Randy Dunn will step down as president of the Southern Illinois University system in what the board is calling a “mutual agreement.”
Dunn’s leadership has been controversial in recent months as a politically split board of trustees wrangled over his support for shifting more of the state’s funding from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville. Last month, the board voted 4-4 on a motion to suspend Dunn, which meant it did not pass.
However, the board has now posted a proposed separation agreement in which Dunn and SIU mutually agree that he will retire effective July 30. He is eligible for retirement due to his years of service, and will receive a six-month severance payment of $215,000, according to the proposed agreement.
Dunn said he believes the proposed separation is a fair way to resolve some of the tension in the system and allow it to move forward again.
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“In my role, I had become a polarizing figure,” Dunn said. “My retirement, along with the new leadership of an outstanding interim president, can allow healing to begin across all parts of the organization and advance important decisions that will need to be made for the future.”
But Dunn will also stay on — back in the classroom. His separation agreement includes a promise to hire him as a visiting professor at SIUE for $100,000 per year at a minimum contract of 18 months. Dunn will conduct research and teach two classes, though the subject matter was not spelled out in the agreement.
Under the rules of the SURS state pension plan, Dunn will limit his earnings as a professor, it says. It also states that neither Dunn nor SIU can sue each other over the termination of his presidency.
The decision was announced two days after the Carbondale faculty approved a vote of no confidence in Dunn, alleging that he was “working to undermine the SIU system” and urged the board to remove him. Dunn responded several times that he considered himself president of the entire system, not just Carbondale.
“Notwithstanding what some may think right now, I love everything that is SIU, no matter the campus or location,” Dunn said. “I wish everyone associated with this great institution the best for the future. It has been a distinct honor for me to serve as president these last four years.”
Public opinion in Carbondale swayed against Dunn after an email surfaced in which he referred to the people opposed to discussing a new division of funding as “bitchers from Carbondale,” which led to calls for his resignation.
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.
Gretchen Fricke is immediate past president of the SIUE Staff Senate, which has been actively campaigning for the reallocation of funds. “I have nothing but admiration and appreciation for Dr. Dunn and the work he did towards creating a more equitable system,” Fricke said.
She added that neither campus can afford the negative impacts on enrollment and reputation that negative publicity brings. “I hope the board can put all this divisiveness in the past and move forward in a spirit of healing and addressing the problems. I, personally, would urge the board to keep any comments private and to end the public discord.”
The board of trustees will meet at 10 a.m. Monday in Edwardsville to approve Dunn’s severance. At the same time, the board will vote on hiring Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey as interim president. Dorsey is dean emeritus of the SIU School of Medicine, serving for 14 years as dean before stepping back to teach medical education at the medical school.
Dorsey will be paid $430,000 annually as interim president, matching Dunn’s salary. His contract will run for one year or until a new university president is hired, whichever comes first. At that point, Dorsey will return to his prior position and salary.