Some SIU Board of Trustees members have confirmed feeling intimidated by former chairman Roger Herrin.
Herrin, who was voted out of his position 4 to 2 at the March 22 annual election, said he thinks SIU President Glenn Poshard planned the chairman’s removal. At a press conference Poshard called Tuesday, the president said Herrin repeatedly threatened board members that if they didn’t support his ideas for the board, he would have Gov. Pat Quinn, whom he has been known to have a close working relationship with, remove them from their positions.
Trustee Marquita Wiley confirmed Wednesday that Gary Hannig, Quinn’s director of Legislative affairs, called her shortly before elections to ask if she planned to vote for Herrin again. When she said no, the representative asked her to skip the elections.
“I said that’s not something I would do,” Wiley said. “I’m committed to the system. I’m determined that we’re going to move forward in the right way, and burying my head in the sand certainly doesn’t accomplish anything for the university.”
She said Hannig asked if she would resign if the governor requested it. Wiley said she has not been asked to resign yet, though.
Trustee Mark Hinrichs said he received the phone call from the governor’s office as well. When Hinrichs said he did not plan to vote for Herrin again because Herrin had a personal agenda and did not engage the board collectively, the representative asked if anything could be done to change his mind, to which Hinrichs said he replied no.
When Hinrichs attended his first board meeting almost a year ago, he said, he did not previously know Herrin and went to lunch with him.
“(Herrin) was clear to me that he was the reason that I was appointed to the board and that he had a very close relationship with the governor … and indicated he had an agenda and wanted to make some changes,” Hinrichs said. “He basically said, ‘I expect your support, otherwise your duration on the board will be short.’”
Hinrichs said this was his first encounter of intimidation from Herrin, and it only continued to be a problem throughout the year. When Herrin was ousted as chairman last week, Hinrichs said, he approached Herrin to shake his hand and ask that everyone work together.
“He said, ‘It’s too late. Your time is short on this board,’” Hinrichs said.
Poshard said while the governor can request a board member’s resignation, he cannot actually fire members until their six-year term is up.
“If a board member has been really good and done well, they get reappointed,” he said. “Dr. Herrin kept threatening this past 10 months if they didn’t do what he wanted, they would not be reappointed.”
Ed Hightower, John Simmons and Hinrich will complete their terms at the end of January, Poshard said, and are at risk of being fired by Quinn because they didn’t vote for Herrin.
Hightower said there were many occasions Herrin threatened to have members removed by the governor if they did not agree with him. While the board’s job is to take care of policy and governance, Hightower said, it was clear early in Herrin’s term that he planned to be a part of the administrative process.
“It became obvious that Chairman Herrin was overreaching his role by involving himself in the day-to-day operation of the university system and directing the administration to carry out duties that had not been discussed or approved by the full board,” Hightower said in an email.
In an attempt to resolve these issues, Hightower said, Poshard twice had retreats to better explain the board’s role and train the members.
After many failed attempts to collaborate with Herrin, Hightower said he told Herrin he did not support his position and to never again threaten Hightower’s future reappointment. He said he believes it was for this reason that he did not receive a call from the governor’s office asking for his support of Herrin.
Poshard said in order to gain another vote for Herrin, the governor wanted a student trustee to be reappointed who could not be returned to the board because the student was unqualified.
One of Herrin’s supporters, Trustee Don Lowery, said Poshard should step down as president, claiming Poshard did not communicate openly with board members and has failed at turning around the university’s declining enrollment.
Wiley said she disagrees. SIU is more than just Carbondale, she said; it involves Edwardsville as well. Enrollment numbers are going up at Carbondale, Wiley said, and at Edwardsville more applications are coming in than can be accepted, but Lowery and Herrin have failed to give Poshard credit for that.
“These two trustees seem to be focused and nitpicking at the Carbondale campus,” she said.
Hinrichs said he also thinks Poshard has done an excellent job in office and should not be removed. Simmons released a statement Tuesday that he supports Poshard’s position in office. Trustee Donna Mannering, who voted to keep Herrin as chairman, could not be reached for comment.
If Quinn appoints new board members, they could vote to fire Poshard.
“They can fire me,” Poshard said. “I’ve got to live with myself, and I can’t stand by and watch a travesty of justice like this toward really good people.”
He said he’s hopeful the board can still work together on issues.
“I think (Herrin and Lowery) made it pretty clear. As long as they’re on the board, it’s going to be very difficult to have a unified board,” Poshard said.