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SIU trustees to consider forcing President Dunn out

  • SIU President Randy Dunn answers reporters' questions last month. The embattled president has faced calls for his resignation throughout the spring.

    SIU President Randy Dunn answers reporters' questions last month. The embattled president has faced calls for his resignation throughout the spring.
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

By Geoffrey Ritter
updated: 6/20/2018 12:35 PM

The SIU Board of Trustees will meet Thursday to consider putting system President Randy Dunn on administrative leave, appointing an acting president to take his spot, and pursuing a study of the contentious distribution of funds between SIU's Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses.

The special meeting of the full board, scheduled for 10 a.m. on the Edwardsville campus, comes just a month after trustees last met in Springfield to discuss growing tensions between the two campuses and only two weeks after an abruptly scheduled meeting of the board's executive committee also aimed to replace Dunn.

That meeting, which would have included just three of the board's seven voting members, was canceled just as abruptly as it was scheduled following public feuding among trustees over the intent and validity of the planned actions to replace the president.

Dunn, president of the SIU system since 2014, has faced mounting pressure following the release of emails in May that appeared to show him withholding some parts of a key funding allocation plan from Carbondale administrators, and also using crude language to describe some on the Carbondale campus in opposition to that plan. Dunn since has apologized for his language and denied any plot to exclude Carbondale administrators from discussions.

At issue was a proposal before trustees in April to divert about $5.1 million in state appropriations from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville, a move that was intended to create more funding equity between the two campuses. Traditionally, about 64 percent of total state appropriations have been given to Carbondale, which has experienced a decadelong enrollment decline. The Edwardsville campus, meanwhile, has seen enrollment gains and could even surpass the head count on the Carbondale campus as soon as this fall.

Following heated opposition from the Carbondale campus, April's $5.1 million reallocation measure failed to win board approval. In an email sent in the run-up to that failed vote, Dunn tells Edwardsville administrators he has yet to brief Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno on the proposed funding reallocation. That briefing allegedly never happened, although other evidence indicates Montemagno clearly was aware of details of the reallocation plan prior to the vote.

Dunn also writes about his public mentions of a supposedly long-standing 60/40 split in state funding between the campuses as a means to "shut up" opponents from Carbondale "who are saying loudly we shouldn't even be doing the $5.125M at this time." That comment, which included a profane term to describe those from Carbondale, further roiled tensions between the two campuses.

Following the failed reallocation vote, state legislators introduced several bills calling separately for the dissolution of the SIU system, the replacement of the entire board, and a requirement for equal distribution of funds between the two campuses. At a special meeting May 20, the full board passed resolutions in opposition to each of those bills.

Less than a week after that meeting, two members of the board's three-person executive committee, Joel Sambursky and J. Phil Gilbert, called for the eventually canceled meeting aimed at temporarily replacing Dunn.

Following the meeting announcement, Board Chair Amy Sholar, the third member of the committee, issued a blunt statement saying the planned meeting was invalid according to the board's bylaws, and that the three members of the executive committee do not have the sweeping power to unilaterally replace the university's president.

Sambursky eventually asked that the meeting be canceled, but noted that the university's general counsel had affirmed the meeting's validity.

Sambursky also said board members were in possession of documents demonstrating why action relating to Dunn is "urgent and cannot be postponed." Thursday's meeting also includes a discussion about the public release of those documents.