SIU board deadlocks on suspending president who made 'bitchers from Carbondale' remark

SIU board deadlocks on suspending Dunn

SIU trustees split 4-4 on a vote to suspend President Dunn, amid allegations of hiding information from the board and conspiring with state legislators to split the system. The board split along Edwardsville-Carbondale lines.
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SIU trustees split 4-4 on a vote to suspend President Dunn, amid allegations of hiding information from the board and conspiring with state legislators to split the system. The board split along Edwardsville-Carbondale lines.

The Southern Illinois University board deadlocked in a 4-4 vote during a meeting Thursday on whether to put SIU President Randy Dunn on administrative leave.

Because of the tie, Dunn will not be suspended. He declined to comment after the vote was made public.

Two board members — vice president Phil Gilbert and treasurer Joel Sambursky — spoke in favor of suspending Dunn. Gilbert said he was "offended" by Dunn's emails, which he alleged showed Dunn colluding with state Rep. Jay Hoffman and others who are in favor of dissolving the SIU system. Gilbert said Dunn had concealed from the board that their vote against reallocating funds to the Edwardsville campus would trigger that legislation.

Gilbert said he was "offended" by the letters he had received and a Belleville News-Democrat editorial criticizing the board's actions regarding funding and Dunn.

In the separation legislation, Dunn's position and all the system leadership would be eliminated and each campus would be independent, with the medical and dental school staying in Edwardsville.

Sambursky accused both Dunn and Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook of withholding vital information from the board. Gilbert and Sambursky were the two trustees who had earlier called for an executive committee meeting to suspend Dunn, which was canceled after board chairwoman Amy Sholar declared it illegal.

Representatives from most major organizations at SIUE asked the board of trustees on Thursday to not remove President Randy Dunn in the midst of controversy over funding and a potential split of the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses.

Before the vote, speakers from nearly every major group on Edwardsville's campus spoke against the suspension of Dunn. Trustees deliberated on whether to suspend its president in the midst of calls to separate the SIU campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

Dunn has been under fire after an email was made public in which he referred to “bitchers from Carbondale,” referring to people opposed to discussing a shift of funding from Carbondale, where enrollment is dropping, to Edwardsville, where enrollment is growing.

Supporters included representatives from the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Black Faculty Association, East St. Louis Center, civil service, Lovejoy Library, the SIUE Alumni Association, the SIUE Foundation and individual members of faculty and staff. The sole voice against was a Carbondale professor, who said that Dunn was aligned against SIUC in the ongoing discussions about allocation of state funding.

Incoming Staff Senate President Ann Hunter said there were no calls to remove Dunn a year and a half ago when he advocated loaning money from the other three campuses to Carbondale during the state budget crisis, and she commended him for personally coming to Edwardsville to face an angry crowd to explain it. "A true system is not about us versus them," she said. "President Dunn has always recognized this."

Charles Berger, an English professor and former department chair, said firing Dunn would be a disaster for the entire system. "President Dunn appears to be in danger of losing his job because he did his job," Berger said. "Advocating for fair resource allocation is what we expect of a system president."

Academic adviser Ian Toberman suggested the board's push to remove Dunn is "a fit of pique because this president had the unmitigated gall to suggest we were being treated unfairly." He said he did not question the board's process but rather its judgment. "This board will continue to struggle with its legitimacy until you prove to this community that you are not aligned against us," he said. "We are watching. And we are waiting."

Southern Illinois University trustees hear from Edwardsville and Carbondale students and faculty about fair financing and splitting the two campuses.

Others called it a "political and polarizing act" being led by emotion. However, all the SIUE speakers said they would prefer to work together as a system with equal representation and funding, rather than split the university apart.

"This is not us versus them," said Bev George, president of the SIUE Foundation board. "Applying resources in a fair and equitable manner... benefits all our constituencies."

Sholar voted against suspending Dunn, along with Shirley Portwood, Ret. Major Gen. Randal Thomas and student representative Luke Jansen. All four are connected to the SIUE campus as graduates or local residents. The other four — Sambursky, Gilbert, Dr. Marsha Ryan and Tom Britton — are all connected with Carbondale.

In June, Gilbert and Sambursky had called an emergency meeting 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. In their public statement, they alleged that “new information” had come to light since the last full board meeting. Sholar declared that she did not believe that meeting, which would have consisted only of the three members of the executive committee, had the legal authority to remove Dunn.

In response to his "bitchers from Carbondale" email making news, Dunn apologized for his choice of words but said he did not apologize for bringing to light the issue of funding disparity between the SIUC and SIUE campuses. State funding is currently divided about 64 to 36 percent in favor of Carbondale, but SIUC’s enrollment has dropped, while SIUE’s has grown. The Edwardsville campus is expected to exceed Carbondale’s enrollment this fall.

By April 13, 2018, state representatives with ties to the metro-east had filed a three-bill package related to the Southern Illinois University system. Here are the events that led up to the proposals in Springfield.

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.

In May, the board voted not to support any of those proposals.

Others who spoke in favor of Dunn included Jesse Dixon, director of the East St. Louis Center. He said Dunn clearly understood the issues and challenges faced with the center, which educates children from preschool through high school. He said Dunn helped them form connections with the medical school and other business interests to help students pursue higher education and job training for new opportunities. "He has been invaluable" to the efforts of the center, he said.

Marcus Augustin, outgoing Senate Faculty President, said the current complaints of SIUC administrators being "blindsided" by the prospect of reallocating funds pointed out that the Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling for it in April 2017 during the discussion of the crisis loan.

"To deny us the funding, to act as if this happened on too short a notice, basically sends a mess that at best, SIUE is an institution with an inferior mission ... that we only exist at a fundamental level would be to support the campus down south," said Anthony Cheeseboro, history professor and president of the SIUE Black Faculty Association.

The board also voted in favor of releasing the documents to which Sambursky and Gilbert referred, subject to FOIA requests.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald
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