During a Senate budget hearing in front of the state appropriations committee, members of SIU’s administration defended an appropriation of $198.8 million in state funds be allocated to SIU for the next fiscal year compared to $179.9 million proposed by the state.
SIU President Randy Dunn, Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook, SIU Medical School Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse and undergraduate SIU student Travis Washington appeared in Springfield on Tuesday to testify and answer questions on behalf of SIU.
Sen. Chapin Rose, (R-Mahomet) said he found Montemagno’s revitalization efforts at SIU intriguing and asked how he planned to boost enrollment.
Montemagno said in order to improve enrollment and retention SIU has expanded its outreach. More information on his proposed academic reorganization and revitalization plan, he said, are detailed in his blog posts.
“I want to provide a private university experience at a public university price where we know our students and our students get an opportunity that’s extraordinary,” Montemagno said, adding that SIU provides experiential learning and a comprehensive experience to shape leaders.
“My intention is that as we evolve through this process we will then become the bright ruby in the crown of higher education of Illinois,” he said.
Dunn said in the past six years, scholarship allocations taken from operating funds have increased from $97 million to $115 million across the SIU system.
In responses to questions about enrollment, Montemagno said SIU’s ideal campus size is about 18,000. Though the current enrollment is 14,554 students, he said the campus is currently operating with a balanced budget despite enrollment declines.
Earlier this month, three House bills were proposed calling for changes to the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, including the creation of SIUC and SIUE as separate universities with independent boards and the reallocation of state appropriation between SIU Carbondale and Edwardsville.
When asked by Rose if the Board of Trustees had a position on the proposal to split the campuses, Dunn said the board remains neutral until decided otherwise.
More: SIU president, board chair, release statement on possible reallocation of funds, separation of SIU Carbondale and Edwardsville boards
Dunn added that if the split did occur, the current chancellors would likely become interim presidents. According to the proposed bill the medical school would be associated with Edwardsville while physically remaining in Springfield.
On April 12, the board voted four to three with one abstention against the reallocation of $5.125 million in state funds from Carbondale to Edwardsville.
More: Board of Trustees votes against $5.125 million funding shift to SIUE
Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) said he was dismayed by the vote results. In referring to the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, he said if one product is hitting home runs while the other is struggling, he is going to invest in the successful one.
“Please communicate to the board we don’t want the legislature to have to make that allocation, but if they don’t do a better job, we may have to look at that,” Oberweis said, adding that a decision such as that handed to the legislature is “ass-backwards.”
Leadership, he said, is about taking a position. Dunn added that he tried to justify the $5.125 million reallocation to the board in April but was unsuccessful.
Toward the end of the hour-long hearing, Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) asked Montemagno if everything had been resolved regarding his moving expenses.
Montemagno’s employment contract allocated $61,000 to move his home and lab equipment. He did not use the money to move lab equipment, but rather two households, one of which was lived in by his daughter and son-in-law. The chancellor has since paid back the university for the cost of the second house.
More: SIU chancellor used university money to move daughter’s home
McCarter asked SIU’s chancellor if the moving expenses situation, according to contracts, had been made right.
“It was never wrong sir,” Montemagno responded. “And yes, there’s no issue associated with it.”
McCarter went on to advise Montemagno that even though his actions were legal, they were not “fiscally prudent” or “moral.”
“Some thing are legal, some things just aren’t moral, and let me just say, during a time when everyone is struggling to make ends meet and do more with less, I think as leaders we need to lead by example,” McCarter said. “I don’t think that even though it was legal and it was contractual, it was the right thing to do. If we want to attract students from all over the country, from all over the world, the best thing we can do is be good examples and be fiscally prudent. My own opinion is that wasn’t fiscally prudent even though it was legal, even though it was the agreement. So I think we can do better.”
On April 12, SIU’s Board of Trustees approved funding of up to $55,000 for the packaging and transportation of Montemagno’s laboratory equipment from the University of Alberta to Carbondale, bringing his total moving expenses to $116,000.
Staff writer Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @annaspoerre.
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