Legislation that could have severed the Southern Illinois University board of trustees into two separate organizations may be put on ice to allow time for an independent study.
Think of it like a couple considering divorce, and the judge sends them to mediation instead.
The break-up has been brewing for years, as enrollment has been declining at SIU Carbondale and increasing at the Edwardsville campus. During the budget impasse, Edwardsville had to loan money to Carbondale. And now Edwardsville is fighting for a reallocation of SIU’s state funding – a $5 million shift from Carbondale.
But State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Glen Carbon), wants to take the squabble out of the hands of the SIU board and have the State Board of Higher Education study the full range of options outlined in the package of bills lawmakers have been considering. One of those would split state funding evenly between the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses; another would split the two campuses entirely; and a third that would reconstitute SIU’s Board of Trustees.
Speaking today to the House Higher Education Committee, Stuart said her proposed resolution would be a better option than having the SIU board try to work it out. "I believe it's important to have a truly independent study,” she said. “And the board looking at itself can't be independent."
Stuart is a former faculty member from the Edwardsville campus. Seated next to her at the witness table was Marcus Augustin, president of the faculty senate at SIUE. Augustin — a statistics professor — laid out Edwardsville’s enrollment gains (it’s seen a 23 percent increase over the past 25 years) against Carbondale’s loss (it’s suffered a 40 percent decrease over the same time period). He stopped short of advocating for a split, but hinted that the SIU board of trustees wasn’t easy to work with.
“How would I say this?” Augustin said. “Sometimes it’s easier to work with freshmen college students…” than the board of trustees. “At least with my college students, I think I can reason with them,” he said. The trustees, on the other hand, seem to “want to stay in their silos.”
Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) and Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) both warned that having the IBHE assess the feasibility of splitting ISU would set a precedent that could be the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” that could lead to similar investigations in everything from the University of Illinois system to community colleges with satellite campuses.
On the other hand, hitting pause to allow IBHE weigh in on the controversy could end up preserving the SIU system. Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) — who was set to call his bill splitting the system today — promised not to call it if Stuart’s resolution is approved.
The committee passed the resolution by a vote of 11 to 3, with one lawmaker voting present. The measure will move on to the full House.
The House Higher Education committee plans to travel to Carbondale and Edwardsville to hold separate hearings.