The System Connection - February 21, 2018

President's Column


At different times in this space and elsewhere, I’ve commented on the national conversation taking place regarding the rights of free speech and expression on college and university campuses.

I almost always come down on the side that more speech is better than less speech – and that “good” speech is what is needed to counter “bad” speech. (Each of you can make those qualitative judgments for yourself.) But I also acknowledge that - for many and varied individuals and groups due to a long history of oppression, discrimination, personal trauma, exclusion, and even hatred – words can hurt…and hurt deeply.

But in the end, for me, the diminution of speech is the diminution of education. Open debate, critical analysis, and the battle of ideas must be at the heart of what a university does to create new knowledge, synthesize other ideas, and advance discoveries. Of course, we all understand that speech which incites riots or can be demonstrated to create a severe and material disruption of safety and security may be subject to regulation. But that bar is high and those instances are rare. Rather, to quote Bret Stephens, a writer for the New York Times, “…universities need to be the First Amendment’s most loyal guardians.” And this is particularly true for those of us at public universities.

There is no higher education institution more associated with a long-standing commitment to free expression than the University of Chicago – along with its president, Bob Zimmer. It is the campus which gave us the Chicago Principles and the place where the dean of students sent a controversial letter to incoming freshmen a couple of years ago to be very clear how the U of C viewed its commitment to all speech.

Recently, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni awarded President Zimmer its 13th annual Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education. The winner of the Merrill Award is asked to deliver remarks upon the acceptance of the prize each year, and not long ago I received the text of Zimmer’s speech to the ACTA. Again – in my view – Zimmer is as close to making language into art as is possible, as he advances the case for campus free speech.

Below – and I acknowledge probably taking too much liberty in sharing this many paragraphs from his speech text – I am including some of Zimmer’s words which to me are most compelling on this issue:

  • First is what one might call the “no discomfort” argument. One of the persistent rationales for demands emanating from students and sometimes faculty to suppress speech is concern about discomfort. If students feel uncomfortable, this argument goes, there is something amiss and discourse needs to be controlled to correct it. Many of the persons who make this argument are of good will and are projecting empathy for those who might feel uncomfortable by the expression of certain views. Many students come out of a high school environment in which this perspective is forcefully articulated, sometimes as one of the highest values of that educational environment.
  • One of the drivers for the prevalence of the no discomfort argument that we often hear today is exclusionary behavior. There is no question that there is a powerful history of exclusionary behavior in this society, as in all societies. Our history is replete with slavery, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and discrimination against religious and ethnic groups. Universities should all be striving to confront the continuing impact of these forces, and there is no question that creating an inclusive and respectful campus community requires serious and sustained work and attention. This effort is needed to ensure that all students feel sufficiently empowered to participate in the university’s intellectual discourse. But part of that empowerment is helping students to accept the discomfort caused by conflicting views, and to see it as an intrinsic part of their own education and advancement. Automatically viewing discomfort caused by free expression and open discourse as problematic has the ironic result of establishing a new type of exclusionary behavior – excluding students from the best and most challenging education that universities can provide.
  • Another feature of the “no discomfort” argument is an unfortunate and naïve neglect, and perhaps ignorance, of history. It is dangerous for a group with one particular perspective to advocate for special exceptions to a commitment to free and open expression. If universities allow some views to be suppressed, it is certain that other views, not always concordant views, will be suppressed over time. If those who were certain they were right were empowered to silence those whose views made them “uncomfortable,” we would never have had a civil rights, women’s rights, or gay rights movement on our campuses or in our nation.
  • The openness of universities, and therefore their most fundamental value to society, is under threat by those who view the university as a political or moral battleground and seek to impose their own views on others by suppressing speech, sometimes being willing to use disruption and even violence to do so.
  • One wonders when the logic of preventing someone from speaking and others from listening translates into preventing the library from having certain books. It is not that great a leap. We need to recognize very clearly, whether these groups come from within or outside the university and without regard to their political or moral view, that they stand fundamentally opposed to the foundations of what a university is, the nature of its societal contributions, and what an education should be.
  • The saddest and most troubling development would be that faculty members and academic leaders, all of whom have the obligation to deliver outstanding education, become comfortable with the erosion of free expression, and relegate it to just one of the many things they deal with rather than supporting it as fundamental to education.

For those interested in reading more, the entirety of Zimmer’s remarks can be found at the ACTA’s homepage, scrolling across the top of the site.

I am aware that these discussions can be contentious and even move to inflame passions on all sides of the issue. Please know that fanning embers of argument and controversy is not my purpose here. It’s like a successful marriage or other critical partnership…we have to keep communicating and resisting the temptation to slide into our own echo chambers. You’ll notice that in today’s VOICES section, I include an op-ed on campus speech from the National Review, written by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. And for those on the other side of the conservative-liberal divide, know that I’m going to keep including articles from the New York Times as well.

Keep engaged and keep talking.

Randy Dunn

State Budget Plan for FY19 Unveiled by Governor

House Chamber

Governor Rauner introduced his FY19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019) state budget proposal on Valentine’s Day with the annual budget address in the Illinois House Chamber. 

The bottom line overall for the FY19 proposal is that Illinois public universities would basically be level-funded for next year. It is important to note, though, the governor is using this current year – FY18 – as his new base year. As you may remember, all the state universities took a 10% cut in general appropriations from the FY17 budget (eventually passed last summer on a legislative override of the governor’s veto).      

But it’s the means by which every institution stays “level” from this year to the next that has become the story. The FY19 budget plan as presented last week actually crosses a Maginot Line that would have school districts, community colleges, and the public universities begin covering 25% of the state contribution for both pensions and health care. Beyond that, the coming fiscal year would constitute the first year of an aggressive four-year plan that proposes to completely shift the “normal cost” of pensions and health care to the institutions; in today’s dollars at the end of the four years, that amount for the SIU System – around $188.2 million – would be larger than our entire state appropriation as it stands now. As such, our FY19 cost alone could run above the $40 million range. (It’s not clear exactly what percentage of the healthcare cost shift would start in 2018-19).   

However, to make up that huge expense for next year, the governor’s proposal intends for each public university to receive back an “offset” from the Illinois Board of Higher Education on a proportional, dollar-for-dollar basis of the cost share, so as to keep our overall appropriation even…flat…level…as we enter FY19. 

The problem, of course, is that there is no pledge or even an indication that the offset funding will be there in years two, three, and four of the cost-shift ramp up. 

Other background on such things as MAP student support, capital funding, and SIU’s directed appropriations can be found on a summary document compiled by our Office of Governmental and Public Affairs in Springfield. A briefing deck on the full state budget plan for next year, from the Governor’s Office of Management & Budget, can also be found here.    

As can always be said at this time in the budget cycle, the governor’s budget proposal is only the starting point. Budget work now moves to the General Assembly throughout the remainder of the spring legislative session. SIU’s appropriations testimony takes place in the House on March 8 and in the Senate one week later, on March 15. As status developments warrant over the coming weeks, we’ll use the Connection to keep you apprised of significant changes and any actions taken.

Metro East Trustee Amy Sholar Elected Board Chair

Amy Sholar

The Southern Illinois University System Board of Trustees met on Feb. 8 on the campus of SIU Edwardsville and elected new officers. Trustee Amy Sholar was unanimously chosen to chair the board for the coming year.

Sholar, a resident of Alton where she is a practicing attorney, has been a member of the Board since 2015. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from SIU Edwardsville and her law degree in 2001 from St. Louis University.

“Having the opportunity to serve on the SIU Board of Trustees is one of the most important things I will do to repay the education I received from this university. And to serve as the leader of its board is both a humbling and exciting opportunity,” said Sholar. “When I started as an undergraduate student at SIUE, I was looking for a place where I could grow, both as a person and in a profession. This place gave me that chance and now, I want to ensure all the campuses remain not just places where individuals can grow and get their education, but strong community partners that support the broader regional economy. SIU has a great future ahead of it, but we’re at a juncture where we must make smart decisions that will impact how our campuses grow to serve the next generation of students.”

Following law school, Sholar worked for the City of Alton and was actively involved in the Weed and Seed Program, a neighborhood revitalization movement. She opened her private practice in 2004 and has served as guardian ad litem in countless cases, representing minor children who are victims of abuse and neglect. She is a member of the board of Greater Alton Community Development Corporation and is a member and former president of the Clayton and Virginia Williams Foundation. She served as secretary and president of the Alton Wood-River Bar Association and is a recipient of the 2012 Women of Distinction Award in her local community.

New leadership opens a new chapter for all of SIU, and with that, new opportunities to address the challenges in front of us. Chair Sholar stands ready to move forward with ideas for strengthening our university campuses, especially as we move beyond the state budget impasse and look to tackle issues like enrollment and consolidating operations to make the SIU System more responsive and efficient. 

Among other actions at the board’s February meeting, Trustees:

  • Adopted a 2% salary increase plan for the School of Medicine, effective March 1.
  • Appointed Karen Midden to the position of interim dean at SIUC’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
  • Approved various actions covering five different construction projects at SIUE, including the Phase I renovation of the Student Success Center and a roof replacement for the Prairie Hall student residence.

SIU Press Books Win National Prizes

Rhetorics of Whiteness

The Southern Illinois University Press, the academic and scholarly publishing unit of SIU, has a lot to celebrate.

Though SIU Press has published numerous award-winning books in the past, this winter has been especially prolific when it comes to accolades. Many scholarly societies announced annual book prize winners recently, and four SIU Press publications are being honored with five awards.

When the National Council of Teachers of English presents book awards at its annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in March, an amazing four of the seven book prizes will go to SIU Press books.

Rhetorics of Whiteness: Postracial Hauntings in Popular Culture, Social Media, and Education, edited by Tammie M. Kennedy, Joyce Irene Middleton, and Krista Ratcliffe, will win the 2018 CCCC Outstanding Book Award in the edited collection category. This timely and important book reveals how identifications with racialized whiteness continue to manifest themselves in American culture.

Xiaoye You’s Cosmopolitan English and Transliteracy will be named the 2018 CCCC Research Impact Award winner. Proposing that writing studies programs adopt a cosmopolitan perspective, this publication shows, according to the awards committee, “how English is part of a larger, complex communicative ecology where no language ever functions as a discrete, unilateral system.”

Author Eric Darnell Pritchard will receive two CCCC awards this year. His book Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy earned both the 2018 CCCC Advancement of Knowledge Award and the 2018 CCCC Lavender Rhetorics Award for Excellence in Queer Scholarship. Examining the myriad ways literacy is used to inflict harm, prompting LGBTQ people to engage in a process the author calls “restorative literacies,” this book, according to one of the selection committees, “draws on a wide range of sources . . . to examine the literacy strategies that ‘everyday’ Black queer people use to survive and thrive.” Pritchard’s book also won the 2017 Outstanding Book Award from the Conference on Community Writing.

In addition, the book Lincoln’s Sense of Humor, by renowned historian Richard Carwardine, won the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s 2018 Book Award. Complete with amusing anecdotes, this book explores the versatility, range, and sources of Lincoln’s humor and pinpoints the political risks Lincoln ran in telling jokes while the nation was engaged in a bloody struggle for existence.

As awards like these make clear, SIU Press books continue to disseminate excellent research, participate in an ongoing scholarly dialogue in many fields, and support SIU’s scholarly mission.  More information on the Press can be found here.

Date Change for the Next Connection

Please note that the next System Connection will be sent on Thursday, March 8, a day later than regularly scheduled, for a very important reason.

SIU Carbondale’s annual Day of Giving, a 24-hour online campaign of support for SIUC, takes place on March 7. Due to the logistics involved with all of the online communications going out in connection with this key fundraising effort of the SIU Foundation, the Connection e-newsletter will be moved to the following day to free up as much space as possible in the SIUC email queue.

Faces of SIU

Robin Adams

Her official position is account technician III and she’s known as the office manager for SIUC’s Center for Archaeological Investigation and its anthropology department. But, ask anybody in those areas of campus and they’ll say Robin Adams’s unofficial job title is actually “Mom.”

That’s because colleagues say she pretty much takes care of everybody and everything. She manages all of the accounts, personnel paperwork, inventory, and “whatever else needs to be done or helped with,” she agreed.

Robin is somewhat of a pioneer in holding a split position, working with two different departments, and it definitely keeps her busy. But it’s also a fulfilling career, knowing she is helping many students, faculty and staff. 

The mom role is one Robin has had plenty of practice with. She’s a devoted single mother to four children: Mandy, Sami Jo, and twins Alex and A.J. She’s also grandmother to little Gabe.

Through the years, Robin has been immersed in her children’s activities, helping however she could. That included being very active in Boy Scouts with A.J. Of course, A.J.’s twin sister, Alex, went along and participated in all of the same events, Robin said with a laugh.
 “Over the years, I have seen them all excel – be it at school, sports, or in their careers,” Robin said. “I am very blessed and proud.”

She’s also proud to be a longtime Saluki. Born in Bloomington, Robin also lived in Paxton as a child before settling in Marion, where she still resides, at the age of eight. She attended school there and completed her associate’s degree in accounting at John A. Logan College before taking classes and beginning her vocational career at SIU.

Robin is in her 25th year as an employee of the university. Initially hired at the Student Center, she has also worked with Head Start, the English department, the School of Art and Design, as well as in her current post. She appreciates the fact that SIU “has provided me the means to raise my children and allowed me to meet so many wonderful people.”

She really enjoys her work and notes that she has learned so very much from the people she’s been privileged to work with. The people and the appreciation she gets from those she works with are actually one of the things she likes most about the university. That, and being able to go to an excavation site now and then.

Getting to observe a class learning to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and seeing them then discover parts of the original Old Main building foundation was quite fascinating, Robin said. She also enjoyed watching the students identify a historical grave site in East St. Louis.

While much of her time is spent focusing on family and her work, Robin also enjoys remodeling her house and refinishing furniture when she has the time. She’s an avid hunter as well; turkey and deer are her favorite prey.

Although retirement isn’t happening in the immediate future, Robin is already thinking ahead, and said she hopes her successor gets to experience the same wonderful opportunities SIU has afforded her.

For your loyalty, devotion, and hard work on behalf of SIU, we say “Thanks, Robin.”

Other Voices in HIED

Maybe STEM Isn’t the Future After all. Soft Skills Are Coming on Strong

National Review:
Protecting Freedom of Speech Where It Matters Most, on the College Campus

Who’s Missing From America’s Colleges? Rural High School Graduates

The Hill:
Op Ed: The Prosper Act will increase spending on higher education

The Economist:
The University of Chicago puts its principles to the test

Why this economic thinks public education is mostly pointless

Chicago Tribune:
Op Ed: Fewer international students are coming to American universities. That’s a problem.