No holiday for Easter
Robert Easter's run as the president of the University of Illinois is being extended due to popular demand.
What initially appeared to be a stop-gap presidency at the University of Illinois is taking on the appearance of a longer stay for Robert Easter.
Named as president in 2012 and initially scheduled to remain until mid-2014, Easter is expected to receive a one-year contract extension to June 30, 2015, when the UI Board of Trustees meets Thursday in Chicago.
That should come as good news to UI faculty, staff and students. Easter's tenure as president has been relatively smooth, so there's no reason not to extend his tour of duty. Indeed, it's far better than the alternative of more administrative instability at the top, a problem that has plagued the UI in recent years.
There have been so many presidents and chancellors coming and going that for a while it seemed advisable to install turnstiles in the doorways of the UI's top administrative offices.
Of course, it's not just a matter of whether trustees want Easter to stay. At 65 and already having repeatedly postponed planned retirements, Easter wishes also to play a major role in the decision-making process.
So far, it appears that Easter enjoys both the job and the challenge. He also may be enjoying the role of academic-robed relief pitcher coming out of the bullpen to extinguish administrative fires. He's filled so many important posts on both a temporary and permanent basis that it's getting to be a habit.
As most people who follow the UI closely know, Easter is a UI lifer, receiving his doctoral degree in 1976, joining the faculty and enjoying a long tenure as dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He also has served as interim provost and interim chancellor before retiring briefly in 2011. Trustees asked Easter, then an interim vice chancellor for research, in March 2012 to replace former UI President Michael Hogan.
Hogan was essentially forced out after a series of confrontations with UI faculty members that was highlighted by a decision by Lisa Troyer, Hogan's chief of staff, to send anonymous emails to members of a faculty committee in an effort to push policy changes favored by her boss.
Rather than go through another laborious and potentially frustrating presidential search, trustees turned to Easter to calm the roiling UI waters, and he has done so in a splendid fashion.
Hogan's brief and difficult tenure was preceded by that of B. Joseph White, who resigned in the wake of the clouted admissions scandal that tarnished the UI's image across the state and nation. The primary wrongdoers in that sorry chapter of UI history were the politicians and power-brokers who used their influence to gain admission for students who might otherwise not have been accepted to the UI's undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. But White and Chancellor Richard Herman were perceived as playing ball with pressuring pols and forced to resign under pressure.
Considered in that context, there's no reason not to keep Easter on as long as both he and UI trustees want him to do the job.
Of course, not all is well at the UI nor at other public institutions of higher education in Illinois. As long as the state continues to wallow in financial failure, the UI will struggle to maintain its high standards. That, however, is a situation outside the UI's control. What it can control is its leadership team, and that means keeping Easter as president for the foreseeable future.