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SIU president says school 'reshaping,' no new programs

Former Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn speaks in his office May 1, 2014, in Carbondale. 

CARBONDALE — An Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General investigation that found former Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn responsible for several improper hires has been released to the public.

The report was held by the Executive Ethics Commission of the State of Illinois, which receives OEIG investigations of misconduct in state government (including public universities), and oversees the remediation that the OEIG recommends.

The OEIG’s investigation began with a November 2017 complaint against former SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, in relation to the hiring of Melissa and Jeffrey Germain, Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law, at SIU Carbondale.

Ultimately, the OEIG found Dunn at fault for committing to hire the Germains as a term of Montemagno’s employment, then concealing the agreement with Montemagno from the board of trustees.

Dunn then allowed for both hires to be noncompetitive, through misapplication of Civil Service hiring rules and an improper search waiver, the OEIG found, all while falsely representing the board’s consent to these means.

The agency also ruled against Dunn in the search waiver hire of longtime colleague Brad Colwell as SIU vice president for student and academic affairs, and against Randal Thomas, then chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees, for failing in his duty to keep fellow trustees informed during the Montemagno contract negotiations.

The Southern first reported the details of the investigation in March, after obtaining a copy of the 32-page report.

Its public release Thursday included new documents never before made public, including records describing SIU’s response to the OEIG findings, and a detailed rebuttal by Dunn.

The new documents confirm Dunn lost an 18-month teaching job at SIU Edwardsville, guaranteed to him in his separation agreement with SIU, because of the OEIG findings. They also describe SIU’s updates to search waiver policy, and recent system-wide training on hiring rules.

Dunn replies

In his response, dated May 2 and attached to the Executive Ethics Commission’s release, Dunn raised objections to three of the four OEIG findings against him.

“If the OEIG had fully understood the background of the information it reviewed and the nature of the testimony and evidence it developed, the only appropriate finding against me would have been the one regarding the Civil Service rules in the hiring of Jeffrey Germain,” he wrote.

In that instance, the OEIG found both Dunn and SIU Carbondale at fault for hiring Germain to an “Extra Help” Civil Service position, in violation of the rules of that category of university employment. Many at SIUC, the OEIG found, had an insufficient understanding of Civil Service rules and failed to enforce them.

Responding to the first finding against him — that he improperly negotiated Montemagno’s hire — Dunn placed responsibility with SIU General Counsel Luke Crater for leaving Montemagno’s family hires out of the written employment contract.

“By virtue of his position and role, and as a direct report to the Board of Trustees, the General Counsel is the ultimate arbiter of what should — and what should not — be placed in any contract the University enters into,” Dunn wrote. “My standard (not being an attorney) was to follow his advice on such matters and I did so here.”

Dunn also held Thomas responsible for failing to alert the board to the promised hires.

“(T)he Chair had accepted responsibility to keep the other Trustees informed and updated on the ongoing status of the Montemagno negotiations,” Dunn wrote. “... it is not the president’s duty to ‘check the work’ of his or her chair.”

As to findings that Dunn violated SIUC rules by authorizing the hire of Melissa Germain via search waiver, Dunn replied that the waiver was not out of line with SIU search waiver standards or past practice.

“Germain’s hire was on a term (in this case, one-year only) contract, so Germain’s search waiver, in fact, met the ‘temporary’ standard,” for a search waiver, he wrote.

And even if the intent was to ultimately hire Germain to a permanent job, it was not out of line at SIU to make an initial hire via search waiver, Dunn explained.

“Possibly most notable and common are those instances in Athletics where head coaches are hired (sometimes with a nominal search) and then that coach’s staff is brought in on waivers,” he wrote, a common occurrence at SIU, though not explicitly permitted in search waiver policy. “In simply reviewing ... the different reasons for a waiver, there is more than a little subjectivity at play.”

Dunn also contested findings that he used an improper search waiver to hire Brad Colwell to a $230,000-per-year position in the SIU System office.

The search waiver could not be improper, Dunn wrote, because, unlike SIU Carbondale, the SIU System Office had no enumerated policies for search waiver use at the time.

“There was no explicit system-level prohibition on the use of a search waiver and the record makes clear that Trustees were fully aware of my ‘intent to place Dr. Colwell into the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs,’” Dunn wrote. “No requirement existed to provide background on how the candidate was selected for the position.”

Dunn closed his response letter by reminding the OEIG that he left SIU via a retirement resignation, not via removal by the board of trustees. He also criticized the leaking of the OEIG report, in March, to the Daily Egyptian and The Southern Illinoisan.

“While the Executive Ethics Commission may be unable at this stage to ascertain how or by whom ... the Report was provided to the Carbondale media, it is unquestionably a blatant act of misconduct,” he wrote. “Given this, I would respectfully request that the Executive Ethics Commission refrain from making public the Final Report as a means to communicate the seriousness of this misconduct and to dissuade other individuals or agencies from even considering the leaking of a confidential report such as this in the future.”

Randy Dunn could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

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Reporter

Gabriel Neely-Streit is a reporter for The Southern covering higher education.

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