Gauen: A look at the road to a possible split of SIUE and SIUC

Carbondale might not have been a logical place to put a major hub of higher education. But it was what Delyte W. Morris, the energetic visionary who created Southern Illinois University, had available.

The site, among farms and coal mines three-fourths of the way down from Springfield to Cairo, did make sense for the school’s beginning in 1869 as the second of Illinois’ “normal schools.” Those were colleges scattered around the state to train teachers.

In fact, it was still the Southern Illinois Normal College when Morris, a professor at Ohio State University, took the job as president in 1948.

Morris pushed the school’s rapid growth to fill a personal commitment of making quality higher education locally available to more than just fledgling teachers. The region certainly did lack such opportunity. But the community was – and is – relatively isolated and sparsely populated.

SIU at Carbondale grew to a peak enrollment of 24,869 in 1991, with a wide variety of programs. There was easy access to Chicago by rail, and eventually via Interstate 57. By 1970, it had a medical school, and by 1972, a law school.

I don’t think Morris ever intended to eclipse Carbondale when he looked up 100 miles toward Metro East, at the time another under-served area. Despite proximity to pricey private institutions in the St. Louis area, there was no affordable state university nearby. By 1957, SIU was offering limited classes in East St. Louis and Alton.

A bond issue in 1960 financed a major new SIU campus that opened at the southwest edge of Edwardsville five years later. It seemed no threat to the Carbondale mothership.

SIUE was at first a commuter school, offering economical four-year degrees mainly to the locals, with a semblance of the college social experience optional. In my time there, 1968-70, many students came only for classes.

SIUC, with a reputation for solid academics and research (and yes, hardy partying), enrolled people from across the U.S. and abroad.

The campuses are physically quite different.

If SIUC is hidden out on the prairie, it is at least integrated with the businesses and homes of the city. The place feels like a small-scale University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or University of Missouri at Columbia.

SIUE, by contrast, is hidden in the middle of a metro area, centered in its own, 2,660-acre domain. Major highways only skirt the edges. It would be easily possible to spend a lifetime living, working and shopping in Edwardsville without ever seeing one of the university’s main buildings.

The two campuses operated at first as a single university, always with some rivalries. In my days there, SIUE was feisty but resignedly subservient. Beginning in the late 1960s came some autonomy. Still sharing a name and board of trustees and central governance, the campuses began to have separate budgets and strategies.

Over time, SIUE grew more robust while SIUC consistently lost students. Last fall, their enrollments (13,796 and 14,554 respectively) were fewer than 760 students apart. There are projections that SIUE might take the lead later this year.

I touched on their change of fortunes when I wrote a year ago about SIUC needing to borrow operating money from SIUE.

A financial controversy flared earlier this month when the SIU Board of Trustees, which still governs both, rejected a proposal to move $5.1 million from SIUC to SIUE. The SIUE chancellor, Randy Pembrook, complained that his campus was denied “an equitable distribution” of state funds.

Hence, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, again offered legislation (HB 5861) to divorce the schools once and for all, with effectively the same names but separate boards of trustees. (Similar bills went nowhere in 2003, 2005 and 2013.)

SIUC surely would bristle at divorce terms suggesting it keep its law school but cede the medical school to SIUE, which already has dental, nursing and pharmaceutical degrees.

Some argue that having the second largest enrollment among the nine state universities provides the combined SIU with clout in Springfield. I don’t know. If split, SIUC and SIUE still would be fourth and fifth among 10 (behind the University of Illinois, Illinois State and Northern).

There is another bill (HB 5860), from state Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, to keep the union and reconstitute the board with seven voting members selected by the governor. Six would have to be former SIU students, split equally between the two campuses, and the remaining one could not have attended either place. I fear that such a plan would just entrench the divisions and overly empower the tiebreaker.

At this point, I lean on my memory of the late President Morris, whom I knew a little, for what the father of it all might think. These institutions were like his children. He loved and nurtured them, and approached their bickering with fatherly wisdom. He worked hard to see both thrive. Would he want them separated? I think not.

But Morris is long gone, and this is less a decision of sentiment than of practicality and politics. If Carbondale’s slide truly imperils Edwardsville’s success, it is time. But I don’t think we’ve seen the data to prove that yet.

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April 18, 2018 at 04:40PM

Gauen: A look at the road to a possible split of SIUE and SIUC

Our View: Time to throw away golden parachutes for public employees

Who wouldn’t want a golden parachute while being shown the door into the great unknown?

Of course, a golden parachute isn’t used by someone about to jump out of an airplane due to an unexpected pending crash. It’s the tongue-in-cheek term for the often obscenely large severance package given to a high-ranking employee who is exiting earlier than planned, usually because of some breach of the public’s trust.

You’d think committing such an action would not warrant any type of severance, yet it happens all too often to high-level public employees who have been involved in wrongdoing. A recent example: In June 2017, Doug Baker, the president of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, agreed to retire after a report by the Governor’s Office of Executive Inspector General found multiple instances of improper spending under his watch.

The report found that since Baker took the helm at NIU in 2013, the university repeatedly misclassified several high-level, highly-paid consultants with a designation that was supposed to be used for short-term, part-time workers, which allowed NIU to avoid the bidding process. That resulted in more than $1 million in public money being paid to consultants not selected through the required competitive procurement process. This occurred at the same time public higher education institutions like NIU were complaining about having less state funding for operational costs and making cuts to the number of programs offered.

The report concluded that “Ultimately, President Baker is responsible for mismanaging NIU’s resources.” And for skirting ethics requirements, the NIU Board of Trustees rewarded Baker with a severance package of more than $600,000. It included a year’s salary of $450,000, another $137,500 for resigning from his tenured teaching position and $30,000 for legal counsel. And even after the initial decision to grant those payments was vacated by a judge, since the NIU Board of Trustees did not follow the Open Meetings Act in approving it, trustees voted again – properly this time – to dole out the same amounts.

This is just one of the more recent examples of public boards awarding a ridiculous severance package to a person who ignored the responsibility that came along with their positions. It leads to a lack of trust in government agencies, which can at times be borne by the hard-working efforts of the rank-and-file public employees who do their jobs well and have to suffer the consequences of the unethical actions of their superiors.

It’s time to say enough to these ridiculous severance packages. State Sen. Tom Cullerton has introduced Senate Bill 3604, or the Government Severance Pay Act, which would limit severance pay to no more than 20 weeks of compensation for public executives. It would prohibit altogether severance pay if the employee has been fired for misconduct.

The Better Government Association, which is advocating for this legislation, notes that public boards often provide these six-figure severance packages as way to avoid employment litigation. SB 3604, if it became law, would remove those worries.

This measure, introduced April 10, would protect taxpayer money from going toward people who don’t deserve it. It’s good government legislation that might even build a little bit of trust in public officials and boards. Legislators should quickly pass it, and Gov. Bruce Rauner should sign it.

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April 17, 2018 at 08:36PM

Our View: Time to throw away golden parachutes for public employees

EDITORIAL: Enough with the golden parachutes for top public executives

Do you know what really bugged us?

When the president of Northern Illinois University, Doug Baker, was sent packing last year because of a misspending scandal and the university cut him a severance check worth more than a half-million dollars.

NIU was rewarding failure.


Do you know what else bugged us?

When the president of Chicago State University, Thomas Calhoun Jr., was eased out two years ago, after a mere nine months on the job, and picked up a severance check worth $600,000.

For no reason that anybody has ever explained, Calhoun got a terrific golden parachute.

And do you know what really got our goat?

When Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who had accused Metra’s board of political hiring, agreed to leave three years ago, he was granted a severance deal worth more than $650,000.

That was an awful lot of train fares.

The sorry truth is that public universities, agencies and local governments in Illinois have a bad habit of throwing money at top executives as they walk out the door, even when the executives leave under a cloud, and it has got to stop.

A bill pending in Springfield, which we support, would do just that, tightly limiting severance deals for public executives. Senate Bill 3604 looks to us like a law that any legislator or governor — Democratic or Republican — who puts the taxpayer first should be eager to support.

The Government Severance Pay Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, would prohibit employees fired for misconduct from collecting any severance at all, and it would limit severance packages for other public executives to a maximum of 20 weeks of pay.

As the Better Government Association, which is pushing the bill hard, says, it would “give governments in Illinois the ability to remain competitive while eliminating abuses that fuel taxpayer mistrust.”

The bill would protect your taxpayer dollars. Equally important, it would safeguard the honor of the vast majority of public employees who, at every level, work for a paycheck that is anything but exorbitant.

Every time a top public executive, even when embroiled in a scandal, flies away with an absurdly generous golden parachute, the reputation of all public employees is unfairly tainted — and that, too, has to end.

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April 17, 2018 at 03:16PM

EDITORIAL: Enough with the golden parachutes for top public executives

Opinion: SIU funding vote was a reprieve for Carbondale. The campus must get its act together.

If Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, the city of Carbondale and the people of deep Southern Illinois consider Wednesday’s SIU Board of Trustees vote a victory, they are making a grave mistake.

The Board of Trustees voted on a proposal that would have allocated an additional $5.1 million of the SIU system’s state appropriation to SIU Edwardsville.

A couple of facts served as impetus for this proposal. The most obvious is the seismic shift in enrollment over the past decade. For most of SIU Edwardsville’s existence, it has been the smaller sibling. That is no longer the case. Enrollment at the two campuses is nearly identical. In fact, projections indicate SIU Edwardsville may actually surpass Carbondale this fall.

Granted, this is a complicated issue. However, based on those two facts alone it seems clear that “the times, they are a-changing.” From the outside looking in, it seems obvious that the funding shift will occur sooner rather than later.

Dunn is in the process of hiring a consulting firm that will determine an equitable formula for divvying up the state funds. We applaud that action. He told the newspaper earlier this week that enrollment will probably make up at least 51 percent of that formula … another indication that Thursday’s vote was not a victory for SIU Carbondale, but rather a reprieve.

This is an issue that is not going to disappear. In fact, shortly after the vote not to shift the funds, state Rep. Jay Hoffmann of Swansea filed legislation that would separate the two campuses.

That notion is both premature and ill-considered.

The SIU System is currently made up of about 30,000 students. Between the two campuses the university system boasts a law school and a medical school (based at SIU Carbondale), as well as pharmacy and dental schools (based at SIU Edwardsville).

If the state of Illinois doesn’t get its financial house in order, or if there is another budget crisis, that university system carries considerable financial clout. Separating the two systems might seem beneficial to Edwardsville in the short term, but in the long term it figures to weaken the political standing of both entities.

It is important to note that SIU Edwardsville reached this point as part of the system. Obviously, it has been working.

Conversely, it is unacceptable to settle for the status quo — particularly where SIU Carbondale is concerned. These actions, the vote to shift funding and the proposal to dissolve the current SIU System, are loud, clear signals that the Carbondale campus needs to get its act together quickly.

We would love to see SIU Carbondale’s focus on recruiting and retaining students take precedence over everything else for the time being. Getting students to come to our spectacular campus and then keeping them here is currently more important than whether academic units are divided into schools or departments.

And, the city of Carbondale and the surrounding area, which rely heavily on the existence of the university, also need to be looking at what can be done to attract students and make the region more hospitable to students who come here.

Carbondale raised concerns about what effects a diminished SIU Carbondale would have on the city. We agree, a weakened SIU would have a negative impact on all of us.

However, the Board of Trustees’ prime concern is not the welfare of Carbondale and environs. The Board of Trustees’ decisions must be based on what is best for the university system. Certainly, the city can, and should, present its case, but it would be well-advised to work with the university to make Carbondale a more attractive place as a whole.

In the meantime, SIU Carbondale needs to present a viable plan to attract and retain students, and do it now. It has been made crystal-clear that enrollment will be a driving factor in the future allocation of state funds. To ignore those statements is to invite further erosion.

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April 14, 2018 at 07:44AM

Opinion: SIU funding vote was a reprieve for Carbondale. The campus must get its act together.

Guest View: Investment needed to improve higher education in Illinois

The Democratic and Republican primaries are over, thankfully, for many of us. But as the candidates transition into a new gear of spending and inundating us with numbers and claims about each other, we should be closely watching what’s happening to our state’s higher education system.

We cannot escape the reality facing Illinois: People are leaving, in droves. The more our political leaders fight, the more uncertainty and angst is created, and the easier it is for talented workers and their families to find somewhere else to call home.

The same holds true for our college and university students, and sadly, it has for some time. As our state grinds further into fiscal disaster, what’s left behind is a sad tale of exodus:

* In 2002, 29 percent of our college-going high school graduates enrolled out of state. By 2016, that number had grown to 46 percent — nearly half of eligible Illinois high school grads choosing to go anywhere but Illinois for college.

* In 2011, almost 880,000 students were enrolled in Illinois higher education. Just five years later, in 2016, that number had dropped by 100,000 students, or nearly a 12 percent drop.

Why are our college students fleeing? Higher education critics, from policymakers to parents, will claim the cost is too high and our campuses haven’t adapted quickly enough to our ever-evolving economy. One other important number is critically important here: Once adjusted for inflation, state funding for higher education operations (not including pensions) has dropped by $1 billion over the last 15 years.

We cannot pretend that a significant disinvestment in our crown jewel of higher education has not contributed to the challenges of cost, innovation and, most important, a growing perception that students can fare better elsewhere. These draconian cuts, to both student aid and institutions, have created a de facto policy that encouraged our best and brightest to leave. And with every student that leaves — almost 170,000 of them over that five-year period — it should be no surprise that our Illinois higher education rankings slipped from the top to the middle of the pack.

Understand the practical and wide-reaching effects of the exodus of college students. Many college-aged students who do come here from other states for their degrees are just visiting. We don’t have the warm weather of Florida, or the mountain hiking of Colorado, or the lure that other states can offer. So if we cannot keep our students here, and we lose others who graduate and head back home, where will we get our next generation of nurses and doctors, classroom teachers, and skilled engineers to plan our roads and infrastructure?

Our high-quality system of community colleges and public and private universities provide many wonderful choices for Illinois residents now, guides them through completing a degree at nationally high rate, and could do so much more if state government embraced the possibilities instead of thwarting them. The 2.5-year budget stalemate, where higher education was a primary victim, provided a window into the harm done to our students and our institutions.

Illinois colleges and universities employ 175,000 Illinoisans and produce an annual economic benefit of $50 billion, far more return on the state’s investment of less than $2 billion. Our campuses outperform virtually any other area of state investment because of outside private and federal investment, further driven by the high priority businesses place on developing and utilizing a skilled workforce when they invest and locate here.

We need a statewide comprehensive road map for improving higher education that recognizes we have helped create this problem, and can only turn it around through real investment and improved performance. I’m encouraged a bipartisan group of legislators has come together to work on this road map. My challenge to all of our leaders is to make higher education a priority on the campaign trail and at the Capitol, and not just a talking point in the latest ad buy.

Dave Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities.

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April 10, 2018 at 08:16PM

Guest View: Investment needed to improve higher education in Illinois

Letter to the Editor: An open letter to the SIU Board of Trustees, yes to the chancellor’s plan, no to reallocating Carbondale’s budget

As members of the SIU Alumni Association Board, we have the envious task of being both goodwill ambassadors and cheerleaders for a University that enriched our lives. SIU is abundant with traditions and past accomplishments.

These are the things that make our job easy and enjoyable. We are also deeply concerned about our University’s future. Years of budget delays and cuts combined with leadership changes have caused us to feel uneasy about what the years ahead will look like for our alma mater, SIU.

Then, along comes a man with vision, integrity, and determination, Dr. Carlo Montemagno.

Chancellor Montemagno laid out a straw man plan for a bright future for SIU and is committed to going the distance and to do whatever is necessary to return the SIU campus back to its glory days. This is truly something in which to be excited. His resilience is a characteristic we find common in the stories we hear from alums.

Many SIU graduates faced daunting obstacles to earn their degrees. However, they persevered and their SIU experience served them well throughout their lives. Likely, the most important tradition we need to continue is the SIU tradition of helping individuals find and develop their talents so they can contribute and become productive members of society.

This is where SIU excels and what is most at risk. We believe the best path forward is to embrace the work of Montemagno and give him time and resources to end declining enrollment and rebuild our University to the stature we are capable of attaining. It’s been recently reported that waiting lists at each of the top U.S. universities is at an all time high.

The demand is there and we need to seize the moment and position SIU for these students.  The clock is ticking and it is now time for our Board of Trustees to demonstrate their leadership by approving Dr. Montemagno’ s plan at their meeting this week.

We were surprised and deeply concerned to learn the SIU Board of Trustees received a recommendation to cut the SIU Carbondale budget by 5.1 million dollars and move the funds to the Edwardsville campus. Carbondale has weathered an incredible storm of financial uncertainty and has survived.

SIUC has a plan, under the leadership of Montemagno, to rebuild and become stronger.  How could a substantial reduction in funds such as the one proposed make any sense while the University seeks to reorganize? We understand there is no urgency for this move so further thought and discussion would be prudent before acting.

The chancellor has spelled out how this reduction would affect the Carbondale campus in his blog Furthermore, this appears to be a distraction to what the real needs are for a healthy system, which is a robust and competitive SIU Carbondale campus.

In conclusion, we believe the right thing for the SIU Board of Trustees to do is to approve as much of the chancellor’s plan as possible at their next meeting so we can go about the important work of furthering the essential mission of SIU. We also believe that the wrong thing to do to is to reallocate funding away from SIUC at a time when it so desperately needs the financial and administrative support of our Board of Trustees.

We applaud the numerous local legislators and the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce who share our view and have voiced their opinions on diverting funds away from Carbondale. Let us do what is required to continue to embrace the rich traditions of the past and to ensure that there is a robust future for the Carbondale campus. Please say “Yes” to the chancellor’s plan and “No” to reallocating Carbondale’s budget.

Larry Mieldezis, SIU Alumni Association Board, President, Rick Wysocki, SIU Alumni Association Board, President-Elect, Scott Moller, SIU Alumni Association Board, Vice President, Gary Heflin, SIU Alumni Association Board, Executive Committee, Laura Soucy, SIU Alumni Association Board, Executive Committee. 

SIU Alumni Association Board Vice President Scott Moller can be reached at [email protected] 

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April 9, 2018 at 11:04AM

Letter to the Editor: An open letter to the SIU Board of Trustees, yes to the chancellor’s plan, no to reallocating Carbondale’s budget

BOT considers $5 million more for SIUE next year

The SIU System may be giving $5.125 million more in funds to SIUE for the 2019 fiscal year.

An item called “Authorization for the Phase I Reallocation of Appropriation Budget, SIUC and SIUE” was added to next Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting agenda.

The argument presented in the agenda says, historically, SIUE was given 36% of funds, while SIUC was given 64%, which has generally matched up with the enrollment rates between the two colleges.

However, in recent years SIUE has continued to grow while SIUC’s enrollment has begun to slip. As of now, the two universities’ enrollment are within 2 percent of one another, with SIUE   having 13,796 students in 2017 to Carbondale’s 14,184.

While the suggested changes will not allocate funds strictly in line with enrollment rates, the Board of Trustee’s meeting agenda said that it “does not seem prudent for SIUC to experience a reallocation of the full appropriation amount in one year” due to their current financial struggles and ongoing reorganization plans.

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April 4, 2018 at 11:59PM

BOT considers $5 million more for SIUE next year