Two state lawmakers were calling for the Southern Illinois University president to resign Thursday after an email was made public referencing “bitchers from Carbondale,” where the flagship campus is located.
State Rep. Terri Bryant, who represents Carbondale, was the first to speak out on the Illinois House floor, describing herself as a “loud, proud bitcher.”
In a statement issued Thursday, SIU President Randy Dunn apologized and said it was a mistake to use “a less than complementary (sic) term.”
“I was wrong to characterize them in that way,” Dunn stated.
The calls for Dunn’s resignation stem from a letter to the editor that was published by the Southern Illinoisan with allegations that he has “contempt” for the Carbondale campus based on documents the writer obtained.
SIUC professor Kathleen Chwalisz wrote the opinion piece, in part quoting an email Dunn sent to SIU Vice President Duane Stucky, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook and SIUE Budget Director William Winter. Chwalisz writes that the email was released because of a public records request.
In the email dated April 4, Dunn mentioned the proposal he would bring to the SIU board of trustees on April 12 to shift about $5.1 million of SIUC’s state funding to SIUE, bringing them to a 60-40 share of the cash.
“A reference to the 60/40 now — which yes, goes back to before even Duane can identify — is simply to shut up the bitchers from Carbondale who are saying loudly we shouldn’t even be doing the $5.125M at this time,” the email states.
Dunn said the following about the email in his statement:
“First, I want to take an opportunity to address what was a mistake on my part in referring to individuals in the Carbondale area who have questioned, as it is their right to do, this process regarding campus budget reallocations with a less than complementary (sic) term,” he stated. “... Many are friends and colleagues and to them, I apologize for how I characterized those who reflexively refused to discuss the issue or engage in a dialogue about it.”
The proposal failed and led to a renewed push to separate the university system by lawmakers with ties to the metro-east. Unsuccessful efforts to split the campuses date back to 1975.
State Reps. Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Harrisburg, each said Thursday that Dunn’s email was “not acceptable.”
Bryant added that Dunn should resign immediately “because of his obvious and blatant disdain for constituents and for the SIU (Carbondale) campus.”
Dunn didn’t address the calls for him to step down in the statement he released Thursday. But he rejected claims that he has contempt for Carbondale.
“My wife and I own our home here. We are proud and active members of this community,” he wrote.“I think if anyone has been denigrated in this situation, it has been me for doing my job and working for the best interests of all the campuses in the SIU System — which I was hired to do.
“... If SIU is going to be a system, it needs to have a leader who thinks and acts in the best interest of the system and is willing to lead us in discussions on issues that are of importance to each campus — even if one part of the system doesn’t agree.”
State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, who said he graduated from SIUC, was “appalled that an email of that nature would exist.”
“I am appalled that the leader of Southern Illinois University, the economic engine for the southern part of our state, would be involved in being divisive instead of a uniter,” Hays said. “I join Representative Bryant in asking for his resignation, and on behalf of all Salukis (the Carbondale campus’ mascot), you go to hell, sir.”
Officials in Edwardsville were asking for more state funding for SIUE because enrollment there is almost the same as it is in Carbondale.
The SIU system had more than $142 million to distribute this academic year. SIUE got $51.6 million, or 36 percent.
Now, a package of bills has been filed in Springfield to shift funding in SIUE’s favor, including the proposal to separate the university system; another to give each campus equal state funding; and one more to get a new board of trustees with equal representation from people connected to SIUE and SIUC.
The sponsors are state Reps. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea; Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis; and Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey.
On Thursday, those lawmakers also were asking the Illinois Board of Higher Education to conduct a study about whether the universities should divorce.
The SIUC community was largely opposed to shifting money away from Carbondale.
SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno wrote in a blog post that the campus wouldn’t be able to make up the $5.1 million it would have lost “without damaging the quality of programs and services we provide.”
The Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association in Carbondale said in a statement that the local and regional economics “would be devastated” by the move.
SIUC Faculty Association President Dave Johnson also said they “were given no time” to analyze the proposal before it came to the board.