Saturday, December 10, 2011

Her first 556

The DE ran a rather comprehensive review of Chancellor Cheng's first year and a half in office last week, a story I've just gotten around to reading. The money quote, for me, came early on:
“I think people that are critical either don’t know me, haven’t paid attention, or don’t really want anyone in the chancellor’s office to make the final decision,” Cheng said.
One has to be careful about judging someone's attitude based on a single quote in a newspaper, but, that said, this quote is rather revelatory. The Chancellor did not (at least in this comment, or any from this article) take the obvious opportunity to suggest that she could be fallible, or even that there could be honest differences of opinion about the issues we face.  President Poshard, to his credit, did note that there will be always be "contention" about shared government and academic freedom--though his wording implied that such contention, like the poor, will always be with us, and hence isn't something to take all that seriously.

But has Chancellor Cheng or anyone in her administration, ever apologized for the Facebook screw up--ever walked back from the initial false story that they were only censoring "inflammatory" postings?  In the article even Mike Eichholz, bless his heart, characterizes some of the Chancellor's emails during the strike as "blunders."  But there's no admission of any error, or that there may be honest disagreement, from the Chancellor's side.  Criticism is instead due to the following factors:

  1. Critics don't know her. I take this to reflect the belief that anyone who disagrees with her must be doing so to "demonize" her (as she puts it in a quote later on), that is, they must believe (or at least be arguing) that her intentions are bad.  Since the Chancellor believes that her own intentions are good (as the rest of us believe that ours are good), she concludes that her critics are simply misjudging her. This is a silly argument, and one that is particularly damning in someone in power. It is entirely possible to disagree with someone without doubting that their intentions are good.  But it must also be said that those who do demonize her (as in comments on this blog) appear to lend weight to this argument of hers, enabling her, as it were, to dismiss all critics as personal enemies.*
  2. Critics haven't paid attention. This is the ostrich in the sand argument readers of this blog should be familiar with. Saying your opponents haven't paid attention, or have deliberately failed to confront reality, a là the proverbial ostrich, isn't much of an argument, is it? Whatever the FA was doing in writing all those White Papers, we were paying attention.  
  3. Critics don't want her to be the decider. Here the Chancellor correctly identifies a criticism, though her wording implies that critics don't want SIUC to have a Chancellor at all, and hence that our criticism is completely unreasonable. But yes, we don't want her to make the final decisions about everything. We don't want her to have the unilateral power to disregard collective bargaining agreements. We don't want her to have the power to fire tenured and tenure-track faculty. Many of us, including her own ten-day provost, didn't want to see the University College model implemented without serious consultation. Many of us are concerned about the central administration seizing direct control over all hires. Many of us would like to see a marketing campaign built from the grass-roots up, utilizing internal resources whenever possible, rather than have the Chancellor unilaterally decide to outsource our identity to a Chicago marketing firm.   
While I think the article was rather balanced on the whole, one criticism of a theme, the notion that the Chancellor inherited most of the problems she faces. I was accurately quoted as saying that the Chancellor "came in at a really difficult time," which is obviously true enough. But there is, I think, a misleading impression out there that given the financial situation we face, relations between the administration and campus unions were bound to be difficult, and that Chancellor Cheng was therefore stuck with bad relations with the unions through no fault of her own.

This is false. The Chancellor is responsible for the poor relations between administration and unions on this campus.  As the story accurately puts it, the Chancellor "announced" that there would be four unpaid closure days; she announced, that is, that she was going to break the contracts with the unions (technically speaking, she was going to disregard contracts still in effect after their expiration dates). She did not go to the unions, attempt to persuade them that there was a deficit that required employees to give up salary dollars, and bargain with them about how the unions could do their fair share. Nor was she willing to offer the unions anything in return for the four furlough days she wanted (like job security of some sort). She simply announced what she was going to do, come hell or high water, and negotiations with the unions subsequently consisted of her teams telling us what we were going to do.

Now the Chancellor, and other critics, may well respond that the unions would never have agreed to any serious cuts in pay, that the administration would have had to  impose terms even had the Chancellor made a more thorough attempt to bargain. But we'll never know the answer to this question, because the Cheng administration didn't try to negotiate. It instead announced the result of "negotiations" before starting to "negotiate".

If you insist on being the sole decider, you are going to have poor relations with unions. That's your decision, and you are responsible for the consequences.  

* One logical response to this post will be to ask the unions to admit something they did wrong. Personal criticism of the Chancellor (though it came overwhelmingly from individual members rather than from "the leadership" ) is to my mind one poor tactic on the unions' part.


  1. Good post, Dave. First, at least Mike Eicholz was honest to admit that Cheng did blunder. Secondly, you are right to emphasize the fact that Cheng did create problems from the very moment she took up office by refusing to negotiate and engage in dialogue with others. Finally, did anybody see the recent Southern article where Poshard states that he now has all the money owed to SIUC for 2011? Does this mean that we will not get our furlough deductions back?

  2. I'd be very curious as to how the Chancellor plans to try to repair bridges in the weeks and months ahead (I assume months because she does after all have a three-year contract, with a lot of golden parachutes built into it so the BOT probably cannot afford to fire her). At least in COLA, our dean did a wonderful magnanimous gesture earlier this week in inviting us all to a COLA end-of-semester luncheon. As a university we DO need to move on, but it is the responsibility of leadership to lead on this. So I say it again, what plans do you have Chancellor Cheng to repair bridges with faculty, to clean up the damage that you helped cause?

  3. Tony, the administration (especially Cheng) was pretty careful to say that the furloughs weren't needed to meet the late payments from the state but rather as a short-term fix for the "structural deficit", until they could engineer a long-term fix (which Cheng says she has now essentially done, basically via the hiring freeze and the 2.2% cuts from colleges). I'm not saying that their math is correct, only reporting their story. Poshard has granted that the state seems to be catching up a bit--though keep in mind that by "2011" he means FY 2011, which ended in June. The administration was consistent in insisting the furlough days were not a loan but a grant (an "involuntary contribution" is how I look at it--an involuntary contribution to Saluki Way, the new logo, etc.)

    At any rate, the only way we are getting furlough money back from last year is if we win our ULP with the labor board. That, apparently, will take something on the order of a couple of years . . .

  4. On Dave's points:

    1. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
    2. I'd say if anything critics here at SIU are very detail oriented.
    3. YES. The central model of decision making hasn't worked. Not a personal slam on Rita as the other chancellors haven't faired well either.

    Now on Tony's - The logo didn't cost $1.5 million, that was the entire marketing campaign. Have you or any FA representatives attempted to engage Tom Abrahamson or any of the other people at Lipman Hearne? To be fair to Dave, he did point out the marketing campaign was the $1.5 million expense, and the logo was a component of that.

  5. Lightsaber:

    The marketing strategy and design from Lipman Hearne cost $2 million this fiscal year and more than $0.5 million last fiscal year.

    Has Lipman Hearne had open meetings where anyone could come and talk with them? I've heard about several invitation-only events, but I don't recall seeing announcements for any open events. (I'm not saying that it didn't happen, just that I don't remember it. Please correct me if it happened, and I missed it.)

    Yes, I'm being detail oriented. The more the chancellor says things that I know are untrue, the more I independently investigate the things that I don't know about.

    1. Note: paranoid is the chair of math department.

  6. Concerning the importance of detail, why did the Chancellor close down a department dealing with publicity? Why did she not engage the expert advice of people in Art and Design and Marketing who know the area and the students we need to attract? Why, instead, did she employ a firm she has had dealings with in the past and pushed for this appalling logo? All these questions have specific answers.

  7. Tony - Why don't you e-mail her and ask her? That would be easier than asking here rhetorically and you might actually get an answer.

  8. Concerning the importance of detail, why did Tony Williams not just ask her? Simple, because he wants to attack the Admin. A typical FA approach!

  9. The Chancellor has tried to answer Tony's questions, I think (if not after having them asked by Tony). I don't have chapter & verse, but I do recall her saying at some point that while we had good people working in-house in communications, whatever we were doing wasn't working, as evidenced by our troubles with enrollment. Again, I'm not convinced that this is a fully satisfactory answer, but it is out there. I imagine the firm wanted more control rather than less, and a bigger contract rather than a smaller one. Working with faculty and staff can be difficult, I hear.

    I for my part don't think hiring an outside firm was necessarily a bad idea, but it would have been far better had we had the outside firm work to supplement rather than simply replace work done internally, and had our brand and slogans been influenced by internal conversations about our mission (conversations supposedly going on as part of our strategic planning).

    The problem as I see it isn't having an external firm research our image statewide (which did reveal that we still had our party school image) or help us shape a marketing plan to fit our mission, but rather outsourcing not only marketing but, to some extent, mission. The two ought to be related.

    There is also, of course, the matter of expense. Here too it may have made sense to double our spending on marketing, so long as that decision was made with adequate input from campus groups and was done transparently. An investment in marketing may pall off in tuition & fees from new students. But it isn't defensible, in my view, to take furlough money we were told was necessary to save jobs and give it to an outside marketing firm.

    Finally, my understanding is that our problem hasn't been so much in recruiting new students as in keeping our current ones. Marketing isn't going to help with that (though of course the administration has various other initiatives to improve retention.)

  10. I agree with much of what Dave just wrote, except maybe: "...Finally, my understanding is that our problem hasn't been so much in recruiting new students as in keeping our current ones. Marketing isn't going to help with that..."

    To me, marketing is not only about getting new customers, but keeping your current ones as well. Certainly not every student who has left (embodying the retention problem) has done so because they were failing or because they could not longer afford to stay. Some may be leaving because of the perception of greener pastures elsewhere (how many? why? where to?). Arguably, a consistent and effective message that counters those of our competitors could help with the retention problem as well (whether the current effort can actually *succeed* in this regard is of course another question).

  11. You(beezer) have a point--though surely you agree that marketing helps more with recruiting than retention. I suppose marketing could help with retention as well, though, especially with retaining students who leave us for greener pastures. But I suspect that most students who leave us don't go to greener academic pastures, but rather drop out of college altogether. Of course we must lose some students to other colleges & universities (students who could thrive here), and they are precisely the students it hurts most to lose.

    Marketing that helps such students understand why SIUC remains a good choice for them could help. But it will only do so it is well & truly internalized, if, in fact, faculty, staff, and students bought & embodied the "big things within reach" et al. Which would be a splendid thing.

    Of course we do try to help our students achieve big things--we do try to put the research university experience within reach of our student body, as best we can. (Actually, I try to put the liberal arts college experience in reach of my students, as that strikes me as a sounder and more realistic goal for someone in the humanities--but that's another matter.)

    If we manage to actually get students engaged with research in the classroom (and outside it), then we should be retaining students well. I suppose the marketing might help on the margin with retention, but surely the reality matters more. If our self-image matches the marketing, the marketing may help a bit. But if the pretty pictures of happy students doing research and other pleasant academic things don't correspond to the reality, then those pictures won't outweigh the reality in the minds of our students, I don't think.

  12. A few obserations....

    SIU did tap the expertise of its Marketing faculty and students in an effort to boost its image, etc. Tony might want to ask some folks in Marketing why that didn't work.

    BTW, the "department dealing with publicity" still exists. Some of you should try to keep up. But I suppose saying it doesn't exists keeps the rabid foaming. Maybe Tony could ask some folks over there about their marketing efforts over the years.

    Besides all that, marketing is about image...much like the cover of a book attempts to convey what might be inside. For years, SIU has worked on improving that cover, trying various methods and campaigns. If, after spending millions on marketing over many years, the cover still isn't selling the book, will it be time to look at what's inside, the actual product?

    Could it actually be the faculty who are the problem?

    Oh, perish the thought. It has to be the administration, right? The faculty have all the answers and do nothing wrong. At least that's what I get from reading Deo Volente.

  13. Unfortunately, some our faculty have lost their enthusiasm in students.
    In my department, most of these people are those who very actively engage
    in FA activities. This is why I get confused: people who love FA should like to have a better university, but what I have seen is that many of them do not care students too much (no offense, this is indeed the case in my department). They are not serious in teaching and research to them is just a joke.

  14. I agree that it ultimately the quality of the faculty that will determine the quality and quantity of our students. The administration has an impact too, of course, in large part by attracting and retaining good faculty, enabling faculty to work to the best of their potential, etc.

    You won't be surprised to hear me say, however, that in my experience those active in the FA do care about students. Of course there are exceptions, as with any group. But those active in the FA, by and large, do care about SIUC--that's why they are active. The same will be true of others active in other servicey sorts of things--including the FS and FSN. People who do service (especially service that's not remunerated) seem to me to be ipso facto more likely to be devoted to their jobs. But of course when you're doing service, you're not doing teaching or research, so at some point service can get in the way of those other things. The same is true of research and teaching, of course--good & productive researchers tend to be good teachers, and vice versa, but we all know some people who give all their time to one so can't do much of the other.

  15. Actually, the department I referred to has been dissolved and its staff placed elsewhere in the library and other places. I did talk to them and discovered that they encountered the same type of top-down management attitude that has bedeviled SIUC. Also, there are good faculty here, Jim Davies, as well as teachers but they have been constantly frustrated by an administration that favors sports and refers to students by the demeaning corporate term of "customers" seeing the only value of university education as a "mean ticket to the middle class." That is the language of a trade school, not a university.

  16. Tony,

    Are you talking about the old Media and Communication Resources? They have a new name, University Communications. There are 20 or more people working in this unit in a building over on Greek Row. I don't know of any other "department dealing with publicity." Maybe you are referring to some other organization.

    Yes, I know there are great faculty at SIU.

    BTW, since the faculty has organized into a labor union, you're gonna be operating under the "corporate" tag for quite some time. So with that in mind, you're right, students aren't customers. They're the raw material that need to be shaped into a usable product. If society isn't getting what it needs from it's unionized labor force...well, all the marketing in the world ain't gonna keep those workers in the classroom.

    What's next, punch clocks?

  17. This is traditional corporate thinking. Unions were originally founded to protect the rights of workers which the FA did in terms of Cheng's 30 day layoffs and undermining of tenure. Unions play a different role in different environments. Here they are protecting the role of faculty to engage in research and critical thinking without the threat of dismissal for arbitrary reasons.

  18. Well said, Tony.

    Unions have to adapt to changes in the working environment. What a union stood for 50 years ago may no longer be relevant, for example, in getting a fair wage and decent working conditions for machinists (to carry on from an earlier post). Now the `fight' is different, and ever changing. Unions can and will adapt themselves to the changing conditions, but must always be careful no to overstep their mark,
    and not get too `greedy' or demanding.

  19. Tony, what the union can't protect you from, is the fact of where the attack on tenure is coming from. It's not coming from Stone Center or Anthony Hall. It's coming from Springfield.

    The union is powerless if the state forces financial exigency on us. Period. In fact, faculty and administration walk the unemployment lines together. Suits and tweed jackets alike.

    I'm not sure people get the reality of that here. We all have to stand as Salukis - together. The words of Benjamin Franklin ring true here. "Either we all hang together, or we all hang separately."

  20. I still wanna know about Tony's defunct "department dealing with publicity" and those staffers that now work in the library that you talked to about the bedeviling top down management.

    Can we get some clarification from you Tony?

  21. Jim, It is Photo Communications. The department is now split up and some people are in Rita's "Teaching for Excellence" pet project. Had she utilized this former department which knew the area in alliance with Art and Design and Marketing that would not have cost any extra money, then we may have had a much better and less expensive campaign. Once you employ an outside firm and contract out rathe rthan using resources within, the costs are high and Rita's firm used up that million dollars very quickly by producing highly unsatisfactory logos.

    Also, Springfield has been attacking the very idea of tenure for decades. But this is the first time that a University Chancellor and President have attacked it from within by an imposed contract which was defeated thanks to the actions of a Union. Don't think that the Administration will protect tenure here. They will be the first to attack it and will fire all faculty and staff for cost-cutting reasons while they remain in their privileged positions. Your Saluki rationale is the old "Be a Team Player" but many of us will not stand together with those who are destroying the idea of a research university and undermining Faculty. The only way forward is shared goverance on the model of Illinois State University which has beeter morale and given its faculty a 3% pay rise despite the reduced economic circumstances. Remember that its President was the only one to speak out against Blago's ethics Test (supported by Poshard!) and he did not act as a team player but critiqued an injustice. You can not cringe and be servile before these people. That is the lesson of the strike. Had it not happened then tenure and the idea of a University as a center for knowledge (not corporate practices) and criticism would be dead by now.

    Also Unions are opposing changes from Springfield concerning the Pensions policy by Madigan and his fellow Democrats so you can't claim that they are ineffective when dealing with those wishing to undermine the Illinois Constitution.

  22. Lightsaber:

    Your post is very defeatist, you sound as if you agree with what Springfield/Poshard/Cheng are doing ........... because it is inevitable, it seems. I doubt that you think this way, but it sure sounds like it. We have to FIGHT to keep what we have got (tenure/protection/jobs) etc, not turn over and let Cheng, et al take it away from us. At the moment it is only the FA which is doing the fighting, and successfully at that. It would be fine if we could all stand together, but this is never the case....human nature. You always gets sides as is illustrated perfectly at SIUC. The FA did the right thing by striking and fighting.....and we got a good deal.

  23. I'm not saying that the faculty should accept the loss of tenure at all, nor a top-down imposition of a bad distance learning model that puts profit over students. That is what the strike was for.

    What I am saying is that if you don't take the fight to Springfield and take on the illogical thinking at its root, then your leverage with the administration decreases drastically. Showing Springfield that business as usual at SIU isn't going to continue will better our chances of improving for everyone.

  24. The challenges to tenure in academia, for financial reasons tied to state or local economies, goes back at least to the 1990s, first hitting teaching hospitals that had co tracts with states or municipalities. I am remembering USC, which ran LA's county hospital. When the city couldn't pay it's share of the physicians' salaries, questions arose about the meaning of tenure. One argument was that the university could only be expected to pay tenured faculty the parts of their salaries that the institution covered (ie, contact hours covered by tuition). Thus, one could have tenure but not necessarily be assured continued employment *at the same rate of compensation.* I do not believe USC did that, but neither did it have faculty unions. It did have a fairly decentralized process for controlling revenue through enrollments, lots of incentives and support for faculty to obtain grants, high-dollar alumni and donors... and winning athletic teams.


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.