CHICAGO — University of Illinois trustees formally extended President Robert Easter's contract on Thursday and approved making him eligible for bonuses.
When the UI Board of Trustees approved Easter as president in March 2012, following the resignation of Michael Hogan, the expectation was that Easter would serve in the role until June 30, 2014. The new agreement calls for him serving in the role of president until June 30, 2015.
When asked by UI Board Chair Christopher Kennedy last March if he would consider moving into the role, Easter said his response was, "Let's see how it goes." And he initially agreed to two years in the position.
"The reality is it's taken me about a year to understand the issues we are dealing with and those need to be dealt with another year before the search process (for the next president) gets underway," Easter said.
Among his many goals for the fiscal year that just ended: address ambiguities in the administrative reporting structure, including the Office of the Vice President for Health Affairs; work with other administrators on setting up a review of academic programs and administrative units; enhance diversity purchases, such as increase participation by businesses owned by minorities, females and people with disabilities; build relationships with community colleges throughout the state and in Chicago; work on fundraising, especially in area of undergraduate scholarships; and more.
Among the issues still to be addressed: pension reform and making "absolutely certain" the university is using its resources, particularly in administration, in the most efficient way, Easter said.
A final report on reviewing university administrative units, including suggestions for reducing expenditures, is expected to arrive on his desk in the coming weeks. Easter will then review those recommendations to decide which ones to implement.
Higher education is in a dynamic state right now, he said, facing changing models of delivery and cost structures, "and having an opportunity to be at the ground level, to be engaged in those discussions is exciting," Easter said, adding that he only wishes he could be 30 years old now, which would allow him to see the outcomes.
The 65-year-old Easter arrived on the Urbana campus in 1973 as a graduate student and earned his Ph.D. from the UI. He would go on to become a faculty member in animal sciences, department head and later the dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. In recent years he's been tapped to be interim Urbana campus provost, interim chancellor and interim vice chancellor for research.
"Over the last couple of years, the board has developed strong relationships with faculty and campus leadership in Chicago, Urbana and Springfield and through those relationships we've been hearing very forcefully how happy everyone is with Bob's leadership," Kennedy said.
"He's very much a stabilizing force, but he's also very dynamic. There are a lot of things going on — the campuses are developing strategic plans, we're active in Springfield and Washington, we're garnering a high number of research awards, repopulating the leadership ranks — all that is occurring in a period of calm and stability," Kennedy said.
UI education Professor Nicholas Burbules, the outgoing chair of the University Senates Conference, echoed that sentiment. The university, he said, was lucky to have Easter step into the role of president last spring.
"I think he has brought a positive sense to the university as a whole and to our campus that was much needed in the aftermath of the Hogan experience. It's a sign of his dedication to the institution that he keeps accepting these jobs," Burbules said.
Having Easter's contract extended to 2015 "will enable the university, when the time comes to search for a new president, to allow us to search at a time when the university is stable, as opposed to when it's coming out of a very difficult period," Burbules said.
Since last spring Easter's salary has been $450,000, but that will go up. In September Easter's base salary will rise by a yet-to-be disclosed annual amount, plus he could receive a performance-based bonus.
Trustees hold their annual reviews of the president and other top administrators in conjunction with their meeting in July. In the coming weeks the board's executive committee, which includes chair Christopher Kennedy, Pam Strobel and Ed McMillan, will develop the new performance-based compensation plan for Easter.
Details are expected to be released in September. Annual raises for most UI employees typically occur at the board's September meeting in Urbana.
Kennedy said he and his fellow board members wanted to move away from the previous, "primitive" model of offering retention bonuses because all retention bonuses do is compensate people for sitting in the chair. Under the new plan, the board will review and rate the president annually on how he meets his goals.
"The incentive compensation package ties pay to performance," Kennedy said, adding that he believes more universities will adopt this approach.
Easter's predecessor, Michael Hogan, earned $651,000 and was eligible for retention bonuses totaling $225,000 upon completing five years in his role. He resigned late last March under faculty pressure. Hogan is eligible to receive $67,500, which he can collect on July 1, 2015, according to his revised employment agreement approved by trustees last year. He agreed to forfeit $157,500 in other deferred compensation. He will teach two history courses this fall at the UI-Springfield.
On Thursday, Trustees gave their OK to several other key appointments.
— Andreas Cangellaris, head of the College of Engineering's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is the new dean of the College of Engineering. He replaces interim Dean Mike Bragg, who left to be dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. Cangellaris will earn $328,000 annually.
— John Wilkin, an associate university librarian at the University of Michigan, is the new UI dean of libraries and university librarian. He replaces Paula Kaufman, who is returning to teaching. Wilkin will earn $240,000 annually.
— Psychology Professor Brian Ross will be interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences until a permanent successor is chosen for former Dean Ruth Watkins. She accepted a new administrative position at the University of Utah.
— Advertising Professor Jan Slater, who has been interim dean of the College of Media for the past three years, was appointed to a two-year term. A national search is expected to be launched in 2014. She will earn $253,400 annually.
— Bob Hauser, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, had his term extended one more year.
In other board action, a new policy outlining new parameters for hiring retirees was approved. UI officials wrote the policy in order to comply with a new state law that attempts to rein in hiring retirees across the state universities. Called the State Universities Retirement System Return-to-Work Act, the law takes effect next month. It requires universities or community colleges that participate in SURS to reimburse the system for pensions paid to employees rehired after Aug. 13, 2013, if the employee works more than 18 weeks (cumulative) and earns more than 40 percent of his or her highest salary in an academic year. Certain exemptions are allowed, such as retirees whose salaries are paid by federal grants, state grants in which the individual is listed as a principal investigator, or by gift or foundation money.