CARBONDALE — In March, the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University decided to slow its search for a new university president, to clarify the goals for the eventual hire.
The nine-member board hopes the chosen candidate will transform the relationship between SIU Carbondale, SIU Edwardsville and the SIU School of Medicine, building true collaboration between the often independent campuses.
But the SIU President’s office has long operated with no strategic plan, hampering long-term thinking and campus cooperation, said Carol Cartwright, a former Kent State University president hired to help improve the board’s function.
To attract the transformative leader SIU needs, Cartwright believes, the university must set clear expectations for the office and demonstrate it is open to major change.
Through interviews with trustees, chancellors and administrators at both campuses, Cartwright identified many areas where a new leader could make a big impact, she said at Wednesday's board meeting in Edwardsville.
The system must better collect and share data across its campuses, on student demographics, behavior and performance. It must share services to streamline and save money, from information technology, to human resources, to payroll, she said.
The president and the board must push both SIUC and SIUE toward new, cutting-edge degree programs while consolidating or cutting needlessly duplicative programs. The campuses must attract more donations and private sector support.
Perhaps most importantly, Cartwright and university leaders agreed, SIU must build a system-level identity.
“You have to tell the story. You need a system-level marketer who’s managing this and leading the development of the brand,” Cartwright said. “You need to own this region, of central and Southern Illinois.”
The trustees, chancellors from both campuses, and Interim President J. Kevin Dorsey spent all day brainstorming Wednesday, creating a long list of trends in higher education — ballooning student debt, decreasing populations of college age students, growing interest in online classes — and reforms to address them.
They called for an analysis of any redundant services across the three-campus system, and studies of the universities’ academic and financial positions.
“There has to be a way to get some costs out of the system or we’re going to be financially insolvent sooner or later,” said Trustee Ed Curtis. "This board wants to develop an integrated, optimized university system."
The board also promised to prime all three campuses for a president who will shake things up.
That transformative role will make the SIU job especially appealing to applicants, said Dennis Barden of Witt/Kieffer, the executive search firm hired to help SIU find well-qualified candidates.
“This is unbelievably exciting with regards to the content of the search. With the system taking the lead in establishing the vision and objectives, people will be much more interested,” Barden told the board. “We can go out in the marketplace and say, ‘You get to make this happen.’”
The 5% operating budget increase that each SIU campus got in this year’s state budget makes the job sweeter still, Barden said, as it proves the state is committed to supporting its universities.
In the next week, the board's goals will be folded into the leadership profile that Witt/Kiefer will share with candidates, Barden said.
The firm will recruit and network throughout the summer, bringing a pool of candidates to the Presidential Search Advisory Committee by mid September.
The committee will choose about six to 10 semifinalists for the board to interview. Finalists will be identified by late fall, and the board should make its final choice around Thanksgiving, Barden said.
“I’m significantly more confident that you will have extremely good candidates after today’s discussion,” Barden added.
Still, past issues loom over future planning.
A survey in preparation for the search provided a recent reminder, as faculty and staff on the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses returned very different answers about what they expect from an incoming president.
SIUC employees sought a leader who would grow enrollment and hire and retain high-quality faculty and administrators, Cartwright said, while those from Edwardsville sought funding equity, and equality in reputation and treatment, first and foremost.
“People have to step up and acknowledge problems, be realistic that change is coming, and move on,” Cartwright said. “The strategic plan for the system should help everyone see themselves as critical to success.”
A study reassessing the distribution of state funds between SIU Carbondale and SIU Edwardsville had been on hold as the board finished its governance consultation with Cartwright, said Board Chair Phil Gilbert.
Now, he expects to receive its results within a month, he said, and it could impact the university’s 2020 budget, to be finalized in September.
The SIU board also addressed immediate leadership needs, extending the contracts of Interim President J. Kevin Dorsey, and SIU School of Medicine Dean Jerry Kruse.
Dorsey was originally hired on a one-year contract, to stabilize the president’s office after the ouster of Randy Dunn. Now he will continue through July of 2020, or until a new permanent president is found.
He will earn $430,000 per year, the same salary at which he was hired.
Kruse, dean of the SIU School of Medicine, was renewed through the summer of 2023, at a salary of $600,000 per year — a significant raise that was determined by reviewing comparable data on medical school dean salaries from the American Association of Medical Colleges, according to SIU Carbondale Chancellor John Dunn.
“The extension recognizes the outstanding job that Dr. Kruse is doing,” Dunn said.