URBANA — Two years ago this fall, then-University of Illinois President Michael Hogan proposed a title change for the three campus leaders, effectively launching a contentious debate that would set the tone for the rest of his rocky tenure at the university.
To much applause on Monday afternoon, Bob Easter, the UI's president since July, told faculty he recommends reversing the changes made by Hogan in order to clarify the chancellor's position as chief executive officer of the campus.
The original proposal, made by Hogan and approved by the UI Board of Trustees in November 2010, called for each chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield campuses to carry the title of "vice president and chancellor," instead of the previous title of simply "chancellor." Hogan said the move was necessary to establish clear lines of authority.
To those outside academia, it may have seemed like a trivial word change, but the move, viewed by some faculty as a power grab, was the first in a series of clashes between the faculty and Hogan, ultimately ending with the faculty calling for his resignation in March.
Easter now proposes a slightly different wording change. Instead of carrying the title, "vice president and chancellor," the top campus leaders would be called "chancellor and vice president."
The wording change "adds clarity that the chancellor is the leader of the Urbana campus," Easter told The News-Gazette on Monday.
Easter said his sense has been that the title, as it is currently written in the statutes, "creates a sense of confusion," particularly for those from outside the United States who believe someone with that title is not the decision-maker for the campus.
"And the campus decision-maker is the chancellor," he said.
Easter was interim chancellor for the Urbana campus at the time Hogan sent the recommendation to the board of trustees. The current chancellor, Phyllis Wise, has held the position for a little more than a year.
Easter proposed the new wording to the University Senates Conference, the faculty advisory body representing all three campuses, which in turn has asked all three campus senates to review the change.
"If faculty have no difficulty with it, it will proceed to the board" for approval, Easter said.
Judging by the applause Monday, it may meet little resistance on campus.
"I gather they're going to be pleased," said Matt Wheeler, UI professor and chairman of the Urbana Academic Senate. Wheeler chaired the University Senates Conference when Hogan proposed the change in 2010.
At the time, the way the title's words were ordered, with "vice president" first and "chancellor" second, the indication was the chancellor was not the chief executive officer of the campus, and "a number of folks didn't think it was the right move," Wheeler said.
Flipping the wording around represents a significant move "because it reflects the responsibilities of the chancellor — which is the campus first and university second," Wheeler said.
"This is a very welcome change," said UI Professor Nicholas Burbules, chairman of the University Senates Conference. The Urbana senate in 2010 opposed the title of "vice president" as well, but Burbules said he didn't think there would be movement to oppose those words now.
"This goes a long way to putting the positions in the right order. The chancellor is also a university officer, yes, but they're chancellor, the chief executive of the campus," Burbules said. "It's definitely a step forward," he added.
If all three campus senates approve the change, the senates conference will be able to take up the issue at its January meeting and then forward the item to trustees for approval at their January meeting, he said.