President Dunn faces furor at SIU
Embattled campus leader clings to job after calling Carbondale critics 'bitchers'
By Ted Cox
The embattled president of Southern Illinois University is clinging to his job after emails revealed he worked behind the scenes to transfer $5 million to the Edwardsville campus and referred to those opposed to the move in Carbondale as "bitchers."
Professor Kathleen Chwalisz revealed the emails, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, in an op-ed piece in The Southern newspaper on Thursday. She wrote that President Randy Dunn "actively concealed" his proposal to shift $5.125 million from Carbondale to Edwardsville while he took the public posture of being neutral on the shift — abruptly presented to the SIU Board of Trustees at its April meeting, and just as abruptly voted down, 4-3.
One Illinois had an interview scheduled with Dunn Thursday, totally by coincidence, and when asked about it he immediately granted that he had supported the proposal.
"I made the recommendation to our board based upon the fact that the idea of the system is that there is equal treatment of equals," he said. "And you've got a situation now with Edwardsville where, given the enrollments we're looking at, we would anticipate for the fall of '18 here in just a few months that we'll see Edwardsville with as many as 1,000 more new students — first-time freshmen and new transfers — as many as 1,000 more more new students than Carbondale coming onto the campus."
On Monday, however, Chwalisz re-emphasized that Dunn had previously maintained neutrality on the proposal in public, saying, "He had gone on the record — there was an article in the Chicago Tribune — saying, 'I'm not taking a position on this, I'm totally neutral.'
"There are definitely some things that don't make sense in how he talks," Chwalisz said.
SIU enrollment has been dropping for years at its Carbondale campus, and it fell below 15,000 last fall. Edwardsville also suffered a loss last fall, to just below 14,000, but according to Dunn it's projected to surpass Carbondale this fall. (SIU also has a smaller medical campus in Springfield.) He argued that a fair reallocation would have been far more than $5 million.
"If we adjust changed state appropriations support on the basis of enrollment alone, it would have been an additional $20 million to Edwardsville," Dunn said. "You can't do that to the Carbondale campus, can't allow that to happen, because it would drown them."
Chwalisz charged that it was the underhanded way in which the $5 million shift was attempted that showed "contempt" for Carbondale, as well as the way Dunn played to Edwardsville factions proposing the campuses be split into separate universities.
According to notes on a meeting obtained in the FOIA search: "Dunn also said this will put 'Carbondale trustees' in a spot since voting against it will be used as ammunition by the group that is developing SIUE separation legislation." Such legislation was introduced in the General Assembly shortly after the April meeting when the $5 million transfer was voted down.
Dunn also stated in an email that it would "shut up the bitchers from Carbondale."
That set off a salvo of calls for Dunn to resign in the General Assembly, with state Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro stating on the House floor, "I stand today before you as a loud, proud bitcher." State Rep. Chad Hays, of Catlin, also called on Dunn to resign, drawing on the SIU mascot in saying, "On behalf of all Salukis, you go to hell, sir." They were soon joined by state Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, of Elizabethtown.
Dunn held a news conference Friday to say he had no intention of stepping down. In a statement, he apologized for using "a less than complementary (sic) term," and called it "preposterous" that he would seek to have the campuses split.
"Contempt for the Carbondale campus and community?" Dunn said. "I live here. I worked at SIU Carbondale previously. And when I was asked by the Board of Trustees to apply for this job, we were very happy to return to Southern Illinois and home. Contempt? No, not at all. My wife and I own our home here. We are proud and active members of this community. I think if anyone has been denigrated in this situation, it has been me for doing my job and working for the best interests of all the campuses in the SIU System — which I was hired to do. To say that I have contempt for my neighbors, colleagues, friends and co-workers is insulting and is not worthy of being suggested against someone who shares a long history with this institution."
Dunn is not a lifelong academic, but rather said he was the first member of his family to attend college after growing up on a farm outside Rock Island. Specializing in education, kindergarten through high school, he worked his way up as a teacher and principal to teach at Carbondale before accepting a job as head of the Illinois State Board of Education in the mid-2000s. After moving on to head other universities, he returned to become president at SIU, overseeing all three campuses, four years ago.
Chwalisz, however, also charged that SIU suffered its biggest drop in enrollment the following fall, while Dunn was acting as chancellor following the death of an administrator in that post.
"Some of us came to refer to him as the 'prancellor,'" she said, adding that he got rid of a marketing firm hired by a previous chancellor. "It was an expensive marketing firm, and it was kind of controversial at the time, so I thought, 'Good, we're not wasting money on that anymore,' but he didn't replace them with anything else. So we went from a lot of marketing to absolutely no marketing whatsoever. And I think that really hurt our enrollment quite a lot."
According to Chwalisz, Eastern Illinois and the Edwardsville campus have both "bounced back more quickly than Carbondale," and she attributed that to publicity pushes. "Both of those campuses put a bunch of money into advertising and marketing," she said. "We did not, by his call. We also haven't had an enrollment manager since 2011."
Dunn granted that the university had suffered from not filling that position and said it was now being staffed by someone assigned to assist the enrollment process across the board. Blaming SIU's decline on "a crisis of confidence," he said recovery is a "matter of competence and perception" and that "we're here and we're going to be here." But he didn't have a good answer for how a campus trying to stop the bleeding would be helped with the perception that it was ceding $5 million to its sibling campus.
A "Carbondale Bitchers" T-shirt is available on Etsy.
"I'm not trying to get him fired or anything. I just thought the public needed to know," Chwalisz said. She added that the notion of a $5 million reallocation had come up at a Board of Trustees retreat in March, which she attended as one of the leaders of the SIUC Faculty Senate Budget Committee, but that it was then agreed to hire a consultant to study it. When it suddenly appeared on the April agenda for the board's meeting, without the knowledge of Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, she submitted a FOIA to the budget offices at both campuses and the main SIU System.
"I figured there was stuff that I would find," Chwalisz said, "and what I got was shocking."
According to Dunn, the matter is now back to being studied independently, and he insisted Montemagno's office was aware of the transfer proposal, but the chancellor has not backed him up publicly on that. Meanwhile, calls for his resignation have gained their own momentum.
The board has scheduled a meeting May 30, including an executive session on personnel matters. Dunn said he does not believe he's the topic for discussion.
"Can he remain on?" Chwalisz said. "I don't know. That's not my call."