CARBONDALE — Shortly after the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees voted down a proposal to shift $5.1 million in state appropriation funding from Carbondale to Edwardsville on Thursday, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook sent out a message to his campus community.
“We recognize that SIUC has its budget challenges, but those challenges should not impede the progress of SIUE which depends, in part, on an equitable distribution of the state allocation. The time has come for SIUE to capitalize upon its strengths and potential to create a new era, something that has been recognized by our legislators,” Pembrook wrote.
Pembrook announced that State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, would be introducing legislation to separate the two sister campuses, and that the measure would “shift the current allocation conversation from the SIU Board of Trustees to the Illinois legislature.”
Filed Thursday, HB5861 seeks to abolish the SIU Board of Trustees and calls for new boards to be appointed to each campus. The separation would be effective July 1, according to the document.
Pembrook’s message and the introduction of the legislation reveal long-simmering frustrations over how Edwardsville has been treated by the SIU system.
As Carbondale’s enrollment falls, SIUE’s is steadily increasing: In fall 2017, SIUE had 13,796 students, while SIUC had 14,554. Pembrook said early projections indicate that enrollment lines will cross this fall.
During the state budget impasse last year, Carbondale was so cash-strapped that it had to borrow $35 million from its sister campus — a favor that Edwardsville has not forgotten.
At the board meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, Edwardsville faculty and staff spoke about the challenges of meeting the demands of recent growth with a modest budget.
Hoffman introduced similar bills to split the SIU system in 2003 and 2013, and Rep. Thomas Holbrook, D-Belleville, pushed such legislation in 2005.
Hoffman said he filed the bill this week because he believes SIUC and SIUE have two different missions.
“It seems that if you were simply to have separate boards that could focus on the needs and the strengths of each individual campus, it would make more sense and they would both flourish,” Hoffman said.
He said he wants both universities to be successful, and that Carbondale is important to the downstate region.
“The polarization of the board, I think, is extremely unfortunate, and traditionally the board has been able to look past that and look at the entire system, and to me, that cries out for some change,” Hoffman said.
The proposal would include the School of Law as part of the Carbondale university, but it designates the School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing and the East St. Louis Center as part of SIUE.
The School of Medicine, located in Springfield, has traditionally been affiliated with the Carbondale campus.
“Edwardsville has the School of Nursing, it has the pharmacy school, it has the dental school, and it makes sense to have health sciences under one umbrella,” Hoffman explained.
SIU System President Randy Dunn was not available for comment Friday. John Charles, Dunn’s spokesman and the director of government and public affairs with the SIU System, said in an email that system staff will be analyzing the legislation.
“We're aware that several bills have been filed affecting the organization and operations of the SIU System and the possible appointment a new SIU System Board of Trustees,” Charles wrote in an email. “Over the next few days, staff from the system will be analyzing these proposals to determine their impact. Once we have an idea of their full measure and scope, we will be able to provide information and a response to the university community and to the public.”
“There are incredible strengths to being part of a system,” SIUC Chancellor Montemagno said of the proposed separation in an emailed statement. “Together we serve more than 28,000 students, which gives us a greater footprint to serve the southern part of Illinois and adds to the power of our voice in Springfield. A number of complex factors would need to be studied carefully before we could determine the full impact of a separation of the system.”
Reached by phone on Friday, State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said of Hoffman’s proposal, “Its ugly head resurfaces every so many years.”
She said the SIU system functions at its best when all of its campuses are healthy.
“For one thing, Edwardsville is in the Metro East. They are increasing their student enrollment. But they do not hold the Carnegie designation that allows them to be a research university. So in this case, it’s great for the system that at Edwardsville enrollment is going up. It’s great that Carbondale has that designation because it’s not transferrable to the other campus. So if for some reason you separated the two, Edwardsville would not be as healthy or have the same draw to students because that research designation is very important,” Bryant said.
State Senator Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said he also opposes the bill.
"Such a proposal should be the culmination of a thorough evaluation of what will allow both universities to maximize their potential, not a response to a rushed, controversial Board of Trustees vote,” Schimpf said in a statement. “At this time, I believe both universities are better positioned to compete in an increasingly difficult higher education environment when they remain part of a combined system."
A separate piece of legislation, House Bill 5860, filed Thursday by Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, seeks to reconstitute the SIU Board of Trustees. It would require three of the governor's seven board appointees to hold a degree from SIUE, and three to hold a degree from SIUC. One governor-appointed trustee must not have attended SIU at all. It also seeks to change the voting student member of the board to an additional nonvoting student trustee.
Dunn plans to hire an external consultant in the coming months to develop a new funding formula based on enrollment.