In his first address to the campus, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s new chancellor acknowledged that school leaders have probably been “lamenting the budget” for six decades. But he offered optimism about the college’s future because of his plans for a largely untapped potential funding source: the community.
Randall Pembrook, the university’s ninth chancellor, has only been on campus for about 50 days, but he said Thursday that he’s been thinking about SIUE’s future for 40 years. He’s a southern Illinois native and SIUE alum who had been working as the chief academic officer at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., before making the move back to the metro-east.
Pembrook said SIUE is actually in a stable financial position despite the state’s budget crisis and that it will likely continue to be in good shape through fiscal year 2017-18.
“... I don’t want to say that we don’t need state appropriations — obviously we do for the long term — but in terms of the short term and looking at 16-17 and 17-18, we think that we are in a positive position to be able to continue the programs that we’re offering now and to do the things we want to do with students,” Pembrook said in an interview.
One of the reasons that I talk about community relationships so much is because I think that if the state of Illinois takes a step back or reduces funding, I think we have to talk to our local partners — businesses, other education entities.
Randall Pembrook, SIUE chancellor
That’s because of cuts that have already been made to things like travel, equipment and athletic programs — including the elimination of men’s tennis and women’s golf. Faculty and staff have also not had raises for three years, Pembrook said, and the university has built up its reserves.
“Just about everybody at the table is doing something different,” Pembrook said. “We changed our approach to 2,660 acres; we used to think about it being one big lawn, and now as you drive around the campus, you see some areas where we just said, ‘We’re probably going to let that kind of go natural, the way it normally is in nature, but try to keep the core really beautiful.’ — cut back on some maintenance. We’re getting our trash emptied once a week now.”
The main area the university has not made cuts is to the “academic enterprise,” according to Pembrook; SIUE will avoid those cuts for “as long as we can.”
But throughout the state’s budget woes, Pembrook said the college has offered one of the lowest tuition costs for a public institution and has graduated almost half of its students with no debt. More than 42 percent of students are able to leave SIUE debt-free because of scholarship programs, he said.
Further budget cuts might not be an issue for the university this year until after the November election. The state has currently paid half of its $60 million appropriation.
In the meantime, Pembrook said he hopes to begin programs that will expand the university’s funding sources beyond the state’s appropriation or students’ tuition.
“One of the reasons that I talk about community relationships so much is because I think that if the state of Illinois takes a step back or reduces funding, I think we have to talk to our local partners — businesses, other education entities,” he said. “We have to talk about collaborations.”
Pembrook said he has experience making these connections in his previous job at Washburn.
“I think what I’m bringing,” Pembrook said, “is some very specific ways of reaching out to those companies and saying, ‘Here’s a partnership that maybe hasn’t been discussed before...’”
SIUE faculty might offer their expertise to companies for a fee, for example, or businesses might offer joint support for academic programs that will eventually produce skilled workers for them.
In addition to these partnerships, Pembrook has more short-term goals, which he laid out in his address to the community. Among the new chancellor’s plans are:
▪ To think about incoming freshman classes beyond 18-year-old high school graduates.
“What opportunities do we have with 30-somethings? With Boomers? With international students?” Pembrook said.
▪ To expand online programs, consider new programs, determine academic priorities and improve outcomes for high enrollment courses.
▪ To determine space and funding for a center for teaching excellence and learning, “which will benefit faculty, students and our community by keeping our pedagogy fresh and informed,” Pembrook said.
▪ To move forward with searches for a new vice chancellor for academic affairs and vice chancellor for administration.