To the editor: As an alumnus of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale and a former member of the Illinois Board of higher Education as well as the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees, I want to take a moment and share what has become an outside perspective on the ongoing leadership struggle on the Carbondale campus as well as the system itself. As many of the readers do, I share in a love for SIU.
The last few years have been tough for southern Illinois. The comments made by President Dunn were not what we expected of him. It goes without saying that we can all make a mistake or two, I know I have. I believe his apology is sufficient given the fact that folks in Carbondale were in fact reactively complaining, a right they have. I don't view the email obtained through a FOIA, as an attempt to sidestep Carbondale, but simply a reference to a model that former administrators could acknowledge.
I do want to take a moment and call out the legislators calling for Dunn's resignation. This is premature and misguided. It was President Dunn leading SIU through one of the largest budget crises in school history. Many of the legislators calling for the resignation failed to take a single action to support SIU then. It is irresponsible of them to act like they understand what is needed in the system when they can't seem to address the big challenges in the state of Illinois, including funding cuts, that have put SIU in the position it is and resulted in economic hardship on people across the state. It's the board's responsibility to asses the president's job performance, not a state rep who hasn't brought a single dollar to SIU, more specifically the Carbondale campus. If I remember correctly, it was SIUE who provided a loan to support SIUC when legislators failed to act.
Another notion that has arisen is the idea that the Board of Trustees members haven't known of this funding model or of SIUE's request for additional funds. This has been a request before my time at SIU and anyone on the board in the past 10 years knew this was an issue, including the current members, excluding Trustee Britton, who would have discussed this during their executive session prior to the vote. The last-minute appointment by the governor put Trustee Britton in an unfair position seeing as the governor had a year to make this appointment and made it 36 hours before the board meeting.
To the defense of the chancellor for not knowing about the item, I find this hard to believe, as he wrote about it in a blog prior to the meeting on 04/04, to the board meeting. This alone removes the question of what he knew and when he knew it. We also know from the former chair's abstention that this matter was discussed during the recent retreat. The process alone ensures transparency for the chancellors and the Board members themselves to know what recommendations are coming their way.
I call on the board to step up and act in the best fiduciary interest of the system. The system is very healthy and doing very well considering environmental factors it cannot control, i.e., state appropriations and tuition rising on a national scale. Those who believe the president has failed need to remove their bias and assess the system. Chancellor Carlo Montemagno should be held responsible for his failure to enact meaningful solutions over this past year including a failure to increase student enrollment. Restructuring boxes on some diagram won't draw students to the Carbondale campus. Lashing out at your boss in a public setting isn't good for you or for the Carbondale campus.
I realize that a cut of $5 million dollars would be a huge cut for the Carbondale campus. But I fear that the other option would lead to a larger cut that could be as much as five times the suggested amount. The board's failure to address this issue has led the system to be on the brink of splitting. This is not good for SIUC. Even a study by the IBHE, in my opinion, would show that SIUE is due a larger chunk of the funding then it currently receives. The actions taken at the last board meeting has shown the president was right in suggesting the dollar amount he did, and I fear that the board has sent SIUC down a path where the outcome will be much more grim.
President Dunn is a man I respect and who has a great deal of character and integrity. In my personal dealings with him, as a member of the SIU Board and the IBHE, I believe he is deserving of our forgiveness. I hope the people of southern Illinois will forgive President Dunn. My experiences in working with countless chancellors and presidents is that President Dunn is the right man for the job. He has proved it and the removal of President Dunn would be a mistake.
Former Board member to the IBHE and SIU Board of Trustees