If Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, the city of Carbondale and the people of deep Southern Illinois consider Wednesday’s SIU Board of Trustees vote a victory, they are making a grave mistake.
The Board of Trustees voted on a proposal that would have allocated an additional $5.1 million of the SIU system’s state appropriation to SIU Edwardsville.
A couple of facts served as impetus for this proposal. The most obvious is the seismic shift in enrollment over the past decade. For most of SIU Edwardsville’s existence, it has been the smaller sibling. That is no longer the case. Enrollment at the two campuses is nearly identical. In fact, projections indicate SIU Edwardsville may actually surpass Carbondale this fall.
Second, historically the two schools have split the state appropriation 60-40, with the larger piece of the pie going to Carbondale. SIU president Randy Dunn said earlier this week the gap has actually grown to 63-37 in Carbondale’s favor.
Granted, this is a complicated issue. However, based on those two facts alone it seems clear that “the times, they are a-changing.” From the outside looking in, it seems obvious that the funding shift will occur sooner rather than later.
Dunn is in the process of hiring a consulting firm that will determine an equitable formula for divvying up the state funds. We applaud that action. He told the newspaper earlier this week that enrollment will probably make up at least 51 percent of that formula ... another indication that Thursday’s vote was not a victory for SIU Carbondale, but rather a reprieve.
This is an issue that is not going to disappear. In fact, shortly after the vote not to shift the funds, state Rep. Jay Hoffmann of Swansea filed legislation that would separate the two campuses.
That notion is both premature and ill-considered.
The SIU System is currently made up of about 30,000 students. Between the two campuses the university system boasts a law school and a medical school (based at SIU Carbondale), as well as pharmacy and dental schools (based at SIU Edwardsville).
If the state of Illinois doesn’t get its financial house in order, or if there is another budget crisis, that university system carries considerable financial clout. Separating the two systems might seem beneficial to Edwardsville in the short term, but in the long term it figures to weaken the political standing of both entities.
It is important to note that SIU Edwardsville reached this point as part of the system. Obviously, it has been working.
Conversely, it is unacceptable to settle for the status quo — particularly where SIU Carbondale is concerned. These actions, the vote to shift funding and the proposal to dissolve the current SIU System, are loud, clear signals that the Carbondale campus needs to get its act together quickly.
We would love to see SIU Carbondale’s focus on recruiting and retaining students take precedence over everything else for the time being. Getting students to come to our spectacular campus and then keeping them here is currently more important than whether academic units are divided into schools or departments.
And, the city of Carbondale and the surrounding area, which rely heavily on the existence of the university, also need to be looking at what can be done to attract students and make the region more hospitable to students who come here.
Carbondale raised concerns about what effects a diminished SIU Carbondale would have on the city. We agree, a weakened SIU would have a negative impact on all of us.
However, the Board of Trustees' prime concern is not the welfare of Carbondale and environs. The Board of Trustees’ decisions must be based on what is best for the university system. Certainly, the city can, and should, present its case, but it would be well-advised to work with the university to make Carbondale a more attractive place as a whole.
In the meantime, SIU Carbondale needs to present a viable plan to attract and retain students, and do it now. It has been made crystal-clear that enrollment will be a driving factor in the future allocation of state funds. To ignore those statements is to invite further erosion.