Being president of the Southern Illinois University System is not an easy job.
State funding is shrinking and frequently delinquent, resulting in cutbacks in staff and programs. Attendance at SIU Carbondale is falling, but rising at SIU Edwardsville. Finding a funding formula that keeps both campuses happy, and the overall system healthy, is difficult at best.
But, that is the job Randy Dunn signed up for when he accepted the university presidency.
The first duty outlined in Randy Dunn’s presidential employment agreement is to: "Serve as chief executive officer for the University, including, but not limited to, providing general leadership and coordination for the University, its policies, programs and operations."
Documents released earlier this week indicate Dunn, president of the university system, hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Examination of nearly 1,900 pages of emails, correspondence and meeting notes released this week by the SIU Freedom of Information Act office, show Dunn’s actions ran counter to his job description.
Given the problems facing the system, SIU needs a president like Abraham Lincoln, who said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Instead, Dunn’s actions are more secessionist.
Among other things, the documents show Dunn actively tried to widen the fissures between the two campuses. He guided SIUE chancellor Randy Pembrook in developing a funding reallocation favoring SIUE, the matter that brought the current situation to a head.
Yet, the most egregious offense is Dunn’s apparent desire to see the system dissolved. Emails released this week show Dunn’s office was actively involved in preparing legislation to divide the two campuses — a move totally antithetical to his employment agreement.
The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees voted 4-4 last week on a motion to sever ties with Dunn. The split fell along geographical lines — four trustees are aligned with the Carbondale campus, four aligned with Edwardsville.
It’s unclear whether the documents released this week will sway the thinking of trustees affiliated with Edwardsville. Conversely, Dunn no longer has a shred of credibility in Carbondale. If the BOT doesn’t take action, Dunn should resign. And, do so quickly.
There seems to be no common good that can be realized by divorcing the two campuses.
As a system, SIU is second only to the University of Illinois as an educational and political entity in the state. Together, the two schools have roughly 30,000 students, a medical school, a dental school, a pharmacy school, a law school and a nursing school.
Separately, SIUE and SIUC are two schools of roughly 14,000 students. The two smaller entities would not carry the same political clout as the current system. A divorce lessens the political clout in Springfield, leaving the two schools to fight with other directional schools for funding.
That prominent statewide standing is good for both campuses, and by extension, the region surrounding both schools.
Like most political squabbles, money is the root of this standoff. It has been proposed that an independent entity study the wants and needs of the two campuses and submit a proposed formula to equitably fund the two campuses.
We salute that idea as both reasonable, and a first step toward mending fences between Carbondale and Edwardsville. The stakes for both campuses are too high to let a couple million dollars force a split. The president’s role would be to mitigate remaining disagreements. The tenor and content of Dunn’s communications released this week suggest he would be incapable of that task.
Finally, the current crisis has one silver lining. It points out the weakness of gubernatorial appointments to the board of trustees.
It’s obvious a better vetting system is needed. Trustees should be appointed based on their allegiance to the system, not one campus or the other. Since the job of the BOT is to oversee the entire system, there is no compelling reason trustees need to have ties to either campus.
One thing is certain, the current situation is untenable.