Together or separate?: The system question

The recent board vote defeating a proposal to transfer $5.1 million in state appropriations from SIU Carbondale to Edwardsville has led to a call from Edwardsville-area legislators to separate the system. I understand that this is not the first time this discussion has been raised.

The renewed call for separation is a disappointing response to a request for collaboration. The Carbondale campus has never been opposed to exploring the budget allocation model. Our concern, expressed by many members of the campus community, was that we were not invited to be part of a collaborative process that considered the multiple factors and metrics that should be taken into account — before making changes that could have a substantial impact on our campus and region. The board’s vote provided the opportunity to evaluate the allocation of resources objectively. We still hope that happens.

A stronger voice

There are incredible strengths to being part of a system. Together we serve more than 28,000 students, which gives us a greater footprint to serve the southern part of Illinois and adds to the power of our voice in Springfield. A number of complex factors must be studied carefully before we can determine whether a separation of the system is in the best interests of either campus.

For example, the campuses benefit from a number of efficiencies by sharing services that reduce costs or duplication. Included are some IT contracts and a number of services through the system office such as governmental affairs, general counsel, internal audit and risk management. In addition, the Carbondale campus provides a number of services to the system office, including accounting, payroll, procurement, communications and other support.

It is likely that a separation of the campuses could yield both additional costs and additional savings. These must be itemized and analyzed to assess the impact.

Academic impact

There are academic implications, as well. The pre-nursing program at Carbondale feeds into the nursing program at Edwardsville, and the Edwardsville campus relies on Carbondale’s Graduate School to train all of its joint Ph.D. students.

I should note that the proposed legislation to separate the campuses includes aligning the School of Medicine with Edwardsville. My understanding is that this was also included in past legislation but was sorted out before the proposal died. Obviously, the School of Medicine is deeply interconnected with the Carbondale campus. First year medical students are taught in Carbondale, many faculty have research facilities here, and the research office provides the school with support. The medical school is important to our research mission, and it is part of our governance system. Most importantly, the School of Medicine’s accreditation is tied to Carbondale. The medical school is an integral part of SIU Carbondale and must remain so.

Power in numbers

Perhaps the most important consideration is that there is power in numbers. As I noted earlier, we have a stronger voice as part of a larger system — one of just two in the state. And as a system, we have more flexibility to weather change.

For many years, the Carbondale campus and its leadership worked hard to make Edwardsville possible. And Carbondale benefitted last year from a temporary, three-week shifting of funds — on paper only — until the state reimbursed its funding for the FY 17 fiscal year.

A side note about this shifting of funds: By all accounts, it had no impact on Edwardsville’s operations. Yet the timing and impact of the decision has been compared with the timing of the proposal to permanently reduce $5.1 million from the Carbondale budget. It is unfortunate that this comparison has clouded discussion about the reallocation.

Regardless, my point is that the institutions have long relied on each other and may need to do so again in the future. As we rebuild Carbondale to a position of reputational and financial strength, there may be many benefits to Edwardsville, just as Edwardsville may benefit Carbondale in ways we haven’t anticipated.

Further, the call for separation is based on an assumption about future state funding that may or may not be true. Both campuses may find greater benefit in the collaborative approach initially agreed to by the board.

Details matter

I have been asked many times over the weekend what I think of a potential separation of the campuses. My answer is that I believe we are stronger together, the details matter, and we all need to be careful what we wish for.

In short, until we have done a careful analysis, we can’t know the impact or wisdom of such a move as it relates to the Carbondale campus. To lead that analysis, I am reconstituting the Chancellor’s Planning and Budget Council with cross-campus representation. I will ask the committee to make sure that all members of the campus community have a voice.

In spite of the unknowns, we can be confident of one thing: This will be a long, intense conversation requiring significant collaboration with our legislators and the engagement of our faculty, staff, alumni and many friends.

We must be a part of the discussion even as we cannot let it distract us from our continued revitalization. SIU Carbondale will continue to move forward.