New SIU president visits Edwardsville on his first day

News-DemocratMay 1, 2014 

— - Financial challenges, the need for innovation and expansion, and keeping the university tied to its communities are three major focuses for incoming Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn.

Dunn officially took over as president on Thursday with a short tour of both major campuses. Retiring President Glenn Poshard remains as an adviser until June 30.

Dunn visited the Edwardsville campus on the morning of his first day as system president, and talked about some of the issues facing SIU in the near future.

"It's a bit presumptuous of me to come in and announce big things on my first day," Dunn said. However, he said both campuses face similar issues of the need for expansion and innovation at a time when state support for universities is falling.

Poshard had often pointed out that higher education spending has been cut by more than 23 percent since 2008, with an increasing reliance on tuition costs forced to make up for the loss of state funding.

Dunn called that situation "the new normal," however, and said the university has to find a balance between the need for growth and keeping tuition within reach of the families it serves.

Currently, SIUE has the lowest tuition rate among four-year state universities in Illinois, and SIUC has the lowest rate among research-level universities. While SIUE's administration recently requested a 5-percent increase in tuition, the board's financial committee recommended no increase. The final decision will be made at the next board meeting later this month.

"The board of trustees has attached a very strong value to keeping tuition low and affordable, and I share that value," Dunn said. He said a large percentage of SIU students are first-generation college students who work while going to school.

So Dunn said he didn't see that there would be a drastic move away from SIU's historically low cost, while that may mean a lean budget in times of shortfalls in state funding. "Affordability is a big deal at a place like SIU," he said.

Some of that can be achieved through efficiency and belt-tightening, he said, while maintaining good relationships in Springfield can help ensure resources at the system level.

"The way we can have success and advocate for the system is to continually tell our story, so they understand how ... we are impacted by legislation," Dunn said. "That's something that has to be continuous and ongoing, so when resources are allocated, we will be at the table with everyone else ... And we have those good stories to tell."

The days where 70 percent of the cost of a student's education was funded by the state are probably not coming back, Dunn said. So it will be a combination of proving to the legislature that university officials will be good stewards of resources, while remaining cognizant of the costs of new programs and expansions, he said.

SIU is especially tied to the communities it serves, Dunn said, and part of its mission is to help contribute to the economic development, job creation, health services and other standards of living in the Edwardsville and Carbondale areas.

"A great state university is integrated with the region they serve, and this is true nowhere greater than SIU," Dunn said.

Dunn said he sees a lot of parallels between his former job as state superintendent and running the SIU system, especially when it comes to dealing with the state legislature. He sees a large part of his role as advocating for legislation, helping with policy development and lobbying for resources.

He also addressed his controversial departure from his previous job at Youngstown University in Ohio. Dunn served less than a year at Youngstown before leaving to return to SIU, where he had been a professor at Carbondale many years ago.

Dunn said he had just started in Ohio when Poshard announced his retirement, and the search committee reached out to him three times to recruit him for consideration before he agreed to apply. He had said no the first two times, he said, because he thought it wouldn't be fair to Youngstown to leave so quickly.

"It was a very tough call for me, because I like to think I have ethics and integrity," Dunn said. "At the same time, this was my dream job."

He said he considered waiting, and possibly applying the next time the president's job came open. "But that's not how life works," Dunn said. "Do I feel a hit on my integrity for leaving Youngstown? I'll be honest: yes ... But people understand what it means to go home."

A native of Illinois, Dunn was a teacher and administrator in southern Illinois elementary schools before he became a professor at the University of Memphis and later SIUC. He served as state superintendent of schools from 2004-2006 before he became president of Murray State University in Kentucky, and then Youngstown.

Dunn has a bachelor's degree in teacher education and master's degree in educational administration from Illinois State University, and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Illinois.

His annual SIU salary on a four-year contract will be $430,000. Unlike his predecessor, however, Dunn will not receive a housing stipend.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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