ST. LOUIS - The Southern Illinois University system's new president acknowledged Tuesday he may have caused hurt feelings by taking that job just seven months into his role heading an Ohio university, though he insisted he was wooed for the position at the Illinois school where he once worked.
Randy Dunn, the former Illinois schools chief who since last year has been Youngstown State University's president, said he never actively applied for the SIU job but was courted at least twice by an outside consulting firm hired to assist with the nationwide search. SIU's assurance that Dunn's name - and that of any other finalist - would be kept secret sealed his decision to be a candidate, he said.
Dunn was introduced Monday as SIU's new president - a career opportunity touted as once-in-a-lifetime by Dunn, who during nine years employed by SIU had been an associate professor at that school's Carbondale campus before being hired in 2004 as Illinois' state education superintendent. He left that post in 2006 to become president of Murray State University, then went to Youngstown State.
Monday's announcement drew some condemnation in Youngstown. Ohio state Rep. Bob Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, on Tuesday labeled Dunn a "serial job-seeker" whose departure from the Ohio school "certainly calls into question some of his character."
Dunn called such reaction "reflexive" and perhaps expected.
"I fully understand the (Youngstown State's sense of) betrayal and the feeling they've been kind of left hanging," Dunn told The Associated Press by telephone. But "even in Youngstown, I think there was an understanding we weren't going to be retiring (in that Ohio city), that we would be returning to Illinois at some point. So this is coming home. As you talk to folks, they get it."
By contract with Youngstown State, Dunn has given that school 180 days' notice that he's leaving, making his resignation effective Aug. 16. His SIU deal that will pay him $430,000 each of its four years - his annual base salary at Youngstown State was $375,000 - calls for him to start no later than Aug. 17.
Glenn Poshard, a former five-term congressman and one-time Illinois gubernatorial candidate, announced last year that he planned to retire as SIU's president at the end of this June. That means SIU could have a leadership gap to fill if Poshard, whose contract actually expires next year, doesn't agree to stay on until Dunn's arrival.
A message left Tuesday with Poshard's office wasn't immediately returned.
Youngstown State's board chairman, Sudershan Garg, said that governing panel "recognizes that the position at Southern Illinois is a unique opportunity" for Dunn and his wife, enabling them to return to Illinois. Garg wished Dunn well, crediting him with performing "exceptionally" during Dunn's brief stay at Youngstown.
Dunn said an SIU-hired consulting firm first approached him last fall about succeeding Poshard, testing Dunn's interest after telling him unspecified people had nominated him. Dunn said he declined, noting he had just settled into the Youngstown State presidency. The consultants called him again around last Christmas, with Dunn agreeing to be vetted for the SIU job after being assured his candidacy would remain confidential, he said.
SIU kept that promise, never introducing any of the finalists to the university's constituency groups, including the Carbondale campus' Faculty Association union. That nearly 600-member bargaining group's president, Rachel Stocking, said Tuesday that "I don't think that kind of secrecy is appropriate in this kind of decision."
"You don't even get a chance to know who the candidates are or what their relations to the campus is going to be like in any way, and suddenly you get this announcement?" said Stocking, an associate history professor. "The search process isn't very confidence inspiring in the way the faculty is treated. But I wouldn't want to hold that against him."