Randy Dunn can no longer effectively serve as president of the Southern Illinois University system.
According to documents obtained by SIU Carbondale faculty member Kathleen Chwalisz and others provided by Board of Trustees member Phil Gilbert, Dunn appears to have withheld information from SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno regarding a proposed $5.1 million shift in funding from the Carbondale campus to SIU Edwardsville.
The funding shift was in reference to the 60-40 split in state monies Dunn insists has been a part of the SIU system’s budgeting process since 1979.
To compound matters even further, Dunn sent a damning email to SIU Edwardsville chancellor Randy Pembrook, SIUE Budget Director Bill Winter, and Vice President for Administrative Affairs Duane Stucky stating that a reference to the 60-40 split was “simply to shut up the bitchers from Carbondale who are saying loudly we shouldn’t even be doing the $5.125M at this time.”
The email became public after Chwalisz filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the funding reallocation. Dunn has subsequently apologized for the “inartful” wording of the email.
Apology notwithstanding, Dunn’s behavior is unacceptable. Inartful isn’t a strong enough characterization of Dunn’s word choice. Even if his statement is a light-hearted jab at those holding opposing views, it is highly inappropriate. Someone of his stature and experience should most certainly understand that.
The email is an official communication between university officials. The “delete” button serves an important purpose. If there is any doubt that official correspondence contains inappropriate or offensive content — hit delete instead of send. Always.
While it is fine Dunn apologized, the apology doesn’t erase the damage created by Dunn’s statement, especially in light of additional information revealed by Chwalisz and Gilbert.
As president of the university system, Dunn’s job is to work closely with both campuses. The email has certainly strained relations with Carbondale. The email also drew swift and pointed criticism from State Reps. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Elizabethtown.
And, the email also casts a shadow on the neutral stance Dunn assumed on proposed legislation to separate the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. That stance remains confusing since Dunn’s livelihood is based on the linkage of the two campuses. It also shows a severe lack of leadership in leading the system, which is his primary duty.
Yes, the knee-jerk reaction to Dunn’s actions is that the board should sever its relationship with the embattled president. Dunn’s contract with the SIU system allows the Board of Trustees to terminate the agreement at any time for “just cause.”
However, if the board terminates his contract without proving just cause, Dunn would be entitled to three years’ salary. His base salary is $430,000 per year. That unexpected $1.3 million expense is the last thing the cash-strapped university system needs. At this point in Dunn’s career, that severance package amounts to early retirement, something that hardly seems fair, considering this latest mess is largely of his own making.
He would truly be earning that salary if he could somehow stitch his constituencies back together.
Unfortunately, that hardly seems likely at this point. This latest incident has driven still another wedge into the fractured political structure that is SIU Carbondale.
As distasteful and demoralizing as it seems, the board should execute the termination clause in Dunn’s contract. The last thing SIU, particularly the Carbondale campus needs, is protracted negative publicity and finger-pointing.
SIUC is desperate for leadership at the moment. Dunn’s actions have undermined his position. The healing at Carbondale needs to begin now.
Dunn’s tenure at SIU hasn’t been all that positive for the Carbondale campus. It’s time for change.
The SIU system should cut its losses and sever the relationship with Dunn. The focus here in Carbondale needs to be on recruitment and retention of new students. That cannot happen with still another controversy swirling around the university.