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updated: 5/9/2013 4:30 PM

New SIU board member elected chairman

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Associated Press

The Southern Illinois University system's revamped governing board elected a newcomer as its chairman Thursday before voting to raise tuition at two of the campuses.

The board of trustees unanimously selected Randal Thomas, the former head of the state's National Guard, six days after Gov. Pat Quinn nominated him to the panel, along with former SIU-Edwardsville professor Shirley Portwood.

Quinn's nominees came with the endorsement of the state's senate members, who had spiked three of the Democratic governor's previous candidates. There is still one board vacancy left, and it's unclear who soon that may be filled.

The trustees also agreed Thursday to raise tuition at the Carbondale campus by 3 percent and at the Edwardsville campus by 5 percent, starting this fall.

Rita Cheng, the Carbondale campus' chancellor, and other administrators had sought a tuition boost of at least 5 percent, though Cheng argued it was still unlikely to offset lower funding from the state.

Thomas, of Springfield, served more than four years as Illinois' adjutant general -- the state's highest National Guard post -- before retiring in 2007. A Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart with the Army, Thomas had held various roles in the Illinois National Guard since 1983.

Thomas also spent three decades as an English teacher, librarian and media director after getting a bachelor's degree in English from SIU's Edwardsville campus in 1973 and later a master's degree in education.

Portwood, of Godfrey, taught history at the Edwardsville campus for 30 years and since March 2010 has served on the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's governing board.

Quinn's earlier nominees all graduated from the Carbondale campus, drawing criticism from state senators who ultimately rejected the candidates because they said there would be scant representation of the university system beyond Carbondale. The selections of Thomas and Portwood remedied that.

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