A renewed push to separate the Southern Illinois University campuses is at least a way to create leverage for the Edwardsville campus, according to a longtime Illinois political observer.
A group of metro-east legislators is now asking to sever the campuses and create two universities with their own boards. Their proposal comes after officials opted against shifting state money from the Carbondale campus to SIUE next year because of enrollment gains.
Kent Redfield, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Springfield, called the proposal a way for SIUE supporters to ultimately get the increase in money they want.
“The numbers are startling in shifts in enrollment,” Redfield added. “It’s good leverage in terms of getting some movement and accommodation. I would think the people that want to keep the system together are going to find ways to mitigate the inequities and the unhappiness you’ve got going on right now.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Redfield said that’s why there could be a win for state Reps. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea; Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis; and Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey — even if a divorce doesn’t happen.
Those lawmakers introduced a package of three bills related to SIU.
“I think reallocation of money, the idea that dollars ought to follow students, is pretty compelling,” Redfield said. “Whether they get everything that was on the table, they certainly ought to get some significant money to re-address that.”
The other two pieces of legislation related to SIU call for equal state funding for Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses starting in the next academic year, and a new board of trustees with equal representation from people connected to SIUE and SIUC.
All three pieces of legislation on Thursday passed out of the House’s Higher Education Committee.
Opinions vary at SIUE about the most drastic proposal: separating from the sister campus in Carbondale.
SIUE Staff Senate President Gretchen Fricke said she’s heard mostly support from the staff for the plan to split into two universities.
The SIUE Faculty Senate hasn’t taken an official stance on that proposal; President Marcus Agustin said they want to learn more about it but would likely back any effort that would address what he said is an inequity in funding between the universities.
“Whether it’s an action by our current board or action by the Illinois legislature, the governor, it is about time that groups would acknowledge what SIUE needs in order to grow,” Agustin said.
Both the staff and faculty senates advise the chancellor.
As for the administration, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook wrote in a statement that leaders “look forward to ... the conversations in Springfield on this matter.”
On April 12, the SIU Board of Trustees rejected a plan to send $5.1 million in state money to SIUE from Southern Illinois University Carbondale for the next academic year. By the following day, the package of bills had been filed in Springfield.
SIUE employees said the university asked for that shift in money to bring the campuses back to a 60-40 share of the state cash.
For this academic year, the SIU system had more than $142 million to distribute. SIUE got $51.6 million, or 36 percent.
Fricke, the leader of the Staff Senate that represents 1,500 SIUE employees, said the proposed separation from Carbondale “has the potential to be a really good thing.”
In the 14 years she’s worked at SIUE, Fricke said she’s seen the Edwardsville campus grow.
Today, SIUE’s enrollment is nearly equal to SIUC’s. According to Fricke, the Edwardsville campus is expected to surpass Carbondale in enrollment this fall.
“After our experience with the board last week, I’m not sure we’re ever going to be recognized for that in our current system,” she said.
Though trustees voted down the plan to shift some of Carbondale’s state money to Edwardsville, a study of the way the system distributes state dollars is still expected to move forward.
SIUE Chancellor Pembrook said it’s been at least 20 years since the trustees examined it.
“The distribution process has been static for two decades, a period during which the two universities have changed dramatically in so many ways including enrollment, academic offerings and quality, research productivity, facilities and community engagement,” Pembrook wrote in a statement.
How much in state money each school would receive if they’re separated is something that would need to be worked out if the proposed legislation were adopted, according to State Rep. Hoffman.
“That is something I would sit down with the various appropriation chairs in the House and the Senate and make sure each of the schools got adequate funding,” Hoffman said. “If you looked at it rationally, if Edwardsville had the same number of students as Carbondale, it should be 50-50.
“I understand Carbondale is facing some unique issues,” he added. “I’m not attempting to have them close. I want them to be successful, but to do it at the expense of something that is thriving doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
In other words, the separation proposal is meant to be beneficial to the entire university system, according to Hoffman.
“I want to be very clear, it’s not my way or the highway,” Hoffman said. “... I don’t want to see Carbondale suffer, but I don’t want to see Edwardsville as an entity be secondary to SIU Carbondale. I don’t believe they are anymore.”
Previous efforts to separate the campuses under their own boards of trustees date back to 1975. There were also efforts in 2003, 2005 and 2013.
Agustin, of the SIUE Faculty Senate, said stakes are higher for universities today, after years of budget cuts to operate with less state money or delayed payments.
“This may be the most significant time to have this discussion compared to five years ago and the early 2000s,” he said.
When asked about the chances of the new proposal passing, Hoffman said there had been support for those similar bills.
“It passed the House in the early 2000s, but it didn’t get through the Senate,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman, who proposed or supported the previous measures, withdrew the bills in 2003 and 2005 after a “gentleman’s agreement” that the board would have at least three trustees with ties to SIUE or the metro-east.
At the time, there had been students petitioning against the move, and administrators from both campuses testifying against it before House committees.
“If people on the board of SIU want to try to work this out, I’m all ears,” Hoffman said. “But I think we have to begin to discuss a long-term solution so we don’t continually face this issue.”
Under the new proposal, the schools of medicine, dental medicine, pharmacy, and nursing would become part of SIUE, and the school of law would become part of SIUC, effective July 1, 2018. SIUE would keep its East St. Louis Center.
Edwardsville was already affiliated with the nursing, pharmacy and dental programs. The proposal would add the school of medicine, based in Springfield. Hoffman said he thinks it makes sense for one university to focus on health care.
But SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said the school of medicine is “deeply interconnected” with Carbondale’s campus today, according to a post on his blog.
“First-year medical students are taught in Carbondale, many faculty have research facilities here, and the research office provides the school with support,” Montemagno wrote. “The medical school is important to our research mission, and it is part of our governance system. Most importantly, the school of medicine’s accreditation is tied to Carbondale. The medical school is an integral part of SIU Carbondale and must remain so.”
Montemagno notes that SIUC also has ties to the campus in Edwardsville. He said the pre-nursing program in Carbondale feeds into the nursing program at SIUE, for example.
Pros and cons
Hoffman said separating the campuses would allow each school to have a separate board and would allow those separate boards to focus on the “assets as well as the needs” of each campus.
“I’m a fan of SIU Carbondale and of SIU Edwardsville. I want to see them both succeed; however, I think because of the system and the way it’s set up, it’s hampered both of them because you can’t focus on the positives of each of the campuses,” Hoffman said. “I believe an independent board that would be able to focus strictly on each of the campuses would better serve us, and both of them would grow and prosper.”
The SIU Board of Trustees has not yet taken an official position on the proposal to separate the SIU system into two universities, according to a joint statement from Board Chairwoman Amy Sholar and SIU President Randy Dunn.
Dunn said in the statement that his position is neutral.
But their statement notes some “tangible benefits” that SIU has because it is a system, including the political leverage of representing 66 counties between the campuses and better bond ratings compared to some single-campus institutions in Illinois.
Sholar and Dunn wrote that breaking out bond debt by campus could be the most challenging part of separating the universities.
SIUE and SIUC would also have to take over the duties of 52 employees who work in the SIU system office, which has a budget of $5 million per year.
According to the joint statement, the universities share services now, including legal, internal audit and ethics, governmental affairs and risk management. However, Sholar and Dunn stated that the SIU system is “one of the most decentralized nationally.”
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, quickly spoke out against separating the two campuses, saying in a statement that the schools are better together.
In an interview, Schimpf said he thinks the legislation came about because people were upset over a vote.
“My overall life experience is, you generally don’t make your best decisions when you’re angry,” Schimpf said. “There may come a time to separate the two universities, but it’s not in response to a board of trustees vote that you were mad about.”
He added, “We need to think about how both universities could maximize their potential, and I think they’re maximized by being a part of the same system.”
Schimpf said right now, it’s easier to advocate for a system that has a total enrollment of more than 30,000 students instead of one school that has fewer than 15,000 students. He believes there needs to be a thorough a study before any changes are made, including shifts in funding.
During Thursday’s committee debate, state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who cautioned against the funding shift of $5.1 million from Carbondale to Edwardsville, questioned Hoffman about his motives for filing the bill, according to NPR Illinois.
“So this is a direct reaction to being unhappy with decision that the Board of Trustees made?” Bryant asked.
“No, it’s a direct reaction to Carbondale getting 64 percent of the money and Edwardsville 36 percent of the money, and it’s a direct reaction to the infighting of the board that has to stop,” Hoffman responded.
According to Redfield, the political observer, legislators from other parts of Illinois may not want to weigh in on the regional issue between the SIU campuses.
“They would much rather this get worked out rather than having to pick sides,” Redfield said.
SIUE Faculty Association President Kim Archer thinks there’s “no question” that a funding adjustment is needed, according to a submitted statement.
“While the challenges at Carbondale are real, the trustees should see fit to also recognize the challenges that Edwardsville has faced, our successes in spite of these circumstances, and the need for a more equitable future,” Archer said.
Faculty in Carbondale opposed the proposal to shift $5.1 million to Edwardsville because they “were given no time” to analyze it, according to SIUC Faculty Association President Dave Johnson.
“It’s my hope that leaders on both campuses will come together to work out a new allocation of resources that is fair to both campuses,” Johnson said. “Trustees from the metro-east were willing to vote to loan money from SIUE to SIUC during the budget crisis; once we’ve had adequate time to gather and analyze the relevant data, trustees from the Carbondale area must be equally willing to consider the good of the entire SIU system, not just the needs of one campus.”
The internal, no-interest loan of up to $35 million came from SIUE’s reserves last year, which SIUC repaid with its state money from this academic year. Chancellor Montemagno described it as a three-week shifting of funds “on paper only” until the state money came in.
Johnson thinks the campuses together are “a major player in Illinois higher education” because of SIUE’s growing undergraduate programs and SIUC’s graduate education and research, he said in a statement.