CARBONDALE -- Even as members of Southern Illinois University’s Board of Trustees voted Thursday to approve a number of spending measures to keep the university moving forward, President Randy Dunn cautioned state funding is more tenuous than ever.
In fact, he said, chatter is growing louder in Springfield that public colleges and universities may never receive fiscal year 2016 funding. Lawmakers would choose instead to skip the appropriation.
“Obviously, that would be disastrous,” Dunn said, noting that SIU will “limp through” to the end of the fiscal year either way.
Beyond that, though, Dunn had more questions than answers about the impact of a full year without state funding.
“If we don’t see any appropriation for this year, where does the money then come from to … get all of these things paid back and get vendors caught up?” he wondered. “So that’s our big worry there.”
Dunn told trustees, who had gathered at the Student Center for their regularly scheduled December board meeting, that administrators would “redouble efforts and make some noise” to lobby against that move.
Trustees also drafted a resolution calling for state lawmakers to fund higher education as soon as possible.
Amidst state-funding uncertainty, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell on Wednesday called for a possible 3 percent increase in tuition for incoming students next fall.
The move, if enacted by the board this spring, would result in a $264 per year increase, from $8,835 a year to $9,099 per year.
Colwell recommended keeping student fees at their current pricing, noting that the fees have grown high in comparison to competitor universities.
On Thursday, the board’s most contentious act was a vote to change reporting lines for the SIU system’s four professional schools – The SIU School of Medicine, the School of Law, the SIU Edwardsville School of Pharmacy and the SIU School of Dental Medicine. The schools are variously housed in Carbondale, Edwardsville and Springfield.
The move will further involve top university officials, including Dunn and campus chancellors, in decision-making at the schools. Historically, most decisions have been made at the provost or chancellor level.
“The president cannot escape involvement in a large number of major functional aspects of the school, whether it’s a $100 million business enterprise we call SIU Healthcare, whether it’s state and federal regulatory requirements, whether it’s budgeting purposes,” Dunn said, speaking specifically about the School of Medicine.
“I am a believer that when reality exists in the way it does here, you should have policy that’s reflective of the reality,” he added.
Trustees approved the measure in a 6-1 vote, with Shirley Portwood voting no. Trustee Roger Herrin did not attend the meeting, and Board chairman Randal Thomas voted via conference call.
In a statement read mid-vote, Portwood cited two internal studies authored by university officials, both of which recommended against the move.
“It is not clear from reading the various studies that have been conducted what problems will be solved by the change in reporting lines, nor does it indicate how it improves the university as a whole, as an educational institution, nor does it address the possible unintended consequences,” she said.
Faculty Senate President Andrea Imre also spoke out against the move, noting that university officials thus far have failed to outline how the new policy will work in practice. Concerns also linger, they said, about how the change will impact the school’s Carnegie and Higher Learning Commission accreditation.
Dunn said ground-level policy details will be developed in time, and there’s no indication the move would impact accreditation.
At Thursday’s meeting, the board also voted unanimously to:
• Award at the May 14 commencement a number of honorary degrees and distinguished service awards, including an honorary degree to former Chancellor Donald Beggs.
• Award a five-year, $16 million contract to Knight Hawk Coal for coal, coal- and ash-hauling services, and ash-disposal services. The Percy-based company was the only one to bid on the contract.
• Renew the university’s purchase of D2L Learning Environment Services, a learning-management system used by students and instructors to track grades and share information. The seven-year contract costs $2.75 million.
SIU’s Board of Trustees will hold its next meeting on March 24 in Edwardsville.