Outgoing SIU president to receive $215K severance, new $100K job

Outgoing SIU president to receive $215K severance, new $100K job

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn will receive a $215,000 severance package before taking a lucrative job at the university’s Edwardsville campus.

Following months of controversy, Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn will be out of his job effective July 30 – but not without a generous taxpayer-funded parting gift, and more income on the way.

As a condition of his separation agreement with Southern Illinois University, or SIU, Dunn will receive a $215,000 severance payout. But that won’t be his only source of income for long. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Dunn will be a visiting professor at the SIU-Edwardsville campus, a position that will earn him a $100,000 salary. As university president, he received an annual salary of $430,000.

Dunn polarized board members when emails released in May showed the outgoing president expressing support for shifting $5.1 million in funding to the Edwardsville campus from the Carbondale campus. This was around the time a bill in the General Assembly would have abolished the SIU board and replaced it with two separate boards governing the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. The bill would have effectively made the campuses two separate universities, with Edwardsville receiving a larger share of funding. Emails also showed Dunn using derogatory language to describe those who opposed the proposed funding shift. Resulting tension led to calls for Dunn’s resignation.

While this severance package is excessive, it’s not unusual. The terms of Dunn’s termination follow a long line of large severance payments, also known as “golden parachutes,” awarded to ousted state university administrators.

In 2017, the Northern Illinois University board of trustees unanimously voted to approve a $600,000 severance package for former university President Doug Baker, who resigned amid a patronage scandal. Baker resigned from his position following the public release of an investigation showing improper hiring practices costing taxpayers $1 million. Investigators said that under Baker’s watch, the university “committed a pattern of circumventing procurement requirements and violating employment policies and rules.” The board of trustees, however, still rewarded Baker with an extravagant severance payout.

In 2015, the College of DuPage board of trustees approved a $763,000 severance package for former President Robert Breuder. During Breuder’s tenure, the college hid more than $95 million in improper spending, including payments to businesses connected to college leadership, a private shooting club to which Breuder belonged and nearly $250,000 on alcohol – listed on ledger lines as “instructional supplies.” The Chicago Tribune called the $763,000 payout “one of the largest severance packages for a public employee in state history.”

In 2016, Chicago State University paid former university President Thomas Calhoun Jr. $600,000 in severance pay, despite Calhoun having served just nine months of his five-year contract.

These golden parachute deals are an unfair drain on taxpayers, but they could be significantly remedied if Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation sitting on his desk into law. Senate Bill 3604, introduced by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, would limit severance payments to 20 weeks pay. The bill, which would benefit taxpayers greatly when administrative departures take place, passed through the General Assembly with bipartisan support in May, but the governor has not yet taken action.

Reforming severance pay is one of many steps needed to reform bloated administrative costs in higher education. Beyond just severance, administrative bloat carries high costs that divert money away from students and toward administrators – with taxpayers left to pick up the tab. In 2015, more than half of the state’s $4.1 billion spent on public universities went toward retirement costs alone, and more than half of Illinois’ 2,465 university administrators working that year received a base salary of $100,000 or more.

These costs need to be reined in for higher education in Illinois to work for both students and taxpayers.

Students and families paying tuition at the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses should demand better decision making from university officials. Moreover, taxpayers across the state – who are on the hook for these payouts – should demand reforms that control costs and put an end to golden parachutes.

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