The System Connection - March 8, 2018

President's Column


For those of you who’ve looked at either the InsideHigherEd website or the electronic version of The Chronicle within the past couple of days, you probably noticed that the Higher Learning Commission (which is also SIU’s regional institution-wide accreditor) has just given its final approval to Purdue University’s acquisition of the for-profit Kaplan University – thus creating Purdue University Global, a new, public, online-only institution within the Purdue system which is set to debut within the next month.

PU-Global will have a separate six-member board of trustees, and former Kaplan president Betty Vandenbosch is slated to serve as “campus” chancellor, reporting to Purdue President Mitch Daniels. It’s been reported that the approximately 30,000 Kaplan University students will be able to complete their present programs of study with their current instructors, though the degree will now bear the name of the new brand. Daniels, a former governor of Indiana, has long been a champion of online education, having brought Western Governor’s University to Hoosier land during his tenure in the statehouse.     

I’ve written a little about this before, as it was around a year ago that Purdue announced it would acquire Kaplan for a dollar and then started referring to it provisionally as “New U.” Then, not long after that news, a follow-up announcement touted that Purdue had worked a deal with the technology firm Infosys to provide online job training to as many as 10,000 of the Indian firm’s U.S. employees.   

The big question raised by all this, of course, is how far a public university can go in extending its mission, without diluting it into meaninglessness. In the words of Georgetown University’s Martin Van Der Werf, on the staff of GU’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the question is the same “...internal argument taking place inside colleges and Universities since Day 1: Are we here for education for the sake of creating better citizens or [only] in the job of preparing people for careers?”

Uh...I’m not here to provide the definitive answer to that. But as you might expect, I’ve got some thoughts:  

  • While public universities have a strong traditional and historic mission, as tax-supported entities with a responsibility to respond to societal needs, we also are called upon at times to - using Daniels’ term – “modernize” that mission. There can be no doubt that the public, their elected representatives, and myriad policymakers are pressuring us to look beyond the typical four-year and graduate degrees in residential settings. Many institutions, for instance, have invested in satellite and other extended campus locations to serve non-residential students; as one example, just look at SIUC’s long and successful history at providing degree programs on military bases across the country. So it strikes me that a unit like Purdue University Global is not inconsistent with that sort of expansion of the traditional mission.
  • It’s no surprise that Purdue’s Kaplan acquisition led to all kinds of sturm und drang about academic quality, corporate influence, and the like – not just at Purdue, but for those of us watching developments from afar. Certainly, Purdue isn’t the first school to jump into this pond, though it’s undoubtedly made the biggest splash. Even the much-vaunted Arizona State University has worked with a for-profit provider to supply online program management. For some institutions, though, that very approach may make the most sense when there is a perceived need to dramatically expand online offerings in a compressed timeframe. It’s not an inherently bad thing, and if there is pressure to scale-up quickly, efficiently, and adeptly, such a partnership may provide the most feasible way to get that accomplished. (Too, given fiscal constraints of so many publics in some states, that may be the only way to get it accomplished.)
  • Millions of Americans have either some college credit but no degree, or no HIED credit at all. Given this population, in conjunction with the push for postsecondary credentials in an era of rising college costs, public universities are not going to escape responding to a greater emphasis on career-focused programs and workplace preparation. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spent a good part of last fall making public statements pointing to the need for more workforce training and focusing in larger ways on adult education. At the first meeting of the White House Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, the following quote was attributed to DeVos: "We need to stop forcing kids into believing a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success...We need to expand our thinking on what apprenticeships actually look like...we need to start treating students as individuals...not boxing them in." So unless we desire to turn over a large part of our future business to the community colleges, trade schools, apprenticeship programs, and proprietary institutions, online programming may provide the means to address a small share of that important market, as appropriate to our distinctive SIU campus missions.
  • Finally, I suppose, is the fact that a large swath of smaller, non-land grant public institutions – particularly those located outside of larger urban areas - are eventually going to have to make some strategic shifts that keep us sustainable. Even with the relaxing of standards that appears to be taking place under the Trump Administration,  more than a few for-profits with viable online platforms have been beaten up over the past few years and are now looking for partnerships with nonprofit schools holding strong brands. And frankly, many of us are not in a position to turn up our noses in terms of at least exploring those possibilities.

In the end, who knows where all of this will go? What I do know, though, is that we don’t have the luxury of not always investigating new approaches and bold ideas and innovative models for extending out the “SIU experience” to those who may not otherwise be drawn to it with what we are doing now. Situations can arise that we haven’t even thought of yet to extend the value proposition that is SIU, albeit maybe in different and less dramatic ways than Purdue has done. Whatever the case, we should never reflexively shut the door to high-quality online or other players (e.g., professional associations, corporate entities) who can keep us relevant while expanding opportunities for the region and state we serve.

Randy Dunn

Some Good News on the Cost Shift

Illinois Capitol

As a follow-up to the last System Connection, there is updated information on the cost shift for pensions and health care that Governor Bruce Rauner introduced in his FY19 budget proposal. As readers will remember from two weeks ago, to balance the budget, the governor proposed shifting the normal (state) cost of pension and health care benefits to Illinois’ public universities at the rate of 25% annually over the course of the next four years. While the proposed FY19 budget does include a reimbursement for the upcoming year, there is no guarantee that the bill for future cost shifts in Years 2, 3, 4, and beyond would be covered. 

That is an untenable situation because after the four-year ramp-up of the cost shift – if there was no reimbursement or offset – SIU could be on the hook for roughly $40 million in pension costs and $146 million in health care costs...a total amount that exceeds our entire state appropriation from last fiscal year! 

As was also mentioned, this is not the first time a cost shift has been suggested, so after a proposal was floated last year that would have moved over $10 billion in pension costs from the state to school districts, community colleges, and universities, one lawmaker – recognizing the massive negative impact on our public educational institutions – sponsored a resolution stating that “the proposed educational pension cost financially wrong.” Rep. David McSweeney’s resolution has now gained even greater bipartisan support in the House of Representatives since the governor’s budget address on Feb. 14. 

And with over half the members of the entire House chamber now signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution, for all intents and purposes, this latest cost shift proposal appears to be dead. (Or in a turn of phrase from the headline by Illinois political writer and blogger Rich Miller...”Deader than a rock on a stump.”)

SIU thanks the members of our systemwide legislative “delegation” who recognize the harmful effects of this idea and have signed on as co-sponsors. They include the following officials, as listed:

  • SIUC – Representatives Jerry Costello, Terri Bryant, Natalie Phelps Finnie, and Dave Severin.
  • SIUE – Representatives Jay Hoffman, Katie Stuart, LaToya Greenwood, and Monica Bristow.
  • SIUSOM – Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, Sue Scherer, and C.D. Davidsmeyer.

If you see any of these individuals at events or functions - or even in the local coffee shop or grocery store – please take a moment to tell them “thank you.” 

Having shared this information, though, it is important to be mindful that this issue likely has not gone away forever, and as the fiscal hangover of the budget impasse lingers, we need to be prepared for what next proposal may come. You can almost bet that we’ll see another cost-sharing plan at some future point – a proposal that could gain traction with the General Assembly – which will demand renewed participation on our part.

But at this time, we extend our gratitude to these House members for their leadership.

Great Schools/SI and the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools Tackle Teacher Shortage

Great Schools

The Great Schools/SI initiative, launched by the Southern Illinois University System in the fall, in partnership with the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) is pleased to announce it has received one of only three “Grow Your Own” (GYO) grants awarded by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The goal of the work, as funded by the grant, is to design a program and sustainable system to address the teacher shortage in Illinois. 

The planning grant will focus on the current and significant teacher shortage in Illinois, especially in rural and small schools. The grant will fund collaborations and partnerships to develop a GYO Consortium of interested parties to access the current teacher education program trends and barriers to successful certification. Also, the grant will allow the development of a rural educator professional series to offer specialized training and support for rural and small school teachers.

According to Dave Ardrey, AIRSS executive director, this grant acknowledges the unique need of rural and small schools. 

“We are pleased to partner with the system’s Great Schools/SI project to begin addressing the teacher shortage in rural and small schools,” Ardrey said. “These districts face unique challenges leading to difficulty in recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers.”  

In addition, the grant-funded consortium will plan to launch a rural teacher recruitment program, complete with a centralized database tracking professional development, recruitment, and employments initiatives.

As those who have followed this issue know, many local schools are nearing a crisis situation when it comes to filling teaching vacancies and finding substitutes. SIU has a role to play in doing a better job of advocating for the merits of becoming a public school teacher in Illinois and developing a support structure to retain them. This grant launches that important work.

OTT’s Tech Spotlight

Technology Transfer

The system’s Office of Technology Transfer is a shared service unit that works with faculty, students, and staff to protect and commercialize intellectual property generated from all SIU campuses: Carbondale, Edwardsville, and Springfield. From exploring the market potential of an invention to negotiating licensing agreements with industry partners, OTT strives to turn SIU innovations into global difference-makers.

On an occasional basis, Technology Transfer has begun posting videos that feature a product or process invented by our talented researchers. Each video – referred to as a “Technology Spotlight” – can be found at by looking for the OTT link under the “System Offices” drop-down menu. 

The current Spotlight describes an enhanced, compressive, image-sensing process invented at SIUC by Haibo Wang, Spyros Tragoudas, and Stefan Leitner. Their three-minute video describes an innovative technique to compress images, lowering energy consumption and data requirements, while still providing a high-quality image. The invention has direct application for cameras and other imaging devices. 

Amazing developments take place every day in the labs, studios, clinics, research centers, farms, and other venues all across SIU. We’ll try to use the Connection to let you know when new Spotlights are posted.

Jennifer Wagner Hired as SIU system Staff Attorney

Jennifer Wagner

Jennifer L. Wagner began her new role as associate general counsel in the Office of the General Counsel for the SIU system this week.

Jennifer assumed her position on Monday (March 5), working at the counsel office located on the SIUE campus. Her duties include providing advice and support to the SIU Board of Trustees and administrators as well as to the faculty, staff and administrators at SIUE. She offers assistance in a wide variety of areas, including contracts, intellectual property matters, licensing, procurement, sponsored research projects, athletics, clinic affiliations and much more. She also addresses regulatory compliance issues, Illinois Freedom of Information Act and other records requests, and advises regarding policies and procedures.

Residing in Glen Carbon, Jennifer worked for Novus International Inc. since 2005, most recently as senior counsel. Her work for the animal health and nutrition company included managing the patent and trademark estates and the company’s immigration matters, as well as serving as team leader for the company’s Technology Committee. In addition, she handled complex commercial transactions and provided legal and business advice on a diverse range of legal issues to all departments and functions globally.

She previously served as an intellectual property paralegal for the St. Louis law firm of Senniger, Powers, Leavitt and Roedel for eight years. Her work there largely involved trademark and patent matters.

Jennifer earned her law degree at the St. Louis University School of Law in 2005. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in history/political science with an emphasis in legal studies from Webster University in St. Louis and an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from St. Louis Community College.

Additional information regarding the Office of the General Counsel and its numerous duties and responsibilities is available online.

Faces of SIU

Linda Wense

Linda Wense’s connection to SIUE goes back nearly to the founding of the university. When she was hired in 1971, the university was just 14 years old and the current Edwardsville campus had opened just six years before.

There were no residence halls, no Vadalabene Center, no Alumni Hall or Founders Hall. The personnel office was in a tract house and the purchasing department was at the Wagner Complex in town.
“We registered students by pulling IBM class cards, in the days of the old mainframe,” the lifelong Granite City resident recalls. “We used typewriters and carbon paper. We sent memos and letters – no email. I like to say when I began working here I was ‘one of the students’; now I’m their grandmother!”

Linda actually was a student at SIUE and admits that one of her few regrets in life was letting her phobia of math classes stop her just short of completing a degree in speech communication. But, her love for the university and learning assured that she would be a lifelong Cougar.

Her career at SIUE began in the School of Business when it was located on the second floor of the University Center, now known as the Morris University Center. Her second week on the job, she was rear-ended by another vehicle as she was leaving work for the day. She recalls that the other driver was very concerned about making sure she was okay, even calling a couple of times to check on her afterward and offering to do whatever he could to help. In talking with co-workers, she learned the “kind, gentle man” who hit her was Jim Metcalf, SIUE’s budget director and the father of actress Laurie Metcalf, who played Roseanne Barr’s sister in the sitcom.

“Years later, my boss, the director of the University Center, reported to Jim and we had a few laughs about my immaturity and naiveté. Jim thought I was going to have him cuffed and taken away for that minor accident. He was such a kind man. SIU’s Metcalf Theater, which didn’t exist then, is named for him,” Linda said.

Linda is currently business manager I in the information technology services office, but during her storied SIU career she has also worked in numerous other posts, including the off-campus MBA program offered at Air Force bases around the country and at Lajes AFB in the Portuguese Azores.

“We were an official TWA ticket agent, and I wrote the airline tickets for our faculty who traveled in the program,” Linda said.

She also served as secretary to the director of the University Center, which administered the Mississippi River Festival, and was later housing office supervisor. She subsequently returned to the business school as office supervisor of the computing lab and then became part of the Academic Computing Department before working for Library and Information Services. She briefly retired in 2001 but jumped at the chance to return to her position working three days each week.

Although she’d love to make it to 50 years, she’s not sure she’ll be able to pull that off. But, she also chuckles that when she talks of quitting, her husband replies, “Honey, you may quit at 92, no matter what.”

“What a sweetheart,” she said. “That’s why I keep that guy around.”

In truth, commitment is evidently Linda’s middle name. She and husband Jesse, who retired after nearly 30 years with the Veterans’ Administration in 2011, have been married 49 years.

The family commitment to SIU has extended to the next generation of her family as well, as she’s proud to tell you. Linda’s son, Christopher, works at SIUE’s National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center while attending SIUC through Scott Air Force Base. Linda enjoys spending time with her husband, son and other family members, as well as reading and watching movies.

Although she didn’t pursue one childhood ambition – to be a country singer (and she decided eight years of accordion lessons was enough) – her other goal was to be a secretary and a mother. She surpassed that goal in life and at SIUE. When she started in an entry level secretarial position nearly half a century ago “everything was new and exciting” and she was thrilled to get a 10 percent raise at the end of her first year. She said she’s fortunate to have had numerous promotion opportunities since then.

Colleagues note that she keeps things running smoothly for SIUE’s information technology in many ways, besides supplying tasty Texas cakes and keeping her shared office candy dish stocked with bubble gum and banana Laffy Taffy. Linda said she likes to think that she serves as a good resource due to her longevity on campus, and she’s glad to help because she truly cares. She loves the campus environment and the people she works with, noting that everyone is “pleasant, helpful and kind.”

“I am blessed to work for and with a terrific, knowledgeable group of people. I enjoy coming to work each day – truly blessed,” Linda said.

SIU is thankful and blessed to have you as well, Linda, and we appreciate your dedication and all you do.

Other Voices in HIED

The Washington Post:
Supreme Court decision on ‘dreamers’ puts pressure back on Congress to act

DACA’s March 5 ‘deadline’ marks only inaction