We all know that SIUC faces a difficult budgetary situation, and that SIUC faces a long-term enrollment decline. I'm convinced that we need to improve our campus athletics and administrative facilities; to upgrade our marketing by developing a new message and doubling our spending to communicate it to the world; to continue aggressively funding scholarships for our student athletes and other aspects of our athletics budget; to set up innovative Saluki First Year and Saluki Start Up programs; and to put greater resources into more effective enrollment management. And we need to get the best people we can to fill top administrative positions, and pay them competitive salaries. None of these moves will be cheap: in fact I believe that we must increase our spending in these areas by X million dollars in the next Y years if we are to get ourselves where we need to be in these crucial priorities. But if we do not up our game in these ways we may well face a bleak future.
To fund these priorities we are going to have to hold the line on spending on faculty and staff.
This will mean that when lines come open in academic departments, most will have to go unfilled for the time being. It means that we cannot promise salary increases for remaining faculty and staff in upcoming years, as once we dedicate funds for construction and other long-term projects to turn around our enrollment crisis, those funds cannot be redirected. And as the priorities I have outlined must remain funded in the years to come, in the event of a decline in state appropriations or lower than expected tuition revenue we may even need to furlough or lay off faculty and staff, though this will of course be a last resort.
In the short term, leaving academic positions open will do some harm to our academic programs, and thus to our teaching and research mission. Allowing our salaries to stagnate will come at some cost to campus morale, and could make it harder to recruit and retain high quality faculty and staff. And of course furloughs and layoffs will be painful for the individuals involved. But in the long run we cannot fulfill our academic mission unless this university begins to grow enrollment again and regains a solid financial footing. Once we surmount these entwined crises in enrollment and finances we can revisit our academic programs and undo any short-term damage these programs have suffered in the interim. In the long run, I am confident that our mission and our people will be served best by the initiatives I am calling for.
This is my vision for SIUC. I am calling for an open and honest campus conversation to enable us to resolve any differences we may have about our priorities, and to move forward together. In particular, I am eager to reach agreement with our campus unions in order to sign and ratify new collective bargaining agreements which will provide us a foundation to move forward together. I am confident that we can reach agreements that will be in the best interest of those represented by the unions and of SIUC as a whole. Many of us here on campus will be called upon to sacrifice in order to turn things around for SIUC. But working together we can turn things around, and ensure a bright future for our university.
I would hope that the Chancellor and her writers could put her case better than this, while still keeping it honest. I of course think that her case is weak, for reasons I've outlined elsewhere and will no doubt continue to argue. But her case is not completely without substance. The problem, in my view, is that she hasn't made her case in an honest way. What we've been told is (a) I'm sorry that there's no money for faculty and staff and (b) I'm happy to announce a series of new initiatives that will turn things around. We get extensive numbers documenting why there's no money for us, but no numbers at all about how much the new initiatives cost. In order to have a reasonable debate one needs to see the numbers on both sides of the ledger; one needs to have a campus debate on whether it makes sense to shift money from faculty and staff to marketing and athletics and the like.
While I'm pretty sure where I'd come down on that debate, I'll grant at once that we need to spend some money on marketing and that, alas, I can't imagine us cutting athletics to the bone. Some of the other recent initiatives (Saluki First Year and the revamped Honors Program, for example) have genuine academic value--though of course putting more resources into them means spending less elsewhere. Reasonable people can therefore disagree about how much money to spend on the Chancellor's priorities, and whether this justifies shifting money from faculty and staff to marketing and other activities aimed at recruiting and retaining students, rather than educating them. But we can't have a reasonable debate at all--or engage in reasonable negotiations around the bargaining table--if one side doesn't recognize the need for a debate at all.
So, as I said on the radio, I'd feel much better about the campus environment if we were engaging in an honest debate about campus priorities. Maybe such a debate will break out this fall. But the pressure-cooker of an imminent strike will make doing so rather harder than it would have been during Chancellor Cheng's first year in office, when she failed to make her case. On the other hand, I did just write her a swell speech, didn't I?