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Interim SIU president says he plans to operate 'less driven by fear and more by opportunity'

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Monday, August 6, 2018  |  Article  |  by ISAAC SMITH The Southern

Education--Higher (37)

SPRINGFIELD — J. Kevin Dorsey used his background as a medical doctor to assess the state of the Southern Illinois University System.

“Clearly the system has to be healed, because if one part of us is sick, it’s going to infect the entire body or entire system,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey was appointed as interim SIU System president in July, after the board accepted the resignation of the polarizing former system president, Randy Dunn. Dorsey, a former dean of SIU School of Medicine, took the temporary helm of the system Wednesday following Dunn's last day on the job on July 30.

Public trust in Dunn to lead the university system evaporated after a trove of internal documents revealed he had worked to design a $5.1 million reallocation of funds to the Edwardsville campus, as well as assisted in the creation of legislation that would have separated the two campuses.

Dorsey was upfront about his task of reunification, and didn’t mince words about the difficulty of the challenge.

“We both know that this is not something I am going to waive a wand (and it’ll all be all better),” Dorsey said. Everyone involved in both schools are going to have to shake off the negativity and adjust their focus, he said.

“I think we have to get our collective act together and ask ourselves why are we here,” Dorsey said of discord in the university system. However, he said his approach will be measured.

“My style is not to beat people into submission, that’s not going to do it.”

He said he plans to operate on a system that is “less driven by fear and more by opportunity.”

Dorsey wouldn’t talk much about the issues that got Dunn in hot water. He said he’s not talked much if at all about the legislation that would dissolve the system.

“I don't introduce legislation. I’ve not talked with anybody about this,” he said.

Regarding the ongoing restructuring of the Carbondale campus, Dorsey said he hasn’t been on the job long enough to really “wrap his arms around it” and chose to speak generally about Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plan.

“I’ve got to support him and do what I can to help that effort,” Dorsey said. He added that people on the ground system-wide, but particularly at the Carbondale campus, need to look at things from all sides and work toward the best future for the school.

“We’ve got to have people stand in each other’s shoes and looking at the other’s work from a different perspective, really,” Dorsey said.

“I think everybody tends to look at their own department, college institution, classroom, whatever it is, and they see the world through that lens, and it’s pretty myopic.”

Embattled Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn is expected to step down early next week.

Again returning to his base of medicine, he characterized his job this way: “In medicine we tend to look at not just the individual patient, but what about the entire population. Can we focus on the common good?”

Dorsey, who first started working for SIU in the 1970s, wouldn’t be pinned down to say if he would consider staying permanently as the system president — however, throughout his conversation with The Southern, he used temporary language when talking about his role in helping the university through this time of transition.

“I don’t have much time. All I can do is start the process,” he said. “I want to make this job attractive to somebody.”

Dorsey said SIU as a whole needs to be planting both feet firmly in the future if it’s going to make it out the other side of this rough patch in good shape. He said it’s only logical for schools to evolve — if growth didn’t happen, then there would still be a strong core of Latin and Greek majors, he said. Dorsey also said the outlook should be global in scope.

“What does our region need, what do our students need,” he said.

He sees this as a need for progress — that it’s hard to move forward with one foot in the past.

“Driving while looking in the rearview mirror is likely to have a bad outcome,” Dorsey said.

Board Chair Amy Sholar has previously said there would be an August meeting of the Board of Trustees to discuss the search for a permanent replacement for Dunn, however, a date for the meeting has not yet been published on the board’s website.