Easter is UI trustees' choice to avoid 'holding pattern'

CHICAGO — After just two years as president of the University of Illinois, Michael Hogan "concluded that the time was right for him to return" to teaching and research, UI board Chairman Christopher G. Kennedy said Thursday after announcing Hogan's surprise resignation.

And now the UI board of trustees has again turned to 36-year faculty member Robert Easter — who already has served as interim provost and interim chancellor of the Urbana campus — to be the new president.

This time, though, Easter, 64, will be more than interim. He gets a two-year term beginning July 1.

"We did not want an interim. We wanted to continue to move forward. We don't want to be in a holding pattern," Kennedy said.

Easter's pay and other contract provisions will be disclosed today after a meeting of the executive committee of the board of trustees in Chicago.

Hogan, who now makes $651,000 a year, will remain at the UI as a tenured professor of history, doing research around the Marshall Plan, Kennedy said. His new salary "will be a significant step down, but it's consistent with the terms of his employment contract."

The contract says that Hogan's faculty salary "will be equal to the average of the 10 highest salaries of university faculty (excluding the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry). He will also have a teaching load appropriate to a full professor actively engaged in research" and will be entitled to office space, research support including $10,000 per year research funding, a graduate research assistant and secretarial support.

Easter, meanwhile, will be the UI's 19th president — and the sixth since 1995. Since Stanley Ikenberry's first retirement at that time, the UI has been led by James Stukel, B. Joseph White, Ikenberry (as interim), Hogan and now Easter.

Kennedy said he wasn't concerned about the rapid turnover at the top of the university.

"I think this change bodes well for the university," he said. "I think Mike Hogan was the right president at the right time and I think Bob Easter is the right president at the right time. I think a university should be filled with change and never be afraid to embrace new ideas wherever they come from."

Hogan's resignation Thursday came at the end of months of tumult on the Urbana campus, including faculty anger over his attempts to centralize enrollment management for the UI's three campuses at the expense of campus autonomy, as well as anonymous emails traced by investigators to his chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, who then resigned.

Several letters signed by scores of the most influential faculty on campus had criticized Hogan's leadership, and a recent letter signed by more than 100 professors urged the trustees to fire Hogan as quickly as possible.

Hogan broached the idea of resigning two weeks ago, a source said, and then met with Kennedy on Sunday in Chicago to discuss it more thoroughly.

It was Hogan's decision to step down, Kennedy said.

"Mike initiated this action. Mike scheduled the meeting to discuss it with me and Mike indicated immediately that the discussion was about his decision to resign as president," Kennedy said. "There were only two of us in the room. It was Mike's decision."

Kennedy, a Democrat, and Karen Hasara, a Republican board member from Springfield, praised Hogan for his work.

"He has a long list of accomplishments that were achieved in the short two-year period during which he was the president," Kennedy said. "Many of those accomplishments consist of the goals that were originally identified for him, so I think he felt as though when the faculty leadership endorsed the final enrollment management program at the last trustees' meeting that he had in many ways accomplished what he set out to do."

Hasara said the university "owes President Hogan a debt of gratitude. He made a lot of good changes and saved us money and we really admire him. He's looking at what's best for the university. I think he is owed a debt of congratulations for doing that."

Yet she could not hide her elation at Easter's hiring.

"I think it's a great day for us. Obviously it's been a huge worry for a few weeks," Hasara said. "And I think the outcome is better than any of us anticipated really. Plus, it was in short order. We're quite surprised about how everyone agreed and it all came together."

She said Easter was asked to step in "in the last few days."

Kennedy said "we considered lots of options but there was one clear winner, and we're glad that Bob has agreed to accept the responsibility."

Easter's hiring also was welcomed by local legislators.

"I think the university is fortunate to have someone with Bob Easter's experience and integrity who is willing to step into this position," said Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, the vice chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. "I think it's sort of like when Ikenberry came back after White stepped down and everyone said, 'Oh thank you, what a great choice.'"

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, the chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee, noted, "I know that Bob Easter has tried to retire more than once but I think that he's a very good choice to serve as the new president. I think he'll do a good job."

Rep. Chapin Rose, Republican spokesman on the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee, said "he's the guy who can put Humpty Dumpty back together again."

"Everybody likes him and trusts him. I really think that he'll be the guy who can bring the groups together again and move the university forward."

Rose praised the board of trustees "for coming to the conclusion that we don't need some fancy outside search committee to go find someone from Michigan or Stanford when the right candidate has been here the whole time."

Rose said Hogan "in many respects was implementing board policy and took the flak for it. I think there's legitimate disagreement about whether that is a good policy, but the real point here is that the guy who can get things put together here now is Bob Easter.

"The University of Illinois is a state gem, and although there are some parochial reasons to be excited about Bob, he's just the right guy for the whole institution."

Easter began at the UI as a doctoral student, then became a faculty member in animal sciences. He was dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences for seven years before becoming interim Urbana campus provost. He also served as interim chancellor for two years and since January has been the interim vice chancellor for research.

Easter was unavailable for comment, but in a statement released by the university he said he would "move forward energetically and collaboratively with an agenda that reaffirms the University of Illinois' special place among the very best of institutions of higher learning in the United States."

The university said a schedule of activities recognizing the new president would be announced in the coming weeks.

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illini4ever wrote on March 23, 2012 at 8:03 am

Congrats to Dr. Easter! He is definitely the right man. His passion and loyalty towards the University have spoken volumes over his career here. It's a great decision by BOT to recognize his contributions to the campus and the University and make the right move.

 

UIUCHoopFan wrote on March 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

Hurray for the return of Dr. Easter!  No better person to stand at the helm and help right this sinking UIUC ship!

catharsisnow wrote on March 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

The Board dragged the inevitable for 3 months. It would have saved us many negative headlines... Also, since we are "one" university, let's give Hogan the average salary of the top 10 highest paid full professors at UIS. We need to focus at the way the Board operates, the way it's members get selected and their failure to provide adequate oversight to the Office of the President.

It is indeed a good day for all three Universities that comprise the University of Illinois System. Congratulations to Dr. Easter and best of luck. The wounds have already started healing!

sgraham48 wrote on March 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Bob Easter is an excellent choice to step in.  His passion to serve the University is obvious and he does not have to work to build the trust of faculty, administrators and staff.  He's already earned it.  As a graduate (2 degrees) and former employee (24 years), I applaud his selection and appreciate his willingness to serve.