Give SIUE Its Independence

When SIU system President Ted Sanders fired SIUC Chancellor Jo Ann Argersinger - and received support for doing so from the Board of Trustees, despite a vote of support for Argersinger and "no confidence" in Sanders from the SIUC Faculty Senate - I sent the following letter to the editor, which was published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer and, as a guest editorial, in the Belleville News Democrat:

Over the past six years, I have served three years on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee at SIUE (one as Senate President), then three years as SIUE's representative to the Illinois Board of Higher Education's Faculty Advisory Committee. These experiences have given me plenty of opportunity to observe the antics and political intrigues of the SIU Board of Trustees. What I have seen over these six years has left me with a few questions, and an observation or two.

I'll start with the questions. Can anyone tell me why it happens so often that when SIU has a leader who resolves conflicts, brings people together, and encourages cooperation for the betterment of SIU, that person is either fired (as in the case of SIUC Chancellor Jo Ann Argersinger) or is made so miserable that they seek employment elsewhere (as occurred with former SIUE Chancellor Nancy Belck)? And why is it that when SIU has leaders that order people around and create division, tension, and conflict, the Board seems to worship them and keeps them around for years, as it did with past SIUE President Earl Lazerson and is doing now with the SIU system President, Ted Sanders?

One final question - why must the Board make up fabrications to justify its actions, such as the claim that Chancellor Argersinger was creating tensions between the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses? I have never heard anyone but Ted Sanders and the Board complain about this, and have never heard this complaint from anyone at SIUE. On the other hand, I've heard all kinds of complaints about Ted Sanders at SIUE - complaints about his attempts to impose everything from expensive administrative computer systems (that SIUE gets to pay for) to unwanted logos (that de-emphasize the Edwardsville campus) to ineffective systems of budgeting and centralized purchasing. On not one of these things did he ever bother to ask people at SIUE what they thought - he just issued an edict from on high and expected everyone to fall in line.

Now to the observations. The top-down, authoritarian style of management favored by Sanders and the Board of Trustees seems more appropriate for a medieval monarchy or a communist dictatorship than for two fine modern universities. This style of management did not work when it was used by the Politburo in the old Soviet Union - indeed it was a major reason why that system collapsed of its own weight. And it will not work at SIUE or SIUC as we enter a new century - indeed Ted Sanders and the Board of Trustees are well on the way to making the SIU system the laughingstock of higher education. What the misguided Sanders approach will bring is exactly what the Carbondale campus is now experiencing - dissension, conflict, and embarrassment. Anyone who has been around SIUE for a decade or more will remember when Earl Lazerson, Constance Rockingham, Barbara Teters, and others with the Sanders style of management brought similar difficulties to the SIUE campus. Even in the business world, there has been a major shift away from centralized control toward teamwork and involvement, because that is what works. Is anyone on the Board of Trustees listening to what is going on in the world?

I have a modest suggestion for our area legislators. In my 22 years at SIUE, I have yet to see anything that is gained from centralized control of SIUE and SIUC by the SIU system office. And I have already described how I feel about the "leadership" offered by the SIU Board of Trustees, who, by the way, largely equate "SIU" with "Carbondale." (I once heard one member, on the SIUE campus, talking about "going down to SIU" for the next meeting, in reference to Carbondale.) This being the case, why not simply acknowledge the fact that SIUE and SIUC are distinct universities and split up the SIU system as was done with the Board of Governors and Board of Regents institutions a few years ago? At a recent IBHE Faculty Advisory Committee Meeting, we heard from the President of Northeastern Illinois University how her campus has prospered since the split. I believe that SIUE and SIUC could similarly prosper, if we could get out from under the yoke of centralized control by Ted Sanders and the current SIU Board of Trustees.

A couple final comments. First, I do not want anyone to take anything I have said as a criticism of SIUE Chancellor David Werner. In my opinion (and I think that of most others at SIUE), he is doing a good job. And I think that really proves my main point - he does not need Ted Sanders to tell him how to do his job! And second, some people at SIUC have suggested splitting the SIU system and giving control of the Dental School and the East St. Louis Center to SIUC. This, of course, is absurd, and must not and will not happen. The Dental School and East St. Louis Center are and always have been integral parts of SIUE, and will remain so. However, the foolishness of this particular suggestion does not undermine the basic wisdom of splitting the SIU system. SIUE and SIUC are distinct institutions with distinct histories and missions, and neither benefits from the current arrangement of centralized, dictatorial control.

For more information on the crisis at SIUC, click here.

Update! On November 16, 1999, Sanders announced his resignation to accept another position.

New Update! In August, 2000, it was announced that James E. Walker, 58, who has spent two decades in higher education administration, will become president of the Southern Illinois University system effective Oct. 1. During his early career in higher education, Walker was an assistant professor of Special Education at SIUE from 1972-1975. Let's hope that, with his extensive experience in higher education, Dr. Walker will show a better understanding of the operations of a university than his predecessor. Early signs are encouraging in this regard.

In more news, George Wilkins (R, Indiana) resigned from the Board after a new law was passed that trustees of Illinois public universities must live in Illinois. (What a radical idea!) This brings to 3 the number of vacancies on the Board. Let's hope that Governor Ryan makes enlightened appointments to these vacancies, helping to bring new directions to what has in the past been a very ineffective Board.

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