Southern Illinois University System president Randy Dunn has now completed his first year in that role. As part of the “St. Louis on the Air” series on regional colleges and universities, host Don Marsh talked with Dunn on Monday about his first year as president and the challenges faced by institutions of higher learning.
Dunn says that education as a whole is going through a transformative, transitional phase, marked by administrative growth, the blending of online classes with traditional campus education, and changes in academic professions—but all in all, he’s hopeful. “It’s really going to be quite amazing over the next quarter-century.”
Be that as it may for academia as a whole, the SIU system is facing a series of unique obstacles. The Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses are still missing chancellors as they approach the 2015-2016 school year—Dunn has taken on the mantle of acting chancellor for SIU-Carbondale along with performing presidential duties—and the Illinois state budget is months overdue and still highly contested.
For public university systems in Illinois, the budget crisis looms especially large, Dunn said. Typically, the SIU system receives $200 million a year from the state. While that isn’t a majority of the system’s almost billion-dollar operating budget, it is a substantial chunk, and the lack of action in the Illinois government is already causing a squeeze.
“To some degree, the impact is just a growing uncertainty about what is in the future for us,” Dunn said. “At this point, with no state budget enacted, we don’t know how much of that $200 million dollars we may see. And until that budget is decided upon—[and] there is no appropriations bill—we’re getting no state funding. Nothing is coming to us at this point.”
Even if an appropriations bill comes along, it’s possible that the SIU System would have its state funding shaved by as much as 15-20%, Dunn said, meaning that each campus is going to have to consider some belt-tightening. While academic and student services will maintain strong, those institutions focused more on regional outreach—medical clinics, economic development initiatives, and community educational centers—will take a hit.
Dunn acknowledges that the lack of state funding will have a significant impact on the communities around the universities. He insisted that community outreach is an exceptionally important service that universities provide, and that the SIU system must look at other sources of funding to keep services running for citizens off-campus.
“We are the stewards of the places where we’re located,” Dunn said. “We are the stewards of the places we serve.”
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.