Daily Egyptian

Dunn delivers state of the system at SIUC

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

SIU System President Randy Dunn on Thursday discussed the university’s budget and a resulting paradigm shift in policies and spending practices in what he is calling the era of retrenchment.

A dip in enrollment — resulting in an estimated $5.2 million loss of income from tuition and fees — compounded by a lack of state appropriations has put the university under financial strains, Dunn said. About 200 people gathered in the Student Center’s ballroom to hear what Dunn had to say regarding the future of SIUC.

“We’re going to see continued difficulty in building investment for what we do,” he said.

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Spending reductions of about $13.5 million — or 6.4 percent — will provide a “one-year fix” for fiscal year 2016 through recurring and non-recurring cuts equaling $3.6 million and $9.9 million, respectively.

Illinois has cut state funding to its nine public institutions in the last 15 years by more than 30 percent. While trimming the budget is not entirely unique to Illinois, Dunn said it poses concerns for the future of the SIU System.

Retrenchment: the ‘new normal

“Retrenchment is a pulling back,” Dunn said. “It’s a reducing.”

Our university is in a transitional period, Dunn said, and a 70-year stretch of academic and infrastructural development ended after Glenn Poshard retired from his presidency in 2014.

Things aren’t how they used to be. Costs, he said, have to be cut for the good of the whole. 

Still, Dunn said educational progress and advancing research are fundamental to the college and cannot be compromised.

“If we start distancing ourselves from these values, we’re sunk. We’re lost,” he said.

The new era of retrenchment will involve reducing spending and a higher concentration on the university’s core programs, Dunn said. While he insisted the university system is not a business, he said certain evaluations must be made in the same way a business would operate. This will include analyzing revenue gained or lost in specific academic programs.

“Does that mean we’re going to quit teaching certain things that cost us money? No,” Dunn said. “We’re not going to become something we’re not.”

Instead, Dunn’s plan is to preserve the mission and goals of the university without chipping away at its core.

“But if we start going into our hiding place, if we start thinking small, and if it’s about nothing but protecting what we’ve got and staying out of the line of fire, once more, I would submit to you – we’re sunk,” he said.

What we’re not

Dunn acknowledged certain changes must be made in order to move forward. He also said the main mission and goals of the university, which include remaining accessible to students and funding new research programs that distinguish SIU from the other institutions in Illinois, must be preserved.

But he said there are other problems on the horizon.

President Barack Obama’s $60 billion initiative to provide free community college for eligible students hasn’t budged in Congress, but Dunn said an implementation of such a program would be a risk factor to the university.

More than 22 states in the nation have community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in certain technical fields, and there’s been talk among state legislators of bringing that to Illinois. State legislators also have in recent years called on public universities to model themselves after community colleges — something Dunn said is not feasible.

“We’re not a community college on steroids,” he said. “We’re a national research university.”

The upside

Despite the challenges the university is facing, Dunn is optimistic about the future and said there are points of pride the university should be recognized for.

“We need to celebrate when things happen as an organization and as a campus,” he said.

One of those points of pride was recognized through the university’s 36-spot upgrade in national ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges of 2016. SIUC was rated 153rd best — in a three-way tie with Adelphi University and St. John’s University, both in New York — when stacked against all other colleges and universities in the nation.

The university was also recognized in Forbes’ list of most entrepreneurial universities — with Northwestern being the only other Illinois university.

And if there’s another campus more tightly-knit with its community, Dunn said he hasn’t found it.

“We are hand in glove with the region we serve, we are the economic engine, we are the driver of quality of life,” he said.

This story has been updated. 

Bill Lukitsch can be reached a [email protected] or on Twitter @Bill_LukitschDE

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