Daily Egyptian

Trustees delay declaration of financial emergency, SIUE loan

SIU+President+Randy+Dunn+speaks+to+interim+Chancellor+Brad+Colwell+on+Thursday%2C+April+6%2C+2017%2C+during+a+recess+of+the+SIU+Board+of+Trustees+meeting+in+the+Student+Center+ballrooms.+%28Bill+Lukitsch+%7C+%40lukitsbill%29
SIU President Randy Dunn speaks to interim Chancellor Brad Colwell on Thursday, April 6, 2017, during a recess of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

SIU President Randy Dunn speaks to interim Chancellor Brad Colwell on Thursday, April 6, 2017, during a recess of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

SIU President Randy Dunn speaks to interim Chancellor Brad Colwell on Thursday, April 6, 2017, during a recess of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Bill Lukitsch

The SIU Board of Trustees on Thursday voted not to discuss the declaration of a financial emergency at the university system’s Carbondale campus or to allow the cash-strapped university to borrow from its sister school.

Because the matter was not published in the original agenda, the entire board needed to approve such a discussion at Thursday’s meeting. The only dissenting vote came from Shirley Portwood, a four-year member of the board and retired Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville professor.

“[Discussion of the item] had to be unanimous; it died,” Randal Thomas, the board’s chair, said during a news conference after the meeting to explain the procedure.

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Analysis of the university’s finances indicated the Carbondale campus could fall into deficit spending within one or two months, and the loan was meant to keep the Carbondale campus from going “into the red,” SIU President Randy Dunn said.

“That was the urgency of the matter that came to the board today; to have the borrowing plan in place to accommodate that,” he said.

Dunn explained that those circumstances could result in an audit and further credit problems, saying it’s “not something that we can allow to happen.”

The money would have come from SIUE’s unrestricted reserve funds to be repaid over the course of 10 years. The item is expected to be introduced at the board’s July meeting, but university officials also said a special meeting could be called if such action is deemed necessary.

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell smiles Thursday, April 6, 2017, during the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Carbondale is currently interviewing four candidates to permanently fill its chancellor position, and Thomas said that could have required a special meeting anyway.

“Now we have a second item that will probably necessitate that, barring a miracle from Springfield,” Thomas said, speaking of the SIUE loan proposal.

The decision came after faculty representatives from SIUE voiced concerns with the loan during the public comments portion of the meeting. Those present took issue with the proposal for Carbondale to borrow from the other university’s “rainy day fund.”

Kim Archer, an associate professor of music at SIUE and vice president of the university’s faculty association, likened the “unchecked borrowing” at the Carbondale campus to an addiction and urged the board to set the proposal aside.

“They burned through much of their own reserves, apparently they burned through a good deal of the system’s savings, then they tapped the medical school dry and now they’re coming after us,” she said. “We say: We thought ahead. We were proactive.”

SIU President Randy Dunn pauses at the SIU Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, April 6, 2017, in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Speaking from Carbondale’s point of view, David Johnson, president of SIUC’s faculty association, said he sympathizes with the frustration expressed by SIUE employees. He asked the board to spare university programs amid the impending cuts, using the board’s decision to approve a $2 million purchase of athletic gear as an example of its need to prioritize SIUC’s academic mission.

“I am morally certain that if the shoe were on the other foot, and SIUC was called upon to support SIUE, there would angry voices raised in Carbondale,” Johnson said.

The Carbondale campus has used about $83 million of unrestricted reserve funds since the beginning of the state’s historic impasse for continuing operations. That figure includes $21 million in cuts the campus has already implemented, SIU President Randy Dunn said.

In a March 29 letter to the campus community, Dunn said SIU would have to cut $30 million in spending. Those cuts include $10 million in vacant positions and are expected to result in some employee layoffs, according to university officials.

Permanent cuts reflect numbers from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed spending plan, which reduces funding for Illinois public higher education by 15 percent. Further cuts are meant to ensure the university can continue to operate if Illinois legislators do not pass a stop-gap plan before July 1.

Following Thursday’s vote on the proposal, Vice-Chair Phil Gilbert said he understood the reluctance from SIUE constituent groups to move forward with the loan, but planned to approve the measure, calling it the only financial option available “for the survival of SIUC.”

“Friends help friends when we’re down,” Gilbert said.

Graduate and Professional Student Council President Brandon Woudenberg offers constituent testimony Thursday, April 6, 2017, during the SIU Board of Trustees meeting in the Student Center ballrooms. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

In other board of trustees news:

Student trustee elections

Graduate and Professional Student Council President Brandon Woudenberg read part of a prepared written statement to the board, alleging a violation of legal processes with regard to meddling in student government organizations.

The larger statement, which was provided to the Daily Egyptian, said the student government body’s attempt at revising the appeals process in student trustee elections was “upended,” and accuses an administrator of misconduct. The administrator allegedly “claimed supreme authority” and approved a draft that would normally require approval from GPSC and Undergraduate Student Government.

The statement also says the student governing body will not recognize a student trustee elected under those conditions.

Donna Manering resolution

The board formally recognized the departure of former Vice Chairwoman Donna Manering at its meeting Thursday.

The vice chair was appointed to a six-year term on the board in 2011 under then-Gov. Pat Quinn. She holds three degrees from SIU, including a doctorate in education administration, and served as a member of the board’s executive, academic matters and finance committees.

Thomas, the board’s chair, thanked Manering for her service, saying, jokingly, that she kept him out of trouble on multiple occasions.

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at 618-536-3326 or at [email protected].

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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