SIUE community pleads for President Dunn as board considers removal
The strife between the two campuses of Southern Illinois University didn’t start with exiting President Randy Dunn, and won’t be solved by his departure, according to a historian who has studied the university’s history.
“This goes back to the very beginning,” said Dr. Stephen Kerber, the SIUE archivist and professor of library services.
Kerber said the Edwardsville campus was initiated by a local advocacy group that wanted to develop a university campus in the metro-east in the late 1950s. But as early as 1960, after the passage of a bond referendum to help fund SIUE’s beginnings, disagreements arose between the late Delyte Morris, then president of SIU Carbondale, and Dr. Harold See, who had been one of the leaders of the metro-east effort and the initial dean of the Edwardsville campus.
“(Dr.) See wanted a distinct identity, not independence but a separate identity for SIUE,” Kerber said. Morris disagreed, he said, and for years the governance structure kept SIUE as a satellite campus.
Then in 1970, Morris was removed by the board in the middle of a controversy over the construction of a nearly-$1 million president’s residence, according to archive articles from the Southern Illinoisan.
At that point, the governance structure was changed to make the two universities independent institutions under the same umbrella. But the difference in perception of SIUE’s role in the institution has continued, Kerber said - and resentment.
To understand it, Kerber said, you have to understand where SIUC was at that time. “They fought very hard in the 1950s-70s to be able to offer graduate programs and professional programs that the University of Illinois did not want them to have,” Kerber said. He said there was resistance to adding schools of medicine and law to the rural SIU Carbondale, as well as its doctoral degree programs, but the Carbondale leaders fought through it and made SIUC into a research-oriented doctoral institution.
“It’s been a matter of great pride to them,” Kerber said. “There’s always been a perception in Carbondale that based on their history of the 1950s and 60s, they would always remain a major research university and see themselves on a different level than SIUE… It’s disconcerting to them that SIUE seems to have been successful to an extent that they have not.”
Times were different then, Kerber said. “There was a great deal more enthusiasm and support from federal and state government than there is now,” he said. “There was a backlog of people seeking the opportunity to pursue a college education who were landlocked in southern Ililnois — World War II and Vietnam veterans especially.”
But now the location hurts Carbondale in ways it never has before, Kerber said. “A lot of kids do not want to live in a non-metro, non-suburban environment,” he said. “The world has changed, and for whatever reason they haven’t been as successful at keeping up with the changes.”
Meanwhile, the metro-east itself has changed in the last 50 years, along with SIUE. Kerber said the population of Madison County and its continguous counties is now almost three times the population of Jackson County and its contiguous counties.
“At some point someone will notice that there are so many more people in southwestern Illinois than southern Illinois, and question the practicality of sustaining an institution of that size way out there in Carbondale,” he said.
Should the two campuses be split?
The question of whether SIU Carbondale and Edwardsville really belong together has risen many times over the years, with more frequency in the decade or more that SIUE has been growing at a breakneck pace while Carbondale’s enrollment — and thus its funds — has plummeted. Most projections show that SIUE’s total enrollment will pass Carbondale’s this fall, with Carbondale possibly welcoming a freshman class under 1,000 students.
That discussion rose again in 2017 when the state budget crisis forced Carbondale to request a loan from Edwardsville’s reserve funds. There was resistance to the loan from Edwardsville, and call to reexamine how funding is divided between the campuses once the crisis had passed.
In the midst of the discussion was university President Randy Dunn, who supported efforts by Edwardsville administrators to shift more of the state funding from Carbondale to the younger campus earlier this year. Such was the contentious discussion around Dunn’s support that the board of trustees eventually held a stalemate vote on whether to fire him, and the faculty at Carbondale sustained a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Dunn negotiated a voluntary separation agreement last month, and an interim president will take over the system while a search is conducted for a new leader.
Much of the controversy surrounding Dunn’s leadership stemmed from emails over the last several months released via the Freedom of Information Act. In the months since the trustees voted down a proposal to shift $5.6 million in funding from Carbondale to Edwardsville in a 60-40 split, State Reps. Jay Hoffman and Katie Stuart have introduced multiple bills restructuring SIU.
One bill would dissolve the board and reconstitute it with equal representation from each campus; one would require a 50-50 split of funding; and one separates the campuses entirely, which would have eliminated Dunn’s position and that of several other employees in the system office.
Trustees aligned with the Carbondale campus alleged that Dunn was “conspiring” with legislators to dismantle the system.
In the 1,888 pages of emails released after the June meeting, there are several emails that indicate Dunn and SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook were aware that Hoffman intended to introduce such bills, but focused on the reallocation proposal that the board voted down on April 12.
One financial analysis contained in the emails detailed how funding would be allocated if enrollment were the sole consideration — using “full-time equivalent,” meaning that two half-time students would count as one full-time-equivalent student, etc.
Using that measure, approximately $17.7 million would be shifted from Carbondale to Edwardsville, according to the reports in Dunn’s emails. The actual proposal was for approximately $5.6 million.
“I agree that there are factors in addition to enrollment which should be included in this deliberation,” Pembrook wrote to SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno. “But, as student-centered institutions, students are our primary consideration and should be at the center of our conversations, including funding to support them. Therefore, enrollments are a significant part of the allocation conversation.”
SIUE’s average appropriation per student is $4,562 vs. $6,585 for other masters-level universities. SIUC’s average is $7,554 per student vs. $5,125 for other doctoral-level universities in Illinois, according to the study.
But up to the day of the April vote denying the $5 million shift, Dunn wrote in several emails he could not publicly support any separation bills until the board of trustees instructed him to take a stand. After Montemagno published a blog post criticizing reallocation, Dunn gave Pembrook permission to speak his own mind.
The emails also show significant tension between Dunn and Montemagno, particularly after Montemagno’s public posts and emails allegedly sent directly to the trustees, bypassing Dunn. Dunn wrote to Montemagno that his statements were “misleading at best and insubordinate at worst.”
“I have attempted these past eight months, within my own ethical considerations of your reorganization plan, to support your efforts to lead the SIUC campus, to the point of writing a joint statement of support with the chair for your leadership. But if it’s now your decision to essentially ignore the chain of command… then so be it.” Dunn went on to say Montemagno’s “insubordination” risked losing his support for his chancellorship.
Resistance to changing funding
In the messages, Montemagno said he believed it was “premature” to change the allocation, and alleged that the $5.6 million shift would require him to lay off 110 staff members.
Elsewhere, Dunn corresponded with former SIUE interim chancellor Stephen Hansen, who had offered to serve as a consultant on reevaluating allocation of funds. Dunn declined his request, stating that he believed a neutral party with no connection to either campus was needed.
However, they expressed regret regarding the possibility of separation of the campuses. “We may have arrived at the time where the split just needs to take place because I don’t think it’s going back in the bottle after this,” Dunn wrote to Hansen. “May not be this year or next… but I think it’s where the natural outcome of all this eventually leads.”
In writing to Emily Bastedo, chief adviser on education to Gov. Bruce Rauner, Dunn referenced the governor’s decision to name a Carbondale-linked trustee to the board right before the reallocation vote in April, thus swinging the board against Edwardsville. He alleged that U.S. Rep. Mike Bost had influence on that decision, and in a later memo mentioned that he had warned Rauner unbalancing the board would explode tensions between the campuses.
In that later memo, Dunn told Bastedo he “doesn’t see a clear avenue” in which the breach could be repaired. He told her that he was not asking for the governor to take action, but wanted to make sure they recognized “the organizational unraveling.”
In another email exchange with SIUE professor David Heth, Dunn opined that resurrecting Carbondale would be “a decade-long project,” and that Edwardsville shouldn’t have to wait that long for “basic fairness.”
Is it basic fairness? Many in the Edwardsville campus think so, Kerber said.
“What it comes down to is whether or not it will be possible to change the relationship and to adop this formula that’s being sought. It’s all about money,” Kerber said.
It’s all about money, Kerber said. Carbondale leaders are concerned about people losing their jobs, and leaders in southern Illinois are concerned about the economic impact of the Carbondale university. During the controversy over Dunn’s emails, mayors and civic leaders from many towns surrounding Carbondale joined the calls for his resignation.
But Edwardsville is concerned as well, Kerber said, as SIUE is the third-largest employer in the metro-east with an economic impact of more than $500 million a year in the region.
Now instead of being the junior campus, Kerber said, SIUE is a competitor for Carbondale, particularly for the flood of students coming out of Chicago.
“The disagreement, the imbalance has been there since the beginning,” he said. “With the enrollment, push has come to shove. I think the only way that the system can become efficient and function smoothly… is if the board decides to make it a matter of policy that the system is two equal partner institutions, with a neutral formula.”
But that will require everyone to “take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.