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In special meeting, SIU board takes official stance opposing separation legislation

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Thursday, May 31, 2018  |  Article  |  K. JANIS ESCH The Southern

Education--Higher (37)

SPRINGFIELD — In a time of pressing questions about the future of Southern Illinois University, the system’s board of trustees has definitively answered one of them: The governing body does not wish to see the system split in two.

At a special meeting Wednesday in Springfield, the SIU Board of Trustees passed a resolution opposing — and failed to pass a resolution supporting — legislation introduced by State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, to separate SIU Carbondale and SIU Edwardsville and establish new boards for each campus.

Trustees Tom Britton, Phil Gilbert, Shirley Portwood, Marsha Ryan and Joel Sambursky voted for the resolution opposing the bill and against the resolution supporting it; SIUE Student Trustee Luke Jansen and Board Chair Amy Sholar abstained from both votes.

“We do not have anywhere near enough information to make a decision on whether or not this is a good idea,” Jansen said.

“I tend to agree with you,” Sholar said.

Ryan said the bill’s designation of the School of Medicine, traditionally affiliated with SIUC, as part of SIUE would “prohibit the School of Medicine from serving its primary function, which is to provide care to the communities in the southern area of the state.”

Trustee Randal Thomas and SIUC Student Trustee Sam Beard were not present for the meeting.

HB 1292 was filed last month amid escalating tensions between the two campuses after the board failed to pass a funding reallocation proposal that would have transferred $5.1 million from Carbondale to Edwardsville.

The bill was originally written to go into effect July 1, 2018, but an amendment moved the effective date to July 1, 2019.

The legislation, which cleared the House Higher Education Committee on April 19, was part of a package of SIU-related bills introduced around the same time. The trustees voted on dual resolutions — one opposing, one supporting — for each of those pieces of legislation at Wednesday’s meeting.

HB 5859

Introduced by State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, HB 5859 would mandate an equal allocation of state appropriations funding between SIUC and SIUE. Currently, about 64 percent of state funding goes to Carbondale and 36 percent goes to Edwardsville.

All trustees voted to oppose the bill except Sholar, who abstained.

Gilbert said he believes the measure could be contrary to the board’s bylaws.

“I am in favor of Edwardsville getting more funding … but we need to do it in a way to where it’s done in a fair fashion and there’s notice on the Carbondale side so that if they get less money, they can adjust to it,” Gilbert said.

Sambursky said he wants analysis to make sure the funding model is reviewed.

“I would oppose it on the grounds that it’s contrary to what we’ve been saying for the last two-and-a-half months: review the funding model and make sure it’s fair,” Sambursky said.

Britton said he has not found a single person in Carbondale who doesn’t think that the allocation should be adjusted.

“I’d like for this board to consider that. I’d like for it to be based on a study that has absolutely clear credibility and is done by an impartial body, and I hope we can move forward with that. I don’t support a resolution or a law that would rob our board, our system and our institutions from determining its own financial future,” Britton said.

Ryan echoed those comments.

“All we have said, all I have said, all anybody I know has said, is let’s study it and then follow the evidence wherever it leads, and if it means less money for SIUC going forward, so be it. That’s the nature of science and collection of data,” Ryan said.

Sholar said she agreed, but that she was concerned about kicking the can down the road further.

“My only concern … is that it’s taken over 20 years to even be at this point and have this discussion,” Sholar said.

HB 1293

HB 1293, introduced by State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey, would disband the current board of trustees and reform it to include three SIUC alumni, three SIUE alumni, one non-SIU alumnus and two voting student trustees.

All trustees voted to oppose the measure except Sholar, who voted in favor of it.

“I don’t know that appointing a brand-new board is going to solve our problem. I think our problems are interpersonal, and I think that’s what we need to focus on rather than legislation that, again, goes in a direction I don’t think we’re comfortable with and I’m not sure the universities within the system are comfortable with,” Britton said.

Sambursky pointed out that the board already has three SIUC alumni, three SIUE alumni and one person who didn’t go to SIU — Gilbert went to the University of Illinois.

Ryan said she had concerns about eradicating the board at a critical juncture, leaving no way to do business.

Sholar said she supported having two student voting trustees as opposed to one, and that the new structure would be more balanced.

“I think it’s about balance and fairness, so I support this House bill,” Sholar said.

HR 1051

The board was split on HR 1051, a resolution also sponsored by Stuart that would urge the Illinois Board of Higher Education to conduct a study into the system’s governance structure and into the feasibility of separating the two universities.

The resolution passed the House Higher Education Committee on May 23 and is awaiting passage in the House.

Sholar, Jansen and Portwood voted in favor of supporting the resolution; Britton, Gilbert and Ryan voted against it; Sambursky abstained.

Gilbert asked whether the IBHE had conducted such a study for any other university. John Charles, SIU’s director of government and public affairs, said it had not happened to his knowledge, but later added that such a question within a system had never come up before.

Ryan asked whether IBHE was the appropriate body to conduct such a study. Sholar said the system could still conduct its own study, and that this would serve as another data point.

“I just don’t know how more information is going to harm us on this point,” Sholar said.

Britton said he would vote for it if it were amended to also apply to University of Illinois. Sholar said she didn’t think that wouldn’t be possible.

“I’m kind of torn on this because if we were just viewing it as another data set that would be very helpful … but I’m just not convinced that they are the most qualified entity to conduct this,” Sambursky said.