New leadership (again) at UI

After another failed presidency, the University of Illinois is turning over the reins of power to a familiar face.

Everyone knew that President Michael Hogan was on thin ice with both University of Illinois trustees and faculty members. But the news of his shotgun resignation Thursday struck nonetheless with a shocking suddenness.

He will assist with the transition until July 1, when longtime UI faculty member and administrator Robert Easter takes over as president.

Notice that there's no "interim" title over Easter's name. Having thoroughly botched their last search, UI trustees have decided not to risk another costly foray into the unknown and instead will go with the tried-and-true Easter — longtime faculty member and dean, former interim chancellor and interim vice chancellor for academic affairs.

While the 64-year-old Easter keeps trying to retire, a dysfunctional UI board has little choice but to keep bringing him back.

Under the current circumstances, Easter appears to be the ideal person for the job — much like former UI President Stanley Ikenberry was when he took over after UI President B. Joseph White resigned under fire.

Well-known and well-respected by all the important UI constituencies, Easter is faced with the challenge of getting the university again running smoothly. Not saddling him with an "interim" title gives him an honest chance to restore a semblance of normality to UI operations.

That's a tall order, considering the state's continuing financial problems that complicate UI operations and the disagreements between Hogan and his critics that sowed so much discord. Given all that preceded Easter, it's our hope that everyone will realize how important it is to work with him in a cooperative manner.

That, however, doesn't mean that the authors of the Hogan fiasco should go unmentioned.

A former president of the University of Connecticut, Hogan began his tenure here July 1, 2010, designated by members of a UI search committee as the cure for the UI's problems in the aftermath of the clouted admissions scandal.

But Hogan quickly ran into trouble as he attempted to implement policy changes that he contended were mandated by the board of trustees. Frankly, we've always wondered how the mostly novice members of the UI board would know that a series of significant administrative reorganizations were necessary. It takes an odd bit of reasoning to assume that the reorganization of admissions was a problem of sufficient import to squander a president's political capital.

But whatever the source of Hogan's mandate, he energetically attempted to implement it, stepping on faculty toes wherever he turned.

In contrast to the private sector, universities like the UI are not run from the top down. They operate on the concept of shared governance, meaning faculty members are entitled to a chance to comment on and participate in big organizational or educational decisions. In Hogan's case, they felt ignored, sometimes abused, and decided to fight back.

It may well be that Hogan's goose was cooked by his former chief of staff Lisa Troyer, whose alleged authorship of anonymous emails to a university committee was quickly discovered.

She resigned only to submit a demand for payment of her salary for a period of time after her resignation. Her explanation that "I resigned as chief of staff, but not from the administration" fueled further suspicions that Hogan was not being forthright.

UI trustees, who seem mostly oblivious to their role in this disastrous chapter in university history, put Hogan on notice that he needed to repair his relationship with the faculty. But in doing so, they put all the responsibility on Hogan, making it clear that faculty reluctance to make nice could result in Hogan's demise.

That came last week when Hogan offered chairman Kennedy his resignation, a decision that unleashed perhaps the most insincere explanations and reactions since the beginning of time.

A UI press release, authored by Tom Hardy, quoted Kennedy as praising Hogan for a job well done.

"This university owes Mike Hogan a debt of gratitude. ...We thank him for his hard work, perseverance and achievement," Kennedy said.

Hogan was quoted as saying what "a distinct honor and privilege" it has been to be a UI president — this from a guy who told The News-Gazette just a couple of weeks ago that he was willing to bet he'd still be president a year from now.

That dishonest statement was matched by equally insincere hand-wringing from faculty members who praised the difficult but "wise" decision Hogan made. Behind closed doors, they were doubtless doing cartwheels.

So it goes at one of the world's great research universities, now an educational Peyton Place where administrators' and trustees' idea of shooting straight is to blow off their own toes.

Hogan, naturally, will stay on the UI faculty as a highly paid history professor, just as Troyer also is slated to join the faculty. Add those two to White and former Chancellor Richard Herman.

This has got to stop. Administrative turnover is not just costly and embarrassing, it drains valuable time away from more important pursuits. We trust — and will hope all will trust — in Easter's steady hand.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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rsp wrote on March 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm

 

Given all that preceded Easter, it's our hope that everyone will realize how important it is to work with him in a cooperative manner

They didn't think it was important before, did they? What's really changed?

read the DI wrote on March 28, 2012 at 7:03 am

It's high time the NG took a look at its own role in this mess, and asks itself, Did the path we follow help or hinder the university, the state, and the people?

I would argue that the NG was more interested in stirring up problems than anything else. Am I Hogan fan? No. But the NG's agenda -- to embarrass the Trustees -- has been transparent and fruitless, not to mention expensive for the taxpayers.