On Monday, Youngstown State University President Randy Dunn signed a contract to become Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s next president, signaling his departure from YSU.
Dunn, who spent most of his early life in Illinois, will make a yearly salary of $430,000 at SIU — a $55,000 increase from his YSU salary of $375,000.
At the YSU Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Dunn submitted his resignation and will leave office on Aug. 16. According to Dunn’s contract, he is required to give 180 days written notice before leaving office.
“I understand there’s a sense of betrayal or questioning of why I would do such a thing, but I would point out … it is a unique opportunity,” Dunn said after the board meeting. “It’s one that we didn’t enter into lightly.”
Dunn joined YSU on July 15, after Murray State University chose not to renew his contract after seven years. While under contract at Murray State, he applied for president of the University of Tennessee in October 2010 and Florida Commissioner of Education in December 2012. He also was a finalist in 2013 presidential search at Illinois State University, his alma mater.
During his tenure, Dunn has worked to improve enrollment numbers, moved YSU from an open enrollment to an open access institution and introduced sweeping budget cuts to deal with a mounting deficit.
According to SIU Board of Trustees’ meeting minutes, SIU President Glenn Poshard announced his retirement in July, sparking SIU’s search for a new president. The search began in September, and the university commenced placing ads for the new position in October.
Dunn said he was contacted about applying for the position during the fall semester.
“I was contacted quite a while ago, probably mid-fall. I didn’t apply per se. I had a reach out from the consultant they hired, and initially I said, ‘No, we just moved here.’ It turned out that evidently there were a number of nominations supporting me for that search process,” Dunn said. “To say that I’ve been angling or working this since the search moved forward is not the case.”
Randal Thomas, chairman of the SIU Board Of Trustees, said in a news release on Monday that Dunn was chosen for the abilities he has displayed over his career in education.
“Randy Dunn has both the skills and the background to ensure that SIU continues to live up to its mission of providing a quality education for thousands of students, serving as an academic and economic engine and meeting the healthcare needs of individuals and families in central and southern Illinois,” Thomas said in the news release.
On Monday, Dunn cancelled his appearance at YSU’s Crash Day and was unable to be reached at his office or through his cellphone. Ron Cole, YSU’s public information officer, and Shannon Tirone, chief of staff, were also unaware as of Monday morning of Dunn’s location.
YSU’s Board was not aware to Dunn’s decision to apply, and they were alerted to the news when the story first broke. Dunn said he was unable to release information because of confidentiality issues.
“It’s a judgment that gets made,” Dunn said. “At SIU, they had made very clear that this was a closed and wholly confident search. You’re having to weigh against what they have said they want to have take place and how they wanted things handled, looking at what damage that does to this university in not giving a notification and again making that judgment call.”
Senior administrators, professors, board members and students expressed surprise in response to Dunn’s resignation.
Jack Fahey, YSU’s vice president of Student Affairs, said despite the negative impact it could have on YSU’s progress, he wishes Dunn the best in his new position.
“I wish Randy the best, happiness and success at SIU. As far as for Youngstown State, [I’m] disappointed at the setback. We have a lot of momentum going, a lot of things are going really, really well and this obviously slows down our progress,” Fahey said.
Chet Cooper, an YSU professor of biology, voiced a similar opinion, saying that the university needs to move forward despite this set back.
“Dr. Dunn was a great person to work with, and I thought he brought a lot of talent and potential to the university. It’s a disappointment to see him go. I’m not necessarily angry about it, but I think we’ll need to move forward, and I think what the university community has to remember is that the university isn’t just one person,” Cooper said.
Catie Carney, president of the Student Government Association, and Michael Slavens, vice president of SGA, both voiced shock at the sudden announcement.
“It’s a shame for the university. It’s just a disappointment I guess,” Carney said. “My comments are simple: As far as my reaction to this goes, I’m in shock; the university did not see this coming in any shape or form, I believe.”
Slavens added that Dunn had a strong vision for the university.
“He seemed to have such a good vision — a good route he wanted to go. He seemed very forward thinking,” Slavens said.
Annette Burden, president of the YSU chapter of the Ohio Education Association, said in a joint union press release that Dunn was a willing negotiator in union talks.
“The union presidents were as surprised as the Board of Trustees to hear that President Dunn will be leaving YSU. Certainly, we are all very disappointed in this news. We have appreciated Dr. Dunn’s willingness to work together and would like to acknowledge the speed at which he often helped to resolve issues that we brought to his attention,” Burden said. “We trust that this news will not have a negative impact on the upcoming negotiations of two of the unions.”
Speculation about Dunn’s new presidential position began on Saturday, after the Daily Egyptian, SIU’s student newspaper, released an article announcing Dunn as the front-running candidate for the position.
Dunn will not leave the only hole in the executive staff of YSU. Ikram Khawaja, provost and vice president for academic affairs, is set to retire on June 30, and Eugene Grilli, vice president for finance and administration, will be leaving for a new position in West Virginia later this month.
Slavens reassures students that in the short term the university should not be too drastically impacted by the absence of these three positions.
“Theoretically, for the average student, they shouldn’t see a difference,” Slavens said. “Granted, these are the top positions, but in my mind the top positions are more for the future — for the vision — rather than right now. It does sound horrible, but I feel like for the average student, it will be all right in the short term as long as they fix it.”
Sudershan Garg, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the Board will begin discussion soon on the matter of selecting a new president.
“I think the Board will meet sometime in the near future to start the process and I believe that we’ll have a similar screening process as we had last time,” Garg said. “Hopefully, some of the previous applicants who were number two and number three, they will apply.”
Dunn reassures the community that his choice is not a reflection on the university.
“This is no reflection on the community, the university. There are good days ahead for YSU,” Dunn said. “This Board knows it, and I think this community, after the initial shock, will see that too.”