EDWARDSVILLE — After deliberating for nearly four hours in executive session Thursday on the fate of embattled Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn, the SIU Board of Trustees was split on whether to oust the system’s leader.
At a special meeting on the Edwardsville campus, the motion to place Dunn on administrative leave failed by a 4-4 vote after the Edwardsville community rallied in his defense during a public-comment period.
Dunn has faced widespread criticism over his handling of a proposal to shift $5.1 million in state appropriations funding from Carbondale to Edwardsville — and over an internal email in which he referred to critics of the reallocation on the Carbondale campus as “bitchers.”
The board also voted Thursday to release documents that supposedly shed more light on Dunn’s alleged collusion with Edwardsville officials and have not yet been seen by the public. It is unclear when and how the documents will be released.
Trustees Joel Sambursky, Phil Gilbert, Marsha Ryan and Tom Britton voted for the measure to place Dunn on a 120-day administrative leave, pending investigation by an independent counsel; Trustees Amy Sholar, Shirley Portwood, Randal Thomas and SIUE Student Trustee Luke Jansen voted against it.
Student Trustee Sam Beard, who represents Carbondale but does not have voting privileges, was not present for the meeting.
After the meeting was adjourned, Sholar announced that neither she nor Dunn would be providing comment.
Documents pertain to separation legislation
Every trustee except Thomas voted to release the unredacted documents, which number 1,000 pages and include emails, notes and correspondence from leadership across the SIU system, according to Sambursky. (Thomas did not comment on his “no” vote during the meeting.)
Before making a motion to place Dunn on administrative leave, Gilbert said the documents, which were sent to board members by the system’s general counsel, show Dunn “plotting to dissolve the SIU system that has existed for decades.”
Gilbert said Dunn was “in collusion with those pushing the legislation to separate the campuses and dissolve the board, hook, line and sinker.”
Gilbert was referring to an Illinois House bill introduced by State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, which sought to sever the SIU campuses by creating separate boards of trustees for Carbondale and Edwardsville. The legislation was filed shortly after the $5.1 million funding shift failed to pass on April 12, and Dunn initially said he planned to remain neutral on the bill.
In his comments before the vote, Sambursky said Dunn was privately anything-but-neutral on the legislation. He even suggested that Dunn and his staff had a hand in helping to draft Hoffman’s bill, and called his actions “simply indefensible.”
“President Dunn and his staff worked on this in secret, without the direction or consent of the full board,” Sambursky said.
Gilbert said he is in favor of developing a fair funding formula, but that the issue is with Dunn’s “honesty, transparency and leadership to the system as a whole.”
SIUE shows support for Dunn
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Fifteen people spoke during public comments; 14 were SIUE faculty and staff members who defended Dunn.
Shelley Price-Williams, a professional staff member in SIUE’s School of Business and an adjunct professor, said she values Dunn’s visibility on the Edwardsville campus and his advocacy for SIUE when it came to the funding shift.
“I challenge this board to envision not what we once were, but what we are becoming: a premier institution in the Midwest. I challenge this board to augment our innovation and success with an appropriate funding structure that distinguishes our environment and needs from that of Carbondale,” Price-Williams said.
Kathleen Chwalisz, the SIUC faculty member who discovered the internal emails that led to the controversy, said Dunn has been “purposefully undermining” the Carbondale campus.
“At this time, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the Carbondale campus community to trust Dr. Dunn and his leadership,” Chwalisz said.
Anne Hunter, incoming president of the SIUE Staff Senate, said she has frequently seen SIUE painted as less important than Carbondale. She said Dunn simply stated the obvious by pointing out that SIUC receives a disproportionate share of appropriations.
“Ignoring it and hoping that Edwardsville won’t put up too loud of a fuss isn’t going to work any longer,” Hunter said.
Ian Toberman, University Honors Program advisor at SIUE, slammed the board for its treatment of Edwardsville.
“This board will continue to struggle with its legitimacy until such time that you prove to us, this community, that you are not aligned against us. We’re watching, and we’re waiting,” Toberman said.
Laura Scaturro, office manager at SIUE’s Lovejoy Library, praised Dunn for his transparency.
“This is the first SIU president that has ever popped into the administrative offices here in Lovejoy Library in my 24 years. That itself speaks volumes, as far as I’m concerned,” Scaturro said.
SIUE faculty member Steve Kerber said removing Dunn would cause “immeasurable harm to SIUC.”
“Please be aware that SIUE does not exist to subsidize programs at Carbondale. Inferior status is not acceptable, and the time has arrived for the flagship mentality to end,” Kerber said.
Charles Berger, an SIUE English professor, said placing Dunn on leave would be a “disaster” for the system.
“President Dunn was simply yet courageously doing his job by recognizing that an Edwardsville student counts just as much as a Carbondale student,” Berger said.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, trustees unanimously approved a proposal to hire a consultant to develop an equitable funding formula for the two campuses, something that has been talked about since the board’s retreat in March.