A faction of Southern Illinois University’s board of trustees may move to oust the system’s embattled president this week, an extraordinary move that came about without the president’s knowledge and intensifies weeks of tension at the schools.
Two members of the SIU board’s executive committee have convened a meeting for Friday to consider two items: “administrative leave of president” and “appointment of acting president,” according to the meeting notice. […]
[Executive committee member Joel Sambursky], in an emailed statement, alluded to some new information trustees received since their regular meeting last week that necessitated the unplanned meeting. But he would not be specific. […]
“I think it’s an attempt by a couple of board members to control the entire board, and I find that to be distasteful,” [board chairwoman, Amy Sholar] said. “It is extremely frustrating, and it’s not the way to govern.”
SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said in an interview that he thinks removing the university president “seems to go beyond” what the executive committee was created to do.
“If this is an outcome of asking the allocation question, I just don’t think it is a just use of the bylaws,” Pembrook said. He acknowledged that Dunn’s use of the term “bitchers” in the email “ratcheted up the heat” in the conversation about how the university system distributes its state cash.
But Pembrook said Dunn and Sholar have “provided good leadership” in the last year. He is concerned that the conversation might not continue if Dunn is gone.
“He has been a champion of that question in a way that previous presidents have not,” Pembrook said.
* The Southern Illinoisan…
According to the meeting notice sent out Wednesday afternoon, the special executive session meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Ballroom A of the SIU Carbondale Student Center.
Dunn came under fire in May after a guest opinion column in The Southern Illinoisan questioned the system president’s handling of a recent state funding reallocation proposal. […]
State Reps. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Elizabethtown, have both called for Dunn’s resignation.
Dunn’s contract was renewed in 2017 and extends through June 30, 2022. He makes an annual salary of $430,000. The meeting notice suggests a temporary change of leadership, but if the board terminates his contract without cause, the university will have to pay Dunn the equivalent of three years’ annual base salary, or $1.3 million.
*** UPDATE *** Press release…
SIU Board Chair Amy Sholar Declares Executive Committee Does Not Have Authority to Remove Dunn or Appoint Replacement
Following the announcement by SIU Board Trustees J. Phil Gilbert and Joel Sambursky to call an emergency meeting of the Board’s executive committee to oust President Dunn and appoint an unnamed replacement, Board Chair Amy Sholar declared the executive committee does not have any such authority given the circumstances.
Sholar stated “I’ve reviewed the Bylaws for the SIU Board of Trustees and, under these circumstances, I am not convinced the executive committee has the authority to remove President Dunn or appoint anyone as a replacement. Also, I do not believe that the matter is so urgent that an executive committee meeting is permissible for the purposes stated by these trustees. Further, I do not believe the executive committee has the authority to remove President Dunn and effectively undo an action previously taken by the full Board in hiring him. Lastly, as the Chair has the authority to interpret and apply the bylaws between meetings, it is my decision that the executive committee cannot meet for the purposes stated in the call for the meeting for the above reasons.”
As to whether the executive committee can unilaterally hire or fire a President, Sholar referred to the bylaws. “Article IV, Section 1 clearly states ‘At least one-half of the total membership of the Board shall be required for the initial selection of the President or the termination of the President’s services.’ While these two trustees are attempting to get around this rule by merely placing President Dunn on leave rather than an outright termination, the executive committee clearly does not have the ability to make the selection of a President, which I contend includes any interim President holding such powers. Our rules clearly contemplate that the full Board should make such an important decision, rather than a small faction thereof,” said Sholar.
Sholar further cited Article III, which states ‘The Executive Committee functions as an instrument of the Board and shall possess all the powers of the Board when in session, provided that it shall not overrule, revise, or change the previous acts of the Board…’ Sholar affirmed, “As it was the full Board that hired President Dunn, for the executive committee to relieve him and appoint a replacement would effectively undo a previous action of the Board, which is beyond the limited powers of this committee and would not proper in my judgment.”
Sholar also questioned the urgency of the meeting, which was abruptly announced less than one week after a special meeting of the full Board. “The bylaws, at Article III, provide for only urgent matters to be taken up by the executive committee. While Trustee Gilbert and Sambursky are attempting to satisfy the urgency standard by citing new evidence, they certainly have not shared it with me. Further, they did not consult with me on the need for a meeting, the subject matter, the location, or the date before calling it on their own. If this issue truly cannot wait until the next regular meeting I would gladly call a special meeting to occur in the very near future so the full Board can vote on whether President Dunn should be relieved. I find it contrary to both the letter and spirit of our bylaws for these two trustees to attempt to remove the President unilaterally without the votes or discussion of the full Board,” said Sholar.
Sholar asserted that she, as Chair, has the authority to decide the meaning and application of the bylaws between meetings. She stated “Article II, Section 3 states ‘The Chair shall have authority to decide any disputes as to the application or meaning of the Bylaws …, but any such decision shall be referred to the next regular or special meeting of the Board for final judgment and adjudication by the Board.’ Therefore, it is my decision that the executive committee does not have the authority to appoint an interim President or even to relieve the current President of his duties as such powers are reserved to the full Board per Article IV and would undo a prior action of the Board. I also do not believe that this matter, which was discussed at the special meeting last week, is now so urgent that we must call an emergency meeting even if the executive committee had the authority to make these decisions. If Trustees J. Phil Gilbert and Joel Sambursky disagree with me then we should have a special meeting at which not only this decision but the underlying issue itself can be discussed and voted on by the full Board. Until then, it is my decision as Chair that the bylaws do not permit the executive committee to take the proposed actions for the reasons stated, and if a meeting is held and a vote taken any such action would be invalid,” said Sholar.
Sholar added, “It truly baffles me that these two trustees, both representing the Carbondale campus, would attempt to exclude the full Board from participating in this important issue after we approved a policy just last week that we would advocate for keeping the SIU system together. The power play by these two trustees is not only improper but also serves to further drive a wedge between our campuses at a time when all of us should be working together to ease tensions. If a decision is to be made on President Dunn’s future at SIU it should be made by the full Board and not by two trustees representing one campus attempting to push through an action they suspect would not pass if presented to the full Board.”
The governor needs to step in here. These are mostly his trustees, after all.