CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale constituents erupted in applause Thursday as the SIU Board of Trustees voted down a proposal to shift $5.1 million in state appropriation funding to SIU Edwardsville.
SIU System President Randy Dunn said that he will continue to search for an external consultant to review the system’s funding formula based on changes in enrollment at the two campuses.
In a lengthy public-comment portion, SIUC faculty, staff and students pleaded with the board not to approve the first-phase reallocation of the appropriation budget while the university is struggling to get its enrollment back on track.
Speakers from SIUE, meanwhile, argued that their campus is growing rapidly, and that additional investment by the system will pay off.
Trustees said there should have been more consultation with the Carbondale campus before the proposal appeared on the meeting agenda several days ago. The board first discussed hiring an external consultant to look at the allocation of state funding at its March 9 retreat at Touch of Nature.
After the meeting, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook wrote in an email to students that State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, will soon be introducing legislation that would create separate trustee boards for Carbondale and Edwardsville.
Trustee Phil Gilbert said he would vote against the proposal, but that it wasn’t a vote against SIUE. He said he was in favor of “Edwardsville getting a larger slice of the pie,” but he called the proposal “premature and ill-advised.”
Trustee Marsha Ryan echoed Gilbert’s comments, saying she wanted more data.
“I do not denigrate SIUE at all. I simply need the facts with which to make a high-quality decision,” Ryan said.
Ryan said she had concerns about how the item was placed the agenda. She said Carbondale’s chancellor and financial advisers were not given time to review the proposal.
Trustee Tom Britton, who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday to fill a longstanding vacancy on the board, said he was concerned about the speed with which the proposal was being implemented and the process itself.
“It needs to be a system-wide review and activity. I’m not sure that took place. Because it is a system-wide decision, we need to make sure that we’re not dividing and not pitting campuses against each other,” Britton said.
Trustee Joel Sambursky also said he was disappointed in the process.
“I don’t like being blindsided 10 days ago with absolutely no warning, no context of a huge agenda item that has very significant consequences to the universities, but also to the communities,” Sambursky said.
Trustee Shirley Portwood said she planned to vote for the proposal, and pointed out that during the state budget impasse last year, trustees were willing to approve a $35 million loan from SIUE to SIUC with little notice.
“I note that when the question came up of loaning money from Edwardsville to Carbondale, all except one trustee was willing to do it on two days’ notice. Finding out about it on Wednesday, voting on it on Thursday, with no details about how much, when it would be repaid and the impact upon Edwardsville. ... So this idea that we can’t decide things in 10 days is kind of hard to imagine,” Portwood said.
Britton, Gilbert, Ryan and Sambursky voted no; board chair Amy Sholar, SIUE student trustee Luke Jansen and Portwood voted yes. Trustee Randal Thomas abstained because he was not present at the March 9 board retreat where the matter was originally discussed.
During a news conference after the meeting, Dunn told reporters that he would move forward with hiring an external consultant to develop the formula for splitting up the appropriation.
Although the hiring of a consultant for that purpose was part of the resolution that failed to pass, Dunn still has administrative authority to get the work underway. There will be no adjustment in the formula until it comes back to the board.
Dunn said the first-phase recommendation was meant “to be responsive to a tremendous amount of pressure that was building” at SIUE in the surrounding community.
“I go to things there as I go to things in Carbondale and in Springfield, and the issue is one that has had great discussion, great focus, and my sense was, a desire to get this thing moved forward, at least in terms of the policy that had been in place,” Dunn said.
Pembrook said that conversations about reallocation started in earnest on the Edwardsville campus after the approval of the $35 million loan last year.
“That was the beginning of that, as part of that agreement, that we would begin the conversations about the allocation,” Pembrook said.
Pembrook said he believes that the enrollment lines will cross in fall 2018, based on SIUE’s recruiting numbers.
“... If we’re not going to at least have the conversation, if we’re not going to try to address it now, when would we do that? Because the distribution ... has basically been static for the last 18 years, and so as you know the enrollments have changed dramatically, and we thought at a point when that enrollment went past 50/50 that it would be a logical time for the board to discuss it, and we started discussing it today, obviously. I think the board feels that more information might be helpful, so that’ll be the next step,” Pembrook said.
Dunn said that enrollment will likely wind up comprising at least 51 percent of a funding formula, but that there are other variables to consider, such as research mission, physical infrastructure and need for asset preservation, and community service or regional support.
“We still have to be careful about what Carbondale has to absorb all at once. We can’t do a one-year fix on this,” Dunn said.
Sholar said that she supported the resolution partly because of its phased-in approach.
“We recognize that there’s sizable assets that are being distributed between the campuses, and that’s not something that in one fiscal year or two fiscal years, that you can easily adjust to that. So I do prefer a phased-in approach, whatever the outcome of any consultant’s report may be, so that everyone has the opportunity in terms of time to adjust to this,” Sholar said.
Dunn said it could take nine months to finish the consulting process and that the adjustment would be unlikely to take effect in FY ’19.
“We’re going to move with as much rapidity as we can, but at the end of the day, there might be another year that goes by before we see an adjustment driven primarily by the enrollment numbers,” Dunn said.
Sholar said the system would make a good-faith effort to work together.
“I think we hash out difficult issues, and we’ll work to come back together. And I believe that these issues were already present. We’re just speaking about them publicly at this point in time,” Sholar said.
SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said that as a scientist, he as a problem taking the pro forma position that money should be reallocated to Edwardsville.
“I think that we have to determine what the impacts are on our communities, because we have a responsibility to our communities. We have to look at what the distribution in majors are and the cost of educating different individuals. It costs more money to educate a biochemistry student than it costs to educate an accounting student,” Montemagno said.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held July 12 at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.