Resignation could help UI's reputation

Months of turmoil, tension between the president and chancellor, faculty in an uproar, a presidential resignation.

That scenario has played out at the University of Illinois twice in a three-year span. How much will it affect the school's reputation in academic circles?

Not as much as it might have before Michael Hogan's resignation last week, some academic leaders said.

As the controversy over Hogan's leadership and his chief of staff unfolded in recent months, faculty feared all the "furor" could drive away potential administrative recruits and distract department heads from focusing on attracting top faculty, said engineering Professor Charles "Chip" Zukoski.

"Nobody wants to be at a place where you can't do your job because there's all sorts of infighting going on," he said. "Would you take that job?

"The leadup to Hogan's resignation certainly had the capacity of driving candidates away. There's no question about that," said Zukoski, the Elio Eliakim Tarika Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "Now that Hogan has resigned, there'll be some uncertainty, but I expect things to calm down in a hurry."

The chaired professors who signed letters calling for Hogan's resignation — including Zukoski — are going to go back to teaching and research, he said. President-designate Robert Easter is a "steady hand," Chancellor Phyllis Wise is a good administrator, and the university will move on, said Zukoski, former vice chancellor for research.

University of Illinois Trustee Timothy Koritz said the UI's reputation may have suffered in some quarters. But potential faculty hires pay more attention to other criteria — the quality of professors and facilities in their own disciplines, collegiality on campus, the state's finances and its impact on salaries, pensions and other benefits, he said.

"I think that plays far more important a role than these administrative bumps in the road," Koritz said.

Can the UI get strong candidates for president in two years, when it could be considering Easter's successor?

Koritz called the resignation "an unfortunate event" but noted the strength of the UI's faculty, student body and three campuses.

"I think it's going to be one of the premiere jobs in academia among public institutions," he said.

Professor Joyce Tolliver, a Hogan critic and vice chairwoman of the campus senate, argues that his resignation helped the UI's reputation because trustees listened to the faculty.

"It is very clear that shared governance will be defended on our campus," she said. "In terms of recruiting a faculty member, I think this is a good thing."

Cary Nelson, professor emeritus and president of the American Association of University Professors, doesn't see any ill effect on faculty recruitment.

"It's very unusual for the high degree of faculty unanimity around the need for him to step down to develop in such a short period of time. You really don't see that very often," Nelson said.

On the other hand, he doesn't believe it represented a victory for shared governance.

"It wasn't shared governance; it was revolution," Nelson said, arguing that true shared governance would have prevented the problems.

Nelson and other union proponents believe more fundamental change is needed in the way the university operates, including greater transparency and broad faculty participation, "not protests after the fact."

Nelson thinks any ill effects from the resignation will subside by the time a new search is launched. But he said the ongoing dispute over a faculty union at the UI's Chicago campus could pose a bigger obstacle to recruiting quality candidates for president.

"A new president ordinarily wants to come into a stable labor situation," he said, arguing that Hogan rejected the "majority will" of the faculty in Chicago who wanted to form one union for both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty.

Nelson said the board was wise to appoint Easter rather than trying to recruit a new president, as starting a search process would have been "pretty awkward at this point."

Easter's contract runs for two years, or until a successor is appointed. Trustees wanted to provide stability, and left the contract somewhat open-ended so they won't have to go back and extend it if he needs to serve slightly longer, spokesman Tom Hardy said.

News-Gazette staff writer Christine des Garennes contributed to this report.

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ddf1972 wrote on April 02, 2012 at 8:04 am

As an alum, and one who is in a position where school recommendations are a regular question, I would say the resignation would help only if it means there is real change - not just another version of previous scenarios with different names this time.  Time will tell, but UI has some serious, and apparently endemic, issues to overcome.

mcleanm72 wrote on April 02, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Arrogance or Ignorance?  I find it incredible that anyone can thing that this embarrassing fiasco is good for the university.  Did the trustees listen to the faculty or did they get streamrolled by the faculty?  I guess if you have a board that runs at the first sign of conflict then arrogance is understandable.  However, to think that this university is better off?  Ignorance!