The System Connection - November 15, 2017

President's Column


As a reminder to regular readers, this is the second of a two-part column.

In this space last time, I gave some extreme examples of disruptive events we're watching play out in real time across the higher education sector. Considering those in light of the reorganization proposal being examined on the Carbondale campus, as I had previewed two weeks ago, I'm now prompted to share some personal ideas about large-scale organizational change informed by my own background and experience. To the extent any of this helps inform critical decisions that will need to be made at SIUC over the coming weeks, maybe there is some value beyond just providing column filler!  

As I'd alluded to in the column before, the thoughts below represent values that I believe can't be overlooked – or avoided – whenever transformation of the magnitude envisioned for SIU Carbondale is proposed. Please know that none of what I say here should be viewed as taking a position or rendering judgment on the campus proposal, either collectively or in its component parts. At this juncture, with Chancellor Montemagno's release this week of a revised reorg structure following the general review-and-comment period, the various shared governance and local/state regulatory processes will now play out accordingly and serve to refine the plan.  

In the meantime, then, here's some of what I believe about how big change operates:  

  • Public universities by their very nature are democratic institutions. For the coalescing of public opinion to finally take place around certain decisions in a democratic setting – so that choices can be made – there first must be a sufficient number of people within the organization who believe they have arrived at a critical inflection point where those decisions become necessary.

My faculty colleague in SIUC's College of Education and Human Services, Jerry Becker, likes to describe this phenomenon as the "burning platform" (a phrase also used in this month's Harvard Business Review, by the way). More directly put: If you're standing on a platform, and it's burning, you gain an immediate sense of urgency. It's essential for many people to feel the same way for most meaningful organizational change to occur. 

The natural state of large organizations is one of stasis...inertia...if not entropy, which mature structures are almost preternaturally prone toward. For Carbondale to successfully undertake and implement the major structural, relational, and operational changes proposed, there must be widespread agreement that the severity of the challenges facing the campus (e.g., loss of state support, declining enrollment, need for program updating) warrant a commensurate response as provided by the reorganization plan.

  • Major organizational change is usually best accomplished in pretty rapid fashion. It can't be dragged out. Without a doubt, that's a competing value to the time needed to carry out an appropriate level of democratic involvement to guide decision making (see bullet above). Nonetheless, it is not inherently bad for big and bold change to be fast change.

I know that in SIUC's case, the chancellor wants to move with all dispatch on the reorganization to stanch the precipitous loss of enrollment which Carbondale has suffered. But even if you set aside that important consideration (and I don't), too much time can become an enemy. Early enthusiasm lags. Arguments mount up as those in opposition to any change become better organized themselves, and pull along others who may be sitting on the sidelines. Administrative unit leaders' focus drifts in the face of ongoing daily responsibilities which can't be put aside just because of the new project; the normal workings of the organization don't go on hold for the sake of the change effort.

Accelerating major change in an organization seems counterintuitive...but it's not always.     

  • While almost everyone says they're not against change, in their heart of hearts, few people really enjoy it. Human nature, for good reason, has made us creatures of habit and routine. Change disrupts that, sometimes in profound ways. 

Though necessary in a shifting environment – and particularly so in SIUC's case – there are few other institutional practices than a reorganization effort which create more anxiety and distress among employees, or do more to distract from the work we constantly have in front of us. As a result, turnaround projects can become expensive in terms of everyone's time and attention...soaking up whatever "organizational oxygen" is left as they proceed. 

As such, reorganization is often viewed as some black box containing a mysterious, intractable process. But it doesn't have to work that way. If the process can be de-mystified, and process planning is well-explained, a good reorganization can unlock what Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Haywood – writing in their book, ReOrgHow to Get It Right – refer to as an institution's "latent value" in responding to massive change. Whatever process path may be taken to some better end...the one chosen has to be clear to all. 

  • So yes, while we all have a need to know the processes of any reorganization for it to work, or the how by which change will take place, just as important is to agree upon the what that is going to change...especially that what which will change first. The question thus becomes one of priorities.

There is tremendous discussion on the Carbondale campus right now about both the significance of academic departments and the role of the department chair. Again, it is not my intention to stake out a position in this particular debate.

Rather, in the end, deliberations on that point (and all others) must center around how crucial that question is to creating true transformation of the organization. Does it and other changes proposed draw out that latent value mentioned above, bringing it to the forefront of what is necessary to reinvent the organization?  If so, then it's worth fighting over. However, if too many organizational priorities are fighting for attention in the process of restructuring, then you get what organizational researchers refer to as a "transformational jam." If the University community can come into alignment and reconciliation on the question – “What matters most in this reorganization?” = then those shared priorities will build a level of involvement and support that makes it hard to fail.  

I could go on, but I know I've pushed my luck on the length of this thing. (In fact, I regrettably cut out an entire section on how much change the typical organization can handle at one sitting...). As with a number of topics, I've got a favorite quote when it comes to change. It's attributed to General Eric Shinseki, a four-star who also served as the US Secretary of Veterans Affairs during the Obama Administration. The quote probably makes sense for ALL of us in the public higher education space at this point in time: "If you dislike're going to dislike irrelevance even more."  

I look forward as many more conversations and opportunities for dialogue around change at SIUC specifically – and across SIU generally – continue to unfold.

Randy Dunn

Tax code reform legislation proposed

Legislators are immersed in discussions about revising the nation’s tax code and bills were introduced recently in both the U.S. House and Senate. Both pieces of legislation could have profound impacts on higher education and SIU.

The House’s Tax Cut and Jobs Act, in its current form, eliminates or consolidates a variety of tax credits now in place to help graduate and undergraduate students earn their degrees. For instance, graduate assistants typically receive a nominal salary for their work at a university as well as a tuition waiver. Under the House plan, they would be taxed not only on their salary but also on the value of the tuition waiver. The same would be true of any university employee who receives a tuition reduction or waiver, as well as any of their dependents.

The tax plan would also eliminate the student loan interest deduction that currently allows students to deduct up to $2,500 in interest annually and it would axe the Lifetime Learning Credit. Moreover, it removes the ability of private sector companies to provide tax-free tuition reimbursement for employees of up to $5,250 each per year, something that has enabled companies to grow their workforce competency in partnership with institutions of higher learning.

In addition, by expanding the standard deduction, it will likely reduce the number of taxpayers who will itemize significantly, which is expected to negatively impact charitable giving, which universities and colleges heavily rely on. A provision would cap the state and local income tax deduction as well, possibly making it more difficult for states to maintain or generate higher education support.

Another piece that’s often overlooked in the reform plan is the elimination of the federal tax exemption for interest earned on municipal bonds, which educational institutions rely heavily on for important construction projects. Taxing the interest will increase the cost of borrowing for public projects and may prevent many important projects from happening at all. In addition, since many of the bonds are financed for a long term, advance refunding is a tool used to lower borrowing costs but the legislation would prohibit this, thereby increasing costs and limiting the flexibility of municipal bond issuers. However, it appears the House and Senate may have come to an agreement to save the tax-exempt municipals.

The Senate subsequently introduced its own plan to overhaul the tax code. While there are a number of similarities between the two versions there are definite differences as well. The Senate bill keeps intact current tax breaks on tuition waivers and student-loan interest as well as the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, the employer-paid tuition, the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit and the tax exemption on municipal bonds.  

However, the Senate version’s provisions echo the house version with regard to reducing the number of people who can itemize charitable contributions and it would repeal of the federal deduction for state and local taxes. It also adds new taxes on business activities not related to a university’s core academic mission, such as facility rentals and summer sports campus for children, and it would treat royalty income from licensing of a college logo as unrelated business income.

SIU is working primarily through the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, a research, policy and advocacy organization, of which we are a member, to continue shaping the various tax proposals. As we’re finalizing this edition of the System Connection, a number of SIU leaders are meeting with legislators in Washington, D.C., to make sure they’re aware of the significant implications the proposed pieces of legislation could have on the SIU system and its students. As legislators work toward tax reform, we will be following developments closely and continuing to encourage our elected officials to act wisely on behalf of their constituents, including SIU and its students.

Illinois Board of Higher Education Announces Executive Director

Al Bowman

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) on Nov. 1 announced the appointment of Dr. Al Bowman to serve as executive director of the IBHE. Bowman is currently president emeritus of Illinois State University, where he served as its 17th President from 2003 until 2013.

“The Board is pleased Dr. Bowman has accepted our request that he take the helm of the IBHE at this time,” Tom Cross, IBHE chair, said in announcing the appointment. “He is an exemplary role model of a college-educated Illinoisan, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree from Eastern Illinois University, and an undergraduate degree from Augustana College. His entire career in higher education has been carried out in Illinois, starting in 1978 as a member of the faculty at ISU.”

The IBHE Board is currently engaged in a strategic process updating the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success, and Bowman is being asked to lead the stakeholder engagement activities over the next several months resulting in an updated plan looking forward from 2018. The new director has a one-year appointment. Recent higher education (HIED) reform discussions emerging in Springfield have speculated on the possibility of combining two or three of the existing state agencies overseeing post-secondary education - IBHE, the Illinois Community College Board, and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission – thought no legislation toward that end has been introduced.

GS/SI Goes to Washington

Randy Dunn and Nate Lane

The Great Schools/SI project – an SIU System initiative announced last month to support K-12 schools and districts throughout the Metro East and Southern Illinois areas – is working with Congressman Mike Bost to advance and support a legislative proposal of Bost's to address the national shortage of teachers, specifically in rural areas.  

The proposal has yet to be introduced in bill form as the language remains in negotiation but it's hoped that it can be advanced later this spring in a House committee.  

The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools has been the latest statewide organization to document severe teacher shortages in various fields throughout the Prairie State. Congressman Bost's office is especially interested in programs with SIU at both the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses to increase the number of teachers in agriculture and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.  

Legislative Aide Nate Lane from Bost's Washington office has been assigned to coordinate with SIU on this project. 

(Pictured is President Dunn with Nate Lane in Mike Bost's Washington, D.C., office.)

Faces of SIU

John Klingensmith

Heart disease causes one in four deaths in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If Jon Klingensmith has anything to say about it, those statistics may improve.

He is leading a team of SIUE researchers working to create a more accessible and cost-effective tool for detecting potential cardiac issues. The goal is to enable medical professionals to better affordably monitor and diagnose some heart conditions, possibly saving lives.

Jon, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, along with other faculty and graduate and undergraduate students, is using a grant from the American Heart Association to develop an ultrasound-based system to image and measure the fat layer around the heart and merge the data with a 3D magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) model to provide accurate patient cardiac data at a fraction of the cost of the tests now typically performed. The impact could be profound, helping people better manage cardiac conditions, especially those caused by excessive fat around the heart, which is linked to the development of cardiovascular disease.

Jon is also collaborating with the Cleveland Clinic foundation to create an imaging system to help anesthesiologists administer nerve blocks for surgical procedures precisely where they want to with regard to blood vessels and nerves.

In addition to teaching classes, Jon strives to heavily involve students in his research work, giving them critical practical experience.

“I feel I can bring a real-world perspective on engineering and product development to the students at SIUE and help mentor them, both in the classroom and in research projects,” he said.

Jon said the research work he’s doing with his colleagues and students not only gives them the chance to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of people, but the projects offer Jon the opportunity to do what he likes best – work more closely with students.

“Even though I’m an introverted engineer, I do enjoy teaching in a classroom environment,” Jon said. “However, I really enjoy the more individual interactions with my research students on our projects.”

A relative newcomer to the SIUE faculty, Jon began teaching part-time at the university in 2012, becoming a full-time instructor three years later and an assistant professor just over a year ago. He said the campus and a community are a good fit for him.

“I think SIUE has a great balance of size and opportunity, while maintaining more of a small-school feel and an intimate, centralized campus in a beautiful setting,” Jon said.

A native of Canal Fulton, a small town in northeast Ohio, Jon earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Ohio Northern University. It was there that he met his wife of 19 years, Emily, when she was completing her bachelor’s degree in musical theater.

Jon went on to earn his master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University and his doctorate in biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, all the while doing research work in the Cleveland Clinic Foundation lab. He then spent a year as a junior faculty member there before taking a position with Volcano Therapeutics in northern California. After eight years on the west coast, the Klingensmith family was ready to return to the Midwest though, as Emily is also a native, growing up in Mt. Vernon. Jon added a master’s degree in teaching from SIUE to his credit and taught high school for a year while serving as a part-time Cougars faculty member.

Emily also holds a master’s degree in acting from Case Western Reserve University and “enjoys all things creative,” Jon said. Their family includes children Luci, 11, and Lance, 9. Both are active on robotics teams and Lance enjoys Cub Scouts and video games. Following in her artistic mother’s footsteps, Luci adores dance classes and participating in theater projects. Jon and Emily stay busy with their children’s school and community activities and spending time together as a family. Jon enjoys biking and running in his scarce free time.

Jon’s childhood dream was to become a professional baseball player or a doctor. While his goals changed, we’re fortunate that he discovered another way to improve people’s lives and health while also instructing and guiding SIUE students. We appreciate you and what you do, Jon.

Other Voices in HIED

The New York Times:
Six Myths About Choosing a College Major
The Conversation:
Academic journal publishing is headed for a day of reckoning
The Washington Post:
Do Americans support free speech on college campuses? Absolutely. Except sometimes.
Crain’s Chicago Business:
Here’s one thing wrong with the House tax plan
Associated Press
Most student loan fraud claims involve for-profits