CARBONDALE -- New SIU President Randy Dunn was given a hearty welcome by the SIU Marching Band on Thursday as he walked through the doors of the Student Services building for his first day on the job.
The festive greeting was more a welcome home for the former SIU associate professor and department chairman.
Dunn said it was a tough decision to leave the presidency at Youngstown State, but he couldn't pass up what he calls his "dream job."
"I really am excited to be back at SIU, in Carbondale, becoming once again a part of this campus," Dunn said.
Dunn hasn't unpacked the boxes in his office at the Stone Center, but already there are many issues on his desk, including a possible fee increase to be decided at next week's Board of Trustees meeting.
"It's hard to take a public university presidency and not get thrown into it," Dunn said. "That's just the nature of the beast."
The climate of higher education has changed since Dunn left SIU in 2004 to move on to presidencies at Murray State and, later, Youngstown State, but he said the university can adjust to the climate of budget cuts.
"The new normal is here," Dunn said. "The great old days aren't coming back in public higher education. We're going to have to figure out how to be more nimble, responsible, maneuver better, set clearer priorities, and make sure we're streamlined in our operations."
Even in the face of budget cuts, Dunn's vision of SIU is an engine that can power the entire region.
"We're a huge powerful engine that has great capacity and we're going to use that to lift the region that we're here to serve," Dunn said.
For that to happen, Dunn said the university needs to have discussions with surrounding communities.
"I have a firm belief that the best universities in the country are those aligned and linked with their regions intricately, intimately and integrally," Dunn said.
One of the first and biggest challenges Dunn will face is one that will take place off campus. Dunn said he will be an advocate in Springfield for an extension of the state income tax increase.
"It is critical for SIU and all public institutions for this to go forward or the face of our great state universities is going to change drastically," Dunn said.
Back on campus, Dunn said he believes SIU wants to hold on to the traditional values that define the university, but he thinks there is an atmosphere open to change on campus.
"I think there's a desire to have a new chapter that begins with me starting as president," Dunn said. "I think there's a benefit that comes as presidents change to having a new set of eyes on the situation, different experiences that can be brought to bear for dealing with some of the challenges we have, and I do think there's a desire for me to come in with a clean slate and take on some of that work."
On a day that started at 6:15 a.m. and lasted into the evening hours, Dunn took time to talk with students.
Junior Geno Mascio said more parking spots and faculty shortages are among the biggest issues facing students, but his advice for Dunn is to keep talking with students.
"Keep doing what you're doing -- asking the students," Mascio said. "That's how you're going to find out what's good and what's bad -- (from) people who are here every day."