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What Brought SIU To The Breaking Point?

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

The fate of Southern Illinois University's president may be decided tomorrow at a special meeting of SIU's board of trustees, which is set to consider placing Pres. Randy Dunn on administrative leave.

This decision comes amid a heated debate about dissolving the SIU system and making its two campuses independent entities.

We asked Jennifer Fuller, who has been covering this issue for nearly two decades, to explain how SIU got to this point.


Rhodes: How close are we to a breakup of these two university campuses?

Jennifer Fuller: You know, it appears to be the closest that it has been.

This is not the first time this has come up. There have been numerous times that legislation has been sponsored in Springfield that would split the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses. But this is the first time that it's remained so top-of-mind or on the front burner.

Rhodes: Okay, describe the two campuses.

Fuller:  Carbondale was the original campus, and it is a research institution. It,  at one time, had 25,000 students. And over the last 20 years or so, enrollment is down quite a bit. At the same time, the Edwardsville campus started as a small campus, and it has continued to grow. And now the two campuses — in terms of enrollment — are growing closer and closer together.

Rhodes:  And I think Edwardsville is on the brink of surpassing Carbondale.

Fuller: That's what the Edwardsville administration says the projections will be. We started hearing from the Edwardsville campus— publicly —at the March Board of Trustees retreat. They wanted to look at some equity when it comes to how state funds are dispersed and things like that. And the board has really been grappling with that ever since. You might remember that in April, there was a plan that would shift $5 million in state funds from Carbondale to Edwardsville, and that did not pass. And so that issue has just kind of stayed there — whether or not to have a consultant come in and look at how the funds are distributed... There was even legislation that would have asked the IBHE — the Illinois Board of Higher Education — to take a look at this issue.

Rhodes: But $5 million doesn't sound like a lot of money to have so much conflict about.

Fuller: It might not, but when you're coming off of a budget impasse where there were a lot of cuts that had to be imposed on both campuses, I think it was surprising for some people. And so they want more time to really look at how those funds are distributed. They're also looking at how you count students in terms of their cost. The chancellor in Carbondale, Carlo Montemagno, has said that there are some students that cost more to teach, because their course of study requires either higher levels of laboratory work or perhaps a faculty line that might cost more to bring in the faculty that they need. And the Edwardsville staff have have said, "We understand that, and we acknowledge that. We have some of those same kinds of concerns."

Rhodes: So the main points of contention ... Is it really all about this $5 million?  Or is there more to it than that?

Fuller: There is some concern among faculty members and others about a reorganization plan on the Carbondale campus. It comes from Chancellor Montemagno, who has still in his first year here, and there are a lot of questions about whether it goes through the guidelines that are in the Faculty Association, the union contract.

Rhodes: On the last day of the legislative session, Rep. Terri Bryant told me that this conflict goes back to the hiring of Montemagno, and that the Board of Trustees selected him over the objection of the SIU president, Randy Dunn. And there were revelations that family members were given a couple of jobs — $30,000 to $40,000 a year jobs — and that also the moving expenses for extended family members were paid by the university and that was.the root of this nasty blow up.

Fuller: I've heard the same thing. I know that Dr. Dunn has talked about some concerns that he has with the chancellor's reorganization plan that we've already talked about, and those issues with hiring a family members and moving expenses and those sorts of things. They've prompted an ethics investigation that has gone, at least in one case, to the Office of the Executive Inspector General in Springfield. All of it sort of plays in together.

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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