Southern Illinois University study may delay vote to split

If a state House resolution calling for an independent study on the future of Southern Illinois University passes, a legislative vote on whether to split the two campuses that make up the system will not take place in the coming weeks, according to one lawmaker.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said in a phone interview that state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, will not call for a vote on his bill to separate SIU Edwardsville from SIU Carbondale, if a resolution for a study were to pass.

The resolution seeking a study, which passed out of committee in an 11-7 vote Wednesday, calls for the Illinois Board of Higher Education to conduct a study that looks at the governance structure of the SIU system and the feasibility and viability of separating the two campuses.

“This is just a study,” Stuart said. “It doesn’t move anything forward; it simply gives us a study to make a further decision on how to move the universities forward so both campuses could thrive.”

Hoffman proposed legislation to split the two campuses after the SIU board of trustees opted against shifting $5.1 million in state funding from the Carbondale campus to the Edwardsville campus. The funding shift would have brought the two universities to a 60-40 split of state dollars, with Carbondale still receiving the larger share. The shift was proposed in response to Edwardsville’s growing enrollment.

Stuart said she believes it’s important to have an independent entity perform the study and to “look at both perspectives to get an accurate look at which is the best way to move forward.”

With lawmakers’ approval, the study is expected to take place over the summer and could be completed by the fall. The Illinois Board of Higher Education has begun some preliminary work on the study and started looking at the SIU situation, said Al Bowman, the board’s executive director.

“The financial aspect of this is probably the most prominent variable, and we’re prepared to look into it,” Bowman said. “As an agency, and certainly as its director, I don’t have a personal or professional opinion of what should happen; we’re just going to look at the facts, and present our findings to the General Assembly.”

Bowman’s staff would most likely handle a bulk of the work, he said.

He said the plan is to present the pros and cons and let “policymakers come up with a decision. He added, “The governance structure is really a political decision.”

IBHE staff would look at finances, including the credit ratings of the institutions if they remain together or if they split.

“How would (credit rating agencies) Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s look at a system (as) it’s currently built as versus separate entities?” Bowman said.

If the resolution calling for a study by the higher education board doesn’t pass in the House this month, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said the issue would come back to the SIU Board of Trustees to discuss. Their next board meeting is in July.

A special meeting is also scheduled for May 30, so trustees can consider taking a position on the resolution and on other legislation related to SIU, according to the agenda.

Pembrook said he supports having an outside entity take a look at the university system and the way it distributes money to its campuses. “I have confidence that that is a good direction to go,” he said.

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“We think that an equity approach means we should have more funding,” Pembrook said of Edwardsville. He added that he understands SIUC has struggles, which is why the campus community is concerned about shifting money away from Carbondale.

But Pembrook said that even the trustees with ties to Carbondale, who rejected shifting state money to Edwardsville back in April, thought it made sense to hear from a consultant.