For years, there was a natural order to life in the Southern Illinois University system: The flagship campus in Carbondale had the higher enrollment, the bigger budget and the storied men's basketball team while Edwardsville, established nearly 90 years after Carbondale, worked to build up its cachet.
That was before enrollment began a long decline at Carbondale while Edwardsville gradually found its niche in Greater St. Louis, the second-largest metro area in Illinois.
Now enrollment at the two schools is nearly identical, and Edwardsville officials say it is time that the two-campus university system reassess how it divvies up its funding. And some area lawmakers are renewing a push to sever the two campuses.
"To be fair to our great students and their families and to the amazing individuals who make up our faculty and staff, we need to admit that some parts of SIU are doing better than others and we need to make decisions that maximize the investment we receive from the state," the SIU board's chairwoman, Amy Sholar, wrote in an open letter this month. "If we're going to remain a system, we need to accept that we are continuously evolving and that we can't stay in our silos forever."
This is not the first push to split the campuses, with at least four previous attempts dating to 1975, according to Sholar and SIU President Randy Dunn. It's a reflection of the long-simmering tensions over how the SIU system has weighted state funding in favor of Carbondale, which always has been the larger school with more faculty and staff but has foundered recently while Edwardsville has stayed relatively stable.
Consider the most recent budget. SIU's 2017-18 state appropriation was $182.1 million, according to university budget documents. About $91.4 million went to Carbondale and $53.8 million was earmarked for Edwardsville.
Not counting about $37 million for the medical school in Springfield and central offices, state funding was split 63 percent to 37 percent, in favor of Carbondale.
But while Carbondale still has a larger workforce, its student population has nosedived, from a peak of 24,869 in 1991 to 14,184 as of last fall. At the same time, Edwardsville's enrollment has steadily grown, surpassing 14,000 students in recent years before dipping to 13,796 in 2017.
That new equality is one reason Edwardsville leaders proposed in April -- unsuccessfully -- that the board of trustees transfer $5.125 million from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville for the 2018-19 school year.
School leaders argued in a report that Edwardsville lost out on tens of millions of dollars it should have received had the system's funding formula accurately reflected enrollment changes over the years.
"We're just trying to have someone underscore that some kind of support should follow that growth," Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook said. "The mechanism of how that happens -- whether that's an allocation from the state, a reallocation from the system, a rule from Springfield -- I just need to advocate for my campus."
Edwardsville employees got in the campaign, arguing at the April board meeting that a university system needed to ensure equal treatment of its campuses. Its faculty senate also endorsed the reallocation.
"If we are to move ahead as a system with a commitment to support the growth and development of all the universities in the organization, then this board needs to make the hard decision and accept the short-term consequences it entails to ensure a better, more equitable future for the entire system," Collin Van Meter, a member of Edwardsville staff senate, said at the meeting.
Some also pointed to a $35 million loan that Edwardsville made to Carbondale in 2017 to help the latter through the state budget impasse. Carbondale since has paid back that loan, Pembrook said.
"When this board decided to take money from SIUE and give it Carbondale, it was just until we had a state budget," said Ian Toberman, an academic adviser at Edwardsville. "All these things have come to pass, and here we are again. SIUE has to shoulder the burden so that our other school can find itself or find more students."
Carbondale workers resisted shifting the money, saying that siphoning resources would exacerbate the campus' financial problems. Some also argued that Edwardsville's proposal gave too much consideration to enrollment, used inaccurate information and ignored how differences in the programs offered at each campus affect operating costs.
"This reallocation proposal is causing strife and animosity between two institutions that should be united," said Anthony Travelstead, civil service council president at Carbondale. "Carbondale is proud of the success of Edwardsville, but as one system, one institution should not thrive at the expense of another."
The idea divided trustees, as well. The proposal failed by a 4-3 vote at its April 12 meeting.
Sholar, the board's chairwoman, was among those who supported the funding shift to Edwardsville.
"If Edwardsville is good enough to be asked to support another campus financially and to ultimately keep within the system, as some have supposed, it should also be good enough to be treated equally," Sholar wrote in her May 2 open letter.
The week after the vote, four lawmakers in the Illinois House from the Greater St. Louis area -- Jay Hoffman, Katie Stuart, Monica Bristow and LaToya Greenwood -- introduced several bills to try to force the legislature to do what the SIU trustees would not.
All the representatives are co-sponsoring the others' bills, which range from revamping the board to a complete severing of the two campuses. Any dissolution of a university system must occur at the state legislature, school officials say.
Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno opposes separation and called the legislators' move "a disappointing response."
"The Carbondale campus has never been opposed to exploring the budget allocation model," Montemagno wrote in his blog. He lamented what he said was a lack of collaboration and rigor in coming up with a new funding formula.
SIU President Dunn and the board of trustees have opted to remain publicly neutral on the issue.
In the end, if there is any agreement, it is in the lingering harm that the state budget impasse has had on the schools, as well as the years of declining funding from the state.
"It's not so much that we're pitting the two universities against each other as much as it is that we're both fighting for funding to try to do important things for our areas of the state," said Pembrook, the Edwardsville chancellor. "It's manifesting itself in a way that looks like it's me versus you, but I think it's actually both of us saying to the folks in Springfield that we just need more funding."