Gov. Bruce Rauner to speak at SIU graduation

By Luke Nozicka, @lukenozicka

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is proposing a 32 percent cut to higher education, will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s graduation.

He will speak at the 1:30 p.m. ceremony — for students in the College of Business and the College of Education and Human Services — on May 16.

“His greatest passion is education,” according to SIU’s keynote speaker web page. “The governor and first lady have devoted a tremendous amount of their personal time and resources to improving education throughout the state.”

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Rae Goldsmith, SIU’s spokeswoman, said the university is not paying Rauner to speak at commencement. She said last year’s speaker, Ali Wentworth — the actress and producer who is married to George Stephanopoulos, a Good Morning America anchor — was paid $40,000 to speak at all three ceremonies. 

Jim Edgar, the 38th governor of Illinois, will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, and Bill Norwood, SIU’s first black quarterback who graduated in 1959, will speak at the 5:30 p.m. one. The two will receive honorary degrees from the university this year.

Goldsmith said President Randy Dunn invited Rauner to talk at graduation in January, before his budget address in February. In his letter, Dunn said more than 800 students will earn their degrees from the two colleges, and he anticipates more than 5,000 family members and friends will be in attendance.

“Your speech could underscore, among other things, the vital linkage between providing a quality education to our young people and the ability for business to succeed,” Dunn wrote in the letter, saying Rauner’s remarks do not need to be longer than 15 minutes. “The combination of the commencement ceremonies for these two colleges seems to provide a solid background for crafting your message.”

Rauner’s proposed budget, which needs to pass the General Assembly, will cut $62 million from SIU’s system, including $44 million from the Carbondale campus.

During a Senate budget committee hearing in March, Dunn said as many as 1,000 SIU courses will be cut if Rauner’s budget passes. Since then, Dunn has said he will recommend a 6 percent tuition increase to the SIU Board of Trustees at its April 16 meeting. 

Because of his proposed cuts to the university, some students are irritated with the decision to have him speak. One of those students is Daniel Valle, sports director at WSIU Public Radio — one of the non-academic units asked to submit ramifications of a 50 percent cut in state funding.

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“Graduates should boo him, LOUDLY, as soon as he comes out,” Valle, a senior from Chicago studying radio, television and digital media, posted to Facebook on Wednesday. “Outrageous how he’s going to waltz into a university that he agreed to cut funds from.”

The irony of the governor addressing a graduating class amid the threat of state budget cuts is not lost on the students of SIU, and some reacted on Twitter in light of the news.

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While some people are frustrated by the decision, others — like Tyler Chance, who graduated in spring 2013 — think it may not be such a bad thing for SIU.

“I’m sure they asked him to be the speaker as a political move to try to get more attention for SIU and its need for funds,” Chance wrote on Facebook.

Goldsmith said it is important to bring the governor to campus to show the impact SIU has on young people.

“We knew the invitation would raise concerns among some and be welcomed by others,” she said. “We really believe it’s an important way for the governor to come to southern Illinois to get to see what goes on here and it has the potential to help us build a positive relationship. He’s the governor of the state. … It’s an honor for us to be able to have him.”

Luke Nozicka can be reached at [email protected] 

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