EDWARDSVILLE — Infighting on the Southern Illinois University board led to a canceled trustee meeting Thursday with too few members to vote, while the university president and former board chairman traded barbs.
On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn replaced three metro-east trustees on the SIU board whose terms were expiring with three new appointees, only one of whom was from the metro-east.
SIU President Glenn Poshard said removing board Chairman John Simmons, Vice Chairman Ed Hightower and Secretary Mark Hinrichs was political retaliation by the governor. All three are SIUE alumni and residents of the metro-east; Hightower is superintendent of Edwardsville District 7.
"We all know what happened here," Poshard said. "There's no sense in trying to spin the truth."
The rift dates to last March, when the SIU board -- led by Simmons, Hightower and Hinrichs -- refused to give then-chairman Roger Herrin another term, contending he was intruding on day-to-day operations of the university. Simmons replaced Herrin as chairman.
Poshard said that Quinn staffers had called board members ahead of Herrin's ouster to ask if they planned to vote on keeping Herrin as chairman. If members said no, Poshard said Quinn staffers asked them to skip the election or risk being kicked off the board.
Now, Poshard said, Quinn had removed board members whose terms expired and nominated Sandra Cook of Collinsville, Melvin Terrell of Chicago and Lee Milner of Springfield -- all three SIU Carbondale graduates -- to replace them.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson denied the accusations. "It is (Quinn's) duty to make appointments, it is the board's duty and responsibility to elect the chairman," she said.
"The fact of the matter is that the governor ... told me they were not interested in the chairmanship (issue) any longer," Poshard said. "But when the appointments came down ... Dr. Terrell told us that the governor's office had told him that Mr. Herrin would be chairman and he would be vice chairman."
Herrin said Poshard was trying to leverage the board against his chairmanship.
"Dr. Poshard has made it clear that he wants anyone to be chairman except me," Herrin said. He said he had not had conversations with Quinn or his staff except to confirm that they would be sending new trustees to the board.
But those nominees were rejected Wednesday by the state Senate, which voted 0-23 with 32 "present" votes against confirming the nominees.
Anderson said Quinn was "very disappointed" that the Senate rejected his appointees.
"The students of Southern Illinois University's three campuses deserve better than they got yesterday," Anderson said Thursday. "Instead of playing politics, the members of the Senate should give Sandra Cook, Dr. Melvin Terrell and Lee Milner a fair hearing."
But state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said the reason he voted no was because the nominees had not been vetted by a Senate committee and that Quinn had not consulted the Senate regarding his nominees.
"These three appointees were given to us from the governor without any background information at all," Haine said. "There is no way we can give advice or consent to these appointments if we don't know who these people are."
Anderson said the Senate was legally permitted to reconsider the nominees, but did not say whether the governor had decided to renominate them.
On Wednesday, the state Senate refused to confirm Quinn's appointees, leaving the board with only five members, one of whom is a student who cannot vote. Trustee Marquita Wiley of Belleville was absent at Thursday's meeting, which left the board without a quorum and unable to conduct business.
Herrin said he would like to reschedule the meeting as soon as possible, while Poshard said he felt the new trustees would need time to study the issues before voting.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, introduced a bill Tuesday to sever the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses into separate universities, similar to a bill Hoffman introduced six years ago and later withdrew. The bill is House Bill 3389 and has been referred to the Rules Committee.
Poshard on Thursday gave a State of the University address, in which he said SIU must address a "prosperity gap" in educational attainment between rich and poor, as well as the enrollment losses at Carbondale and low retention rates at both campuses.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.