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Dunn remains president of SIU system in 4-4 board deadlock

  • SIU System President Randy Dunn awaits word of his fate on Thursday in Edwardsville.

    SIU System President Randy Dunn awaits word of his fate on Thursday in Edwardsville.
    Geoff Ritter photo

By Geoff Ritter
updated: 6/22/2018 5:21 PM

Randy Dunn, the embattled president of the Southern Illinois University system, will remain on the job, although many other issues dividing the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses remain.

After nearly four hours behind closed doors on the SIU Edwardsville campus Thursday, SIU trustees voted 4-4 on a motion to place Dunn on 120 days of administrative leave. The tie meant the motion failed.

Dunn did not talk to reporters and has not issued a statement after the vote.

In public comments offered prior to the lengthy closed session, members of the SIU Edwardsville community who packed the board room defended Dunn as a leader looking to create fairness within the SIU system. Others at the meeting, including two of the trustees, said Dunn's actions amount to collusion against the Carbondale campus, and that he has lost the credibility to lead all parts of the university system.

Dunn has been under increasing fire following emails publicized last month that appeared to show him withholding some parts of a key funding allocation plan from Carbondale administrators, and also using crude language to describe people on the Carbondale campus opposing the plan.

Dunn since has apologized for his language, but has denied any plot to exclude Carbondale administrators from discussions.

Anne Hunter, the incoming president of the SIUE Staff Senate, said an "us versus them" conflict is playing out between the two campuses, but the time is overdue to give the Edwardsville campus -- once the kid sibling of the Carbondale campus, but now a virtual equal in terms of academic stature and enrollment -- a more fair piece of the pie.

"There were no calls for the removal of President Dunn when Carbondale took money from the other system campuses to make up for their own deficiencies and poor choices," Hunter told trustees. "It wasn't until he pointed out the obvious -- that Carbondale receives a disproportionate share of the system allocation -- and that he refused to accept that fact, that members of this board made moves to punish him. Instead of taking actions to improve the health of the system, the focus has been on pointing fingers to deflect from the fact that the

system no longer benefits all the parties in it."

Charles Berger, an SIUE professor of English, seemed to sum up the attitudes of many in the Edwardsville community: "In effect, President Dunn appears to be in danger of losing his job because he did his job," Berger said.

Only one person from the Carbondale campus spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting: Kathleen Chwalisz, the SIUC professor who first publicly exposed the emails that called Dunn's recent conduct into question.

She accused some in the university community of wishing to "foment conflict between the campuses ... and at the center of this is Randy Dunn, the very person we trusted to shepherd and grow our system."

Trustees Joel Sambursky and J. Phil Gilbert delivered their own public rebukes of Dunn immediately before the vote. Sambursky, the Hall of Fame former Saluki quarterback who has led the recent case against Dunn, said more than 1,000 pages of documents provided to trustees showed Dunn knowingly concealed information from trustees about legislation being drafted to split up the SIU system.

Gilbert, meanwhile, accused Dunn of being "in collusion" with parties hoping to break up the system. He also said Dunn kept the reallocation proposal from trustees for months before the issue became public.

"In my opinion, he can no longer function effectively as the head of the system," Gilbert said.

Dunn did not respond to their comments, and no trustees associated with the Edwardsville campus offered any comments of their own before the vote.

With Dunn's narrow escape, one issue is settled, but the question of equitable funding between the two campuses

remains. In April, a proposal before trustees to divert about $5.1 million in state appropriations from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville failed, but shed new light on the problem.

Following that 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. On May 20, the full board passed resolutions in opposition to each of those bills.

Traditionally, about 64 percent of total state appropriations to SIU have been given to Carbondale, which has seen its student enrollment collapse over the past decade. The Edwardsville campus, meanwhile, has seen consistent enrollment gains and is close to supplanting the Carbondale campus by this metric.

Also on Thursday, trustees discussed documents Sambursky has claimed demonstrate why action relating to Dunn was "urgent and cannot be postponed." Facing multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, the board voted to release the documents to anyone in the public asking for them. Randal Thomas voted against that measure without explanation.

Thursday's special meeting of the full board came less than two weeks after a previously scheduled, but eventually canceled meeting of the board's three-person executive committee that sought to take up the same questions regarding Dunn's employment. That meeting never happened following infighting among board members about its validity.