CARBONDALE — The new chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees has a few things in his past that help put his current assignment in perspective.
Joining the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam, taking command of the Illinois National Guard, handing the folded American flag of a fallen soldier to her 6-year-old son — given that background, charting a course for a university is a decidedly lower-key task. However, it presents its own unique brand of challenge, and retired Major Gen. Randal E. Thomas says he’s ready for the job.
Taking over the leadership of a governing body that’s spent much of the year in chaos, Thomas said he’s not there to hash out what has happened; he’s there to move forward.
“I don’t care what kind of foolishness gets brought up at the board meetings,” he said. “If it’s foolishness, I’ll deal with it as foolishness.”
Which is to say he won’t deal with it much at all.
“You can change an argument just by force of will, by positive energy,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what kind of changes are going to come, but they are going to positive.”
Thomas, an SIU Edwardsville graduate and native of Glen Carbon, was appointed to the board earlier this year by Gov. Pat Quinn, part of a second round of appointees the governor had to make after his initial slate was rejected by the Illinois Senate.
He carries with him the experience of being the state’s 36th Adjutant General, from 2003 to 2007, preceding Bill Enyart, who himself left the post after being elected as a congressman for the 12th District last year. He also has 30 years under his belt as an educator, having been an English teacher and librarian at Hillsboro High School.
Thomas earned a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College in 2000. While strategy on the battlefield may be different than the strategy of setting policy for SIU, Thomas said he intends to help the university chart a course that attain success for students on both the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses.
“I’ve always been an open, honest leader. I have no agenda,” he said.
Thomas also says he has no interested in being a manager at any level of the university system.
“Boards are not involved in management,” he said. “We hire managers.”
With all that in mind, Thomas said his main goals involve getting all leaders at the university working toward a common set of goals for the future of SIU.
Thomas is serving a six year term on the board. The group’s next meeting is set for July 11 at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.
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