Easter already carrying presidential load

Easter already carrying presidential load

URBANA — When University of Illinois students walk across the stage Sunday to receive their diplomas, President Michael Hogan will not be there to shake their hands.

Instead, Robert Easter, who is the president designate, will congratulate them. Easter also attended UI-Chicago commencement ceremonies and will be at the UI-Springfield commencement this Saturday.

Hogan officially holds the title of president until July 1, but in the weeks following his resignation, he has attended a handful of public events. Meanwhile, Easter's calendar this spring has been full of meetings with public officials and engagements where he delivered remarks at public events, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

It was Easter who testified at recent appropriations hearings before the Illinois General Assembly, Easter who sent a memo to the university community about pension reforms, and Easter and his wife, Cheryl, who hosted the opening reception for Ebertfest at the president's house in Urbana.

"As (Easter) transitions into the role on a permanent basis, he is taking more of that load when it comes to interacting with the public and community-elected leaders, which makes sense," said university spokesman Tom Hardy.

Hardy said it was a "fair characterization" to say Easter has presided over more public functions as the two leaders make their way through this time of transition.

"We're really into the important part of the legislative session now. It's good for Bob to interact personally with the appropriations committee," Hardy said.

At the same time, Hogan has been briefing Easter on a variety of university issues, Hardy said. Those include the fiscal 2013 budget and appropriations process, pension funding, labor relations, the university's health care system, and more.

Hogan tendered his resignation to the UI Board of Trustees in March, following several months of growing tension with faculty over his attempts to centralize enrollment management for the UI's three campuses and an investigation into anonymous emails reportedly sent by his former chief of staff, Lisa Troyer. Eventually more than 100 notable faculty called for Hogan's resignation. In the days following his resignation, Hogan did take some personal time off, according to the calendars.

Trustees decided, instead of asking Easter to serve as interim, that he would carry the title of president designate until taking on the role of president on July 1, serving for two years.

According to the agreement approved by trustees earlier this spring, on July 1 Hogan will begin a one-year sabbatical. He will join the faculty as a history professor with a salary of $285,100. He can choose among the three campuses as his base. As president, Hogan's salary has been $650,000. Easter agreed to a $450,000 salary as president; currently his president designate pay is based on a $250,000 annual salary.

Since Hogan's resignation, an informal division of responsibilities has emerged in which both leaders attend staff meetings, prepare for the upcoming trustee meetings, review budget and staffing plans and participate in some public events such as the Global University Summit, which took place in Chicago last month, according to Hardy.

He said the overlap has proven beneficial as "both parties pitch in for a shared outcome."

Easter is "very knowledgeable" of the institution, but there are still a lot of things he's got to understand on or before July 1, Hardy said. Part of that entails meeting with state and local officials and getting "reacquainted" with some of them, he said.

Both Easter and Hogan scheduled appearances at the Lincoln Academy convocation and investiture in Springfield last month, when wheelchair athlete and UI alumna and employee Jean Driscoll was honored, according to the documents.

However, at U of I Lobby Day on April 18, when students, alumni, retirees and others visit government officials in Springfield, Hogan had scheduled a morning of email and correspondence and research for a paper for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. That day Easter set up meetings with Gery Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education; state Sens. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign; Dan Kotowski, D-Mount Prospect; and other officials. On April 26, he went to Chicago to meet with fellow state university leaders and Lt. Gov Sheila Simon. Later that evening, Easter returned to Champaign for an event at the Colonnades Club in Memorial Stadium to congratulate the men's gymnastics team on its national title.

As for the leadership transition, Easter and Hogan have met several times in recent weeks.

"Generally it's a collaborative relationship where they decide between them what things need to get done, how to go about it," Hardy said.

Both leaders also have been meeting with key administrators, including Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs; Maureen Parks, associate vice president for human resources; Avijit Ghosh, special assistant to the president; Larry Schook, vice president for research; and Kappy Laing, executive director of government relations.

Easter also has met with the University Senates Conference, the governance group of faculty from all three campuses.

The group, which recently issued a statement regarding the pension reforms being considered in Springfield, has chosen to deal with Easter on the issue, said its chair, UI Chicago Professor Don Chambers.

"All the interacting we've had has been with Bob Easter," he said.

The group gave the green light on a revised enrollment management plan put together by Hogan, board of trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy, Pierre and Ghosh. That plan called for any changes in that area to be considered by the vice president and an enrollment management policy council that will include provosts from the three campuses.

As for Hogan's future plans, he has not made a determination yet about a campus location when he returns to the faculty, he said through  Hardy. Regarding his work plan for the coming year, Hogan said he plans to finish in the next 12 months an edited volume on the historiography of American foreign relations.

"A second edited volume, on conceptual approaches to the study of international relations, should be finished 18 months after that. The first volume is already under contract to Cambridge University Press and I expect the second volume will follow with the same publisher. I will be working on these projects during my sabbatical year, as well as a book on John F. Kennedy," Hogan said.

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