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SIU trustees: Keep Carbondale, Edwardsville together, work out more equitable funding

  • Members of the SIU Board of Trustees meet Wednesday at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.

    Members of the SIU Board of Trustees meet Wednesday at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

By Geoffrey Ritter
updated: 6/1/2018 1:11 PM

Facing growing division from within, the SIU Board of Trustees this week sent a message to Illinois lawmakers that the campuses at Carbondale and Edwardsville should remain part of one system.

Meeting Wednesday in special session at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, trustees voted to oppose pieces of legislation moving through the Illinois legislature that, in turn, would split the campuses into separate universities, completely replace the current board, and require an even split in appropriations between the two campuses.

The board took no stance on an additional resolution that would ask the Illinois State Board of Education to conduct a study of the university's management structure and the viability of splitting the two campuses.

Trustees convened the meeting to respond directly to the three bills and one resolution, which Illinois legislators filed following the board's contentious decision in April to not reallocate $5.1 million from the struggling Carbondale campus to its growing sister campus in Edwardsville.

The acrimony between the campuses was exacerbated in mid-May by email disclosures appearing to show embattled system President Randy Dunn leaving Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno out of the loop when discussing the reallocation proposal. Dunn's reference to the "bitchers from Carbondale" - referring to supporters of the Carbondale campus - in an email to Edwardsville administrators complicated the situation further.

The most dramatic of the bills currently circulating in the Illinois House was filed by state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, just days after April's board meeting. The legislation would split the campuses into two entirely independent universities, with the School of Law staying with the Carbondale campus and the School of Medicine becoming part of the Edwardsville campus. Both universities would function under the oversight of their own boards of trustees.

Five trustees -- Phil Gilbert, Shirley Portwood, Marsha Ryan, Joel Sambursky and Tom Britton -- voted for a resolution opposing Hoffman's bill, with many citing the need for more information before making a decision. Board Chairwoman Amy Sholar and SIUE student trustee Luke Jansen abstained. Two trustees, Randal Thomas and SIUC student trustee Sam Beard, were not in attendance.

Trustees also voted to oppose another bill, filed by state Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey, that would entirely reconstitute the current board, and require that the newly seated board include three graduates of the Carbondale campus, three of the Edwardsville campus, one member with no attachment to either campus, and a student trustee from both campuses.

That proposal actually matches the board's current composition, although the bill would give full voting powers to both student trustees; the board's current policy only gives a vote to one, with the governor making the selection.

Only Sholar voted to support the measure, in part citing the value of giving both student trustees a vote.

"I believe it brings balance to the board," she said.

Trustees also voted to oppose a third bill, filed by state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, that would require a 50-50 split in state allocations between the two campuses -- an issue of growing concern as enrollment on the Edwardsville campus threatens to surpass that on the Carbondale campus as soon as this fall. Current funding models have seen about 64 percent of allocations given to Carbondale.

Trustees voted unanimously to oppose that plan, with Sholar abstaining.

Most of trustees' concerns centered around the perceived need for an independent, third-party study of the current funding model before making a final decision.

"Let's review the funding model and make it more fair," Trustee Joel Sambursky said.

Trustee Marsha Ryan concurred, saying opposition to the plan from Carbondale has incorrectly painted the SIUC community as "provincial."

"No one has said don't study it, don't reallocate," Ryan said. "All anyone I know has said let's study it and follow the evidence where it leads."

Trustee J. Phil Gilbert said he is in favor of Edwardsville receiving more funding, "but ... in a way that it's done in a fair fashion."

Sholar, however, said the issue of equitable funding has festered for years, and now is the time to deal with it.

"I don't want to kick this can too much further," she said.

The board took no stance on a House resolution that would ask the Illinois Board of Higher Education to conduct a study regarding the governance structure of the system and the feasibility of becoming two distinct universities. Gilbert suggested such a study would have "no teeth" to it, while Ryan questioned whether the IBHE was the correct body to conduct such a study.

The board's next scheduled meeting is July 12, again in Springfield.

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