Editorial— Total Eclipse: SIU Is in the Dark
SIU is a magical place, but not always in the best ways. Time and again it’s proven the validity and viability of the oft-scorned science of alchemy— except instead of transforming lead into gold, the institution has found numerous ways to spin gold into dung. Here’s the latest potential example.
A total eclipse of the sun will appear over the Carbondale area on Monday, August 21, 2017, starting at 11:52 a.m. and ending at 2:47 p.m. The eclipse will reach totality about 1:21 p.m.
City and local-tourism officials expect the event to draw between fifty- and eighty-thousand spectators, maybe more. Hotel space will be completely booked in Southern Illinois that day, and probably during the previous weekend when eclipse-chasers begin flooding into town.
It’s gold, right? Tens of thousands of visitors are coming into the city to see a major astronomical event, and while they’re here they’ll definitely buy meals and souvenirs, stay in hotels, enjoy our incredible nightlife (a little extra of which will transpire during the noon hour!), and hopefully get a chance to see the campus and all the legitimately great programs that SIU has to offer. It will serve as an incredible way to recruit new SIU students. It’s an economic and public-relations bonanza that no city or university could buy with any amount of money.
So how can SIU show its special talent for transmogrification?
Fall-semester classes will also begin on Monday, August 21. Students will start to arrive and move in during the previous weekend, when the eclipse-chasers also hit town.
SIU students arriving with their families always have a difficult time booking accommodations during move-in week. Hotels fill from Marion to Murphysboro and beyond. Families have ended up staying as far away as Mount Vernon. It will be far worse if the eclipse coincides with the first day of classes. Those who don’t already have reservations might not get them. There will be no room in the inn.
Unless its intention is to turn a bonanza into a disaster, the university must adjust the date when fall 2017 classes begin. The smart move is to change the first day of classes to Monday, August 14. Moving classes to August 28 will deprive SIU students of the chance to watch the moon swallow up the sun. But an August 14 start day will give SIU students a chance to witness a rare total eclipse of the sun and free up the region’s hotel space for eclipse-chasers.
Keeping the start date for classes at August 21, however, will screw everyone. The chaos will prove difficult to manage. Individually, move-in weekend and the eclipse would push the capacity of the region’s hospitality industry to its limits. When both come simultaneously, they will overwhelm it, and not in desirable ways. Too many incoming families will not have places to stay when dropping off their sons and daughters at SIU. Everyone— students, parents, and tourists— will not leave impressed by an intelligent, vibrant community. Instead, they will feel irritated at the university and city’s terrible preparations, for which they had years to plan. It will give new and returning SIU students rotten attitudes at the beginning of the semester, turn perspective students off to the university, make SIU and Carbondale look bad to tourists, and just plain ruin the eclipse experience for everyone.
Here’s where SIU system president Randy Dunn and interim chancellor Brad Colwell need to show some leadership and wisdom, pull rank, and set the only date for the beginning of the fall 2017 semester that makes sense. Should SIU administrators resist a change in the start date for fall 2017, the university’s Board of Trustees quickly needs to intervene and force matters.
Time’s a-wasting, and the one thing SIU can’t reschedule is the eclipse and all the attention it will bring to the city and university. What it can do is plan to ensure that the attention we receive is, for a change, positive.
Southern Illinois becomes the epicenter of another total eclipse on April 8, 2024. This region will parlay the events of August 21, 2017 into that future date. A successful first eclipse experience will beget an even bigger and potentially better one in seven years.
Willfully spoiling the 2017 eclipse through pig-headed, passive-aggressive, plain-stupid class scheduling, while it wouldn’t be totally out of character for SIU— there’s plenty of historical precedents to serve as models— has the potential to ruin not just one but two incredible opportunities for SIU and Carbondale to show themselves off to the world.