The board chairwoman for Southern Illinois University said she does not believe the executive committee set to meet Friday can legally remove SIU President Randy Dunn.
Trustees J. Phil Gilbert and Joel Sambursky called an emergency meeting for Friday to vote on putting Dunn on administrative leave, a week after the last meeting of the full board concluded without taking action against the university president.
But board president Amy Sholar issued a statement Thursday that she does not believe the executive committee set to meet Friday has the authority to remove Dunn or appoint a replacement. She also said she does not believe that there is sufficient urgency to require a special meeting of the executive committee.
“As the chair has the authority to interpret and apply the bylaws between meetings, it is my decision that the executive committee cannot meet for the purposes stated in the call for the meeting,” she said.
Sholar, who is an attorney, stated that Article IV of the SIU Board of Trustees’ bylaws states at least one half of the total membership of the board is required for the hiring or firing of a system president.
“While these two trustees are attempting to get around this rule by merely placing President Dunn on leave rather than an outright termination, the executive committee clearly does not have the ability to make the selection of a president, which I contend includes any interim president holding such powers,” Sholar said. “Our rules clearly contemplate that the full board should make such an important decision, rather than a small faction thereof.”
Board secretary Joel Sambursky had called for a special meeting of the executive committee due to “additional information” he said the board received after its meeting last week. However, Sholar said no such evidence had been sent to her. If there were sufficient evidence to require the board to consider removing Dunn, she said, she would call a special meeting of the full board to allow them to consider it.
“I find it contrary to both the letter and spirit of our bylaws for these two trustees to attempt to remove the president unilaterally without the votes or discussion of the full board,” Sholar said.
Meanwhile, the University Staff Senate for SIUE issued its own statement objecting to the meeting, especially its short notice and locating the third of four meetings in Carbondale.
“We object that despite our supposed co-equal status within the system, none of the recent board meetings dealing with these issues of concern to the Edwardsville campus have been held on the SIUE campus proper or any affiliated SIUE campuses,” read the Senate statement, which issued a “vote of confidence” behind Dunn and stated that “such a significant decision” should not be made by two board members.
The Senate statement called for the executive committee meeting to be canceled and a special meeting of the entire board be called.
“It truly baffles me that these two trustees, both representing the Carbondale campus, would attempt to exclude the full board from participating in this important issue after we approved a policy just last week that we would advocate for keeping the SIU system together,” Sholar said. “The power play by these two trustees is not only improper, but also serves to further drive a wedge between our campuses at a time when all of us should be working together to ease tensions.”
Dunn has been under fire after an email was made public in which he referenced “bitchers from Carbondale,” referring to people opposed to discussing a shift of funding from Carbondale to Edwardsville.
Dunn apologized for his choice of words, but said he did not apologize for bringing to light the issue of funding disparity between the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. State funding is currently divided about 64 to 36 percent between the campuses, but Carbondale’s enrollment has dropped while Edwardsville’s has grown. The Edwardsville campus is expected to exceed Carbondale’s enrollment this fall.
In April, the board of trustees voted down a proposal to divide funding 60-40 between the campuses. This led to a series of bills in the state Legislature to divide the campuses into two universities, to equally divide the funding, and to create an independent study of the best way to allocate funding.