Jeff “J.S.” Elwell, the first of four finalists for the Southern Illinois University’s chancellor position, spoke in front of a full room at Guyon Auditorium inside Morris Library Tuesday.
As a graduate of SIU, he said he’s familiar with the area and has the experience to do the job at hand. He focused the first 20 minutes of his open forum explaining how he has managed and made preparations for reductions at other universities.
Elwell is currently a professor of theater and speech in addition to serving as dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, since 2012. Previously, he was provost and special assistant to the chancellor for strategic initiatives at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama, founding dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at East Carolina University in North Carolina, chairman of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Nebraska, chairman of the Department of Theatre at Marshall University in West Virginia, and director of theater at Mississippi State University.
“My leadership has been more proactive than reactive,” he said Tuesday.
In his current position in Chattanooga, he said he felt the university was abusing adjunct professors because salaries hadn’t been raised in 20 years. He said this past year there was a 20-percent increase under his watch. Additionally, he felt the same about lecturers and non-tenure-track employees and their salaries were raised between 7 and 14 percent.
“They are the backbone to what we are trying to accomplish,” he said.
Elwell talked about how he approaches financial hardships, and shared some of his results from the past. He said there is an “economic tsunami” affecting higher education and SIU is right at the top of it.
“I would rather surf the wave even though it’s frightening, and shape a path and change the course, and be in control, than to be hit by the wave and deal with the aftermath,” he said.
In 1996, he said he took over the theatre and dance program at Marshall University. He reported the department was overspending its budget by 40 percent and within two years, he solved that problem.
“I’m extremely good with numbers and figuring out how to make things work and convincing people to go along with me,” Elwell said.
While at Nebraska, there was a call for a 2-percent budget cut, which equated to $10 million at the time. He said he worked through the issue with compromise. Next, he said when hired at East Carolina University, he immediately began to stockpile funds because he knew a cut would be called for eventually. Sure enough, he said in 2009, there was a call for a 9-percent in permanent cuts.
The next open forum will feature George Hynd, president of Oakland University in Michigan at 8:45 a.m., on Wednesday, April 19 in the same auditorium.
Current interim chancellor Brad Colwell will face an audience on Tuesday, April 25 and Carl Pinkert, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will be available on Thursday, April 27.