crisis, which we'd better address, unless we plan on further "right sizing" of faculty and staff--and presumably program elimination (which would 'justify' elimination even of tenured faculty). I would oppose efforts to increase enrollment by diluting quality, but surely stemming our declining enrollment has to be a chief priority for SIUC and its administrators. Encouraging students to register early, beefing up our marketing and recruitment efforts, etc., don't dilute quality (unless they devour too much money). Pressure to admit, pass & graduate unqualified students would obviously impact the quality of SIUC degrees, but to this point I myself, at any rate, haven't felt too much pressure in this regard. We'll see, however, whether the new administration is really succeeding in turning around enrollment: the evidence is obviously not in yet. Cheng's claims could become a "mission accomplished" moment.

    2. The scuttlebutt I hear regarding the CoLA dean search suggests that it was the central administration (meaning, I assume, Cheng) that pushed for the hire of an outside candidate for the job. But internal resistance from within CoLA, based on information received from said candidate's home institution, led to the decision to go with Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, current chair of Criminology--and indeed a member of the administration bargaining team. So whatever one makes of her service on that bargaining team, Kempf-Leonard pretty clearly wasn't appointed just because of it or because of any relationship with Cheng.

  7. I still don't see anything in the posted material (linked above) that substantiates the claims made by anonymous #1 regarding Nicklow's qualifications. He didn't plan on staying here when he came. That is very common in this profession. The so-called "hand-picked" engineering dean candidate was not hired, so that too is a red herring. Lastly, as Dave so eloquently spells out in his comment above, Kempf-Leonard was not hired on basis of her relationship with Cheng, whatever it is.

    The negativity found in many comments (and a few stories) on this blog, which is usually manifest in some type of anti-administration banter, is a serious problem at this university. I can't help but feel that many people on campus are more anti-administration than pro-SIU.

  8. Anonymous, "I still don't see anything in the posted material (linked above) that substantiates the claims made by anonymous #1 regarding Nicklow's qualifications."

    Did you read the comments to the linked post, and not just Dave's entry?

    The anonymous commenter outlines Nicklow's CV and ends with, "I believe his experience with evaluating P&T dossier, budget, working with faculty and staff is practically nil."

    Those areas all are crucial in the job of provost. Typically a provost gets experience in those areas by serving as a dean first, but Nicklow does not have that experience.

  9. After reading the above discussion, I also reviewed Nicklow’s CV. I believe his CV is significantly inflated. It appears that he was responsible for everything when he served as acting department chair for 6 months and the Associate Dean for a few years. Isn’t it strange that the person, who served as the chair of the same department for 6 years and has a lot more experience than Nicklow, didn’t get the Dean position?

    If anonymous’ comment about Nicklow that “he did not receive the grant; he was not even a co-PI on the proposal and funded project,” is correct; isn’t listing that grant as “grant received” unethical? A scholar should know the difference between “receiving” a grant and “managing” a project.

    To the latest anonymous, a few well wishers of SIUC discussing actions of the administrators (which only a few people read) do not bring negative publicity. Actions of the administration are responsible for such negativity. So, if someone is to be blamed for negativity, it is the top administration.

  10. I tried to post similar comments before, but looks like the submission did not go through.

    After reading the above discussion, I also reviewed Nicklow’s CV. I think he has significantly inflated his accomplishments. His CV indicates as if he was responsible for everything while serving as the acting department chair for 6 months and associate dean for a few years. Another person who served as the department chair for 6 years (not 6 months) and has a lot more experience them Nicklow, did not get the dean position at SIUC.

    If the comment by the Anonymous at “….., he did not receive the grant; he was not even a co-PI on the proposal and funded project;…,”is correct, isn’t it unethical for him to list this as grant received? A scholar should know the difference between “receiving” a grant and “managing” a project.

    To the latest Anonymous, comments by some well wishers of SIUC discussing actions of administration (which only a few people read) do not create negative environment; actions of the administration do. If anyone is to be blamed for negativity, it is the top administration

  11. Your first posting was filed as spam for some reason. I check the spam folder occasionally to look out for this, but will not be checking it continuously, I'm afraid. Google does not allow this feature to be turned off (as I would gladly do, as while a few comments have been put in the "spam" folder, none have been true spam). At any rate, sorry for the delay.


  12. "In the 2008 Campus Climate Survey, 50 percent of SIUC faculty agreed with that “Faculty at odds with Administration” was an apt characterization, whereas only 15 percent of faculty at peer institutions were of a similar opinion.", pp. 118-119 or pp. 148-149 depending on how you count them.

  13. Nicklow does have ample experience in attracting and managing fairly large research grants. However, that is not a pre-requisite for an administrative position. In fact, he probably has substantially more research experience than most administrations at SIUC and our peer institutions.

  14. Dear Last Anonymous:
    I hope acting ethically is a pre-requisite for an administrative position at SIUC.
    As far as Nicklow’s research accomplishments, I suggest that you review his CV carefully. He is the lead PI or sole PI on only 5 ‘regional’ grants and one ‘national’ grant with a total research funding of 200K (not including internal grants and $1.5M STEM grant which he did not attract according to another anonymous). All other grants are with other well established researchers. I won’t consider them experience with “attracting large grants.”

  15. Last Anonymous - "and $1.5M STEM grant which he did not attract according to another anonymous".

    Are you really convinced that he didn't attract the funds because an anonymous commenter on this site said so?

    And how does working with other well established researchers diminish the research qualifications of a scholar? In engineering and other fields, large grants often require an interdisciplinary perspective. One person is the lead (PI), but all of the co-PIs bring something critical to the project.

    Lastly, if you have evidence that John Nicklow has acted unethically, you should report him to the ethics office. My guess is that you have nothing and are comfortable throwing accusations around behind the mask of anonymity that this site provides you.


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.