It was a small gesture, but today I wore all maroon, thinking of my friends, faculty, and former academic community at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. The faculty and administration still appear to be unable to reach an agreement that would return the faculty to the classroom. Following the strike on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the frustrations of all involved are already incredibly large. Students aren’t receiving instruction. Graduate teaching assistants are being asked to ‘substitute teach’ for the professors who are on the picket line. Rumors circulate that qualified ‘substitutes’ will be flying in next week to teach the students.
In short– what a mess.
I was introduced to Shaheen A. Shorish via the share function on Facebook. A dear faculty member I studied with had met Shaheen on the first day of the strike. Her testimony to the SIU administration and for quality education at SIUC was moving and inspiring. I asked if I could share her thoughts with you and she graciously agreed.
Student Veteran at SIUC Demands Leadership
November 2, 2011
Dear Chancellor Cheng,
I am a service-connected disabled veteran of the Navy. I was involved in the Gulf War and Operation Provide Promise, one of the largest humanitarian airlifts in history. Those experiences taught me well, especially about leadership, which I now find lacking with your administration.
As a veteran with educational benefits earned from my service, I could choose any state university in Illinois. I could also have chosen The Art Institute or University of Phoenix, both for-profit institutions that market heavily to veterans. However, AI is currently being sued for $11 billion for fraud by the US government, and the University of Phoenix settled a fraud whistle-blower case for $78 million in 2009. These cases dealt with profiting from government funds in creating degree mills. Clearly, these were not institutions that respected veterans, and were in fact all about the dollars, not about the students.
I instead chose SIUC. The program I was interested in initially, Cinema, came with a respectable reputation for excellence. I am now a triple major (Cinema, Philosophy Pre-Law, and General Studio in Art and Design, with a minor in Art History) and in the Honor’s Program. I chose this academic track due to the amazing display of knowledge and leadership shown by SIUC’s professors.
This brings me back to leadership. As Chancellor, it is your duty to ultimately serve the University’s interests. The University’s interests are to serve the students. The students are best served by having quality faculty. I think most would agree that the reputation of a University rests upon the shoulders of their professors. One in the military might say that the University has a mission objective: to educate, and educate well. All other mission objectives are used to support the primary objective.
During the Gulf War, we called one of the factors that ensure mission success “command climate.” Given that four unions on your watch have agreed to a strike, I would say that you have a toxic command climate as a result of a failure to lead. Your inability to maintain unit cohesion in the face of adversity, your inability to create trust in command, your inability to foster an overall communication between “Officer Leadership” (administration) and “Immediate Leadership” (faculty and staff) are outward signs of your lack of skills in negotiating. You offer excuses to justify the situation you are currently in.
In the military, we have an expression: “Excuses are the tools that built the house of failure.” What you have here is a failure to communicate, and you should be offering solutions instead of excuses. Snarky emails and messages on your Chancellor webpage about how the unions are behaving instead point to your inability to contain the situation, not to anything else. I challenge you to ask any veteran what happened to them when they gave excuses either in Basic Training or during a military operation. Why should your excuses pass review when your own veteran students would never tolerate such lax standards?
Every veteran on your campus is here because SIUC has prided itself both in academic excellence and in creating a welcoming environment for those returning from war. This means that every veteran on your campus desires that a degree from SIUC hold merit, to be competitive in the job market, and to be worth the government funds SIUC reaps from our service defending this country.
We all arrived at SIUC with the expectation that the professors with whom we register for classes would be the professors we actually get. Your statements, and the statement from university spokesman Rod Sievers, “We think we can fill the classrooms with qualified instructors in almost every case,” informs us veterans that our professors are wholly replaceable, and therefore your university does not stand on its own merits of accomplished professionals in specific fields of study, but is in fact a degree mill.
This brings me to fraud. I enrolled as a student in SIUC due to the curriculum and the quality of the professors upon which the reputation of this university rests. When you and Mr. Sievers make statements that say your entire faculty are nothing but widgets, then I begin to think I have been lied to by your recruitment literature. If replacement is so easy, what then could make SIUC any different from any other university? Or is SIUC just after my government benefits after all? Like University of Phoenix? Like The Art Institute?
If you allow a strike to happen on your watch, I will rightfully assume the scabs you permit to teach my classes will not have any knowledge about where we are in our class work, and I will hardly waste taxpayer money to teach the teacher in catching up. I have a degree to attain; I am not here to waste my precious class time in educating someone who does not even know my name, much less the material.
Fraud. Failure to lead. As a veteran, I am insulted. My benefits have a time limit, as is the case with every veteran here. How dare you waste our hard-fought benefits by incompetency and mismanagement. We have come from battlegrounds and war zones. We know leadership but have also seen incompetence, usually at the cost of someone’s life. We survived horrors just to get here. And now we are faced with unprofessionalism and incompetence from the highest point in leadership.
You need to rectify this situation. You need to create a healthy command climate. Your mission objective has been compromised. Abide by your duty.
Shaheen A. Shorish
ATAN,Plane Captain: CH-53e
Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4
Junior at SIUC
Minority Filmmaker Award Recipient
Navy Unit Commendation,
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
National Defense Service Medal
Southwest Asia Service Medal with 1 Campaign star
Armed Forces Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal
Sea Service Ribbon
Liberation of Kuwait Medal (Kuwait)
Certificate of Completion for Avionics Technician Course, A1, NATTC Millington, TN.
Certificate of Commendation for Outstanding Performance on Physical Readiness Test.
Certificate of Recognition for Cold War Service
For more information concerning the strike, you may want to consider these sources.
SIU Official Site
Occupy SIU Blog
@OccupySIUCTeam on Twitter
Facebook page protesting student censoring