In the summer of 2010, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees convened a retreat to build an agenda for the coming years.
Among the many topics they discussed that July afternoon: What could the university do to recruit more underrepresented students and high-achieving students?
At the retreat, board Chair Christopher Kennedy suggested a universitywide "enrollment management" system to enhance diversity recruitment, and newly appointed President Michael Hogan said such as system would pull together registration, financial aid and other functions.
A year and a half later, the proposals and recommendations outlined in a report commissioned by Hogan have set off a fierce debate with faculty leaders, with some criticizing the president for pushing centralization and pressuring chancellors to issues public statements in support of the changes. During the debate, Hogan's chief of staff resigned amid an investigation into anonymous emails sent from her computer. Those emails to faculty revolved around their criticism of the enrollment management report.
Now, from emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, The News-Gazette has learned that:
— UI administration envisioned centralizing enrollment management well before hiring external reviewers to examine the university's recruiting and admissions processes.
— The external reviewers' report was edited several times by Lisa Troyer, Hogan's former chief of staff, before it was submitted to faculty and trustees for review.
— And UI trustees also apparently discussed the enrollment management review report last July in executive session, raising questions about the board's use of exemptions outlined in the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
In recent months as faculty have reviewed the report, which proposed 21 different recommendations in enrollment management, Hogan has told faculty members the board endorsed it, prompting many to wonder when the board took formal action on it.
In an email obtained by The News-Gazette, Hogan informed Lee Melvin, who conducted the external review for Hogan last year while Melvin was a vice president at the University of Connecticut, that the board of trustees "discussed the report in executive session last week (July 2011) and is clearly impressed with the work and the vision it embodies. I know they'll also be disappointed that our inability to move more quickly (largely because of a small group of loud and opposing faculty) and to have likely lost out on the opportunity to recruit you."
University spokesman Tom Hardy said he does not discuss what occurs in executive sessions but confirmed trustees met in several closed sessions during the two-day, July 20-21, 2011, retreat and meeting, including two sessions for employment or appointment-related matters. At that time of year, the board typically conducts its annual review of the president.
According to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, public bodies can close a meeting to the public to discuss litigation, employment matters, property acquisition, audits, discipline of employees and other matters. The UI may have discussed the report while conducting an employee review, but that argument's "pretty weak," said Don Craven, whose law practice provides counsel to the Illinois Press Association.
Because more than 60 days has passed since the meeting occurred in July 2011, a request for review with the Illinois attorney general's office cannot be filed.
Hardy said trustees routinely give direction to a president or endorse his actions without discussing the issue publicly, unless it is a matter that requires board action.
'Not privy to ... the discussion'
Hogan sent the message to Melvin, who is now associate vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University, about a week after he shared a draft of the report with the trustees. Members of the University Senates Conference also received a draft copy of the report around that time.
University Senates Conference Chair Don Chambers, a Chicago professor who frequently attends board of trustee meetings, said he does not remember an "organized discussion about the enrollment management document."
It is not unusual for a trustee at a board meeting to share some thoughts related to admissions, "but that's different from saying, 'Here's an enrollment management plan and let's discuss it,'" Chambers said.
"It was said several times the board supported the enrollment management document. Given that, the support couldn't have come from some ether. At some point (trustees) have had to discuss it. We were not privy to the nature of the discussion," Chambers said.
Hardy said the board passed a resolution in March 2011 in which it reiterated support for Hogan's administrative-staffing initiatives. That resolution, which does not mention enrollment management by name, does state the board's endorsement for "other staffing changes that will better integrate administrative services across the university in order to improve the quality of those services, and contribute to cost savings."
Trustee Ed McMillan said the board started discussing improving the UI's recruitment efforts universitywide with interim President Stanley Ikenberry back in 2009 and 2010, shortly after they were first appointed following the Catgory I admissions scandal.
The goal was to help all three campuses attract and retain for the "best and brightest" students in Illinois and around the world, he said. During the board's July 2010 retreat, he said, the goal was defined further to include minority and underrepresented students.
What the board is trying to do is give all entities within the university the tools and support they need — whether it's more financial aid or a combination of on-campus and online courses to attract the best students.
"Unfortunately it's gotten interpreted as centrally we're going to try to tell everybody who they should recruit," he said. "That's not the intent, that never was the intent, and unfortunately it's not getting through. It's frustrating right now, that we're embroiled in mechanics."
Joyce Tolliver, vice chair of the Urbana senate, said the Senates Conference received a draft copy of the enrollment management report on July 26 but was told that it could not be distributed beyond that group. The final version, dated August 2011, was given to the Senates Conference on Sept. 24. It was entitled, "Report of the External Review Team on Enrollment Management and Services at the University of Illinois."
That the trustees saw the report before the campus senates and Senates Conference reviewed it was a violation of a promise Hogan made to members of the Senates Conference, said Urbana Professor Nicholas Burbules.
At a meeting in late February, not long after the president sought the assistance of Melvin and Kedra Ishop, an admissions administrator at the University of Texas at Austin, Hogan told the group that he would share a proposal with the Senates Conference before taking it to the board, according to the group's minutes.
"He took it to the board, got their approval, then told us that because they had approved it, our input didn't really matter any more," Burbules said.
Two months after the board met in its July 2011 retreat and discussed the report, UI board Chair Kennedy sent a memo to Hogan outlining the president's goals for fiscal year 2012. One of those goals was to launch a search to fill the position of executive director of enrollment planning and management, a university administrator who would "oversee enrollment services and related activities across all three campuses, including undergraduate recruitment and retention, admissions, financial aid, registration, record keeping, creation of branding and marketing messages, career development services, first-year programs, transfer arrangements, and development of learning communities."
The goal also called on Hogan to charge the new administrator with implementing the recommendations from the report of the external enrollment management review team.
Drafting the report
Hiring an enrollment administrator was something Hogan envisioned early into his arrival on campus. Back in the fall of 2010, a few months after she joined Hogan at the UI, chief of staff Troyer told Melvin and Dolan Evanovich, a vice president for strategic enrollment at Ohio State University, in an email that she and Hogan were contemplating "moving toward centralization of a very de-centralized enrollment management operation out here. Toward that end, we've culled web sites (including OSU's) to develop a position description. ... I should note that we recognize the challenges the title here might reflect — VP might be better but for a number of different reasons, we probably can't do that now (although we would probably try to do so down the road)," Troyer wrote.
Then in early 2011 she sent Melvin and Kedra Ishop more detailed information outlining what the president would like the review to involve. Originally the review was anticipated to be completed by the end of February.
The president would like the review to include: "examination of opportunities to improve efficiency in recruitment and admissions ... identification of strategies for streamlining and coordinating recruitment and admissions processes across the three campuses ... assessment of opportunities to improve recruitment and enrollment of underrepresented students and non-resident students at all three campuses, evaluation of the relationship between admissions operations and financial aid operations, analysis of strategies to improve retention and graduation rates," Troyer wrote in the email.
Starting in April, emails show, she and Hogan began asking for the final report, and at one point requested the reviewers to be sure to mark it as a draft so the document would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Over the next month, a series of drafts and edits and revisions were sent back and forth between Troyer and Melvin. Eventually a draft was shared with trustees and faculty in July. The formal report is dated August 2011.
In an email to Melvin on July 24, 2011, Troyer said the board saw a draft copy and "Chris Kennedy said, 'this looks great' and conveyed it's all they need to move forward. I'm not sure if they mean all the recommendations and suggestion of a central office, but we'll know soon and I'll keep you posted."
The final report's recommendations were wide-ranging, calling on campuses to establish strategic enrollment goals, recommending the university should join the common application consortium, developing diversity recruitment plans, easing the transfer of students between the three campuses, adopting a centralized admissions and financial aid processing system, emphasizing the university as a whole when branding the university to students, and more.
Throughout the fall faculty raised a number of questions and concerns about the report and expressed fears about centralization and loss of campus autonomy. In December, the Senates Conference ended up endorsing only three of the recommendations, while calling for additional discussion for some and rejecting others.
In response to mounting faculty concerns, Hogan and Kennedy met with the conference in January to review all the recommendations. Since then, Hogan has also taken off the table the proposal regarding branding. A new draft has been in the works since that meeting and just this past week a document was shared with the members of the Senates Conference.
On Tuesday, the Senates Conference will meet with Hogan and Kennedy to review Hogan's revised enrollment management report, drafted in response to concerns raised in recent months.
"I realize until things are clear and understandable, and everybody understands where they are and ... they don't feel a threat, that it's not disenfranchising individuals internally or externally, until that gets satisfied, there's going to be resistance and pushback and questions," UI Trustee McMillan said. "I'm hopeful that we can cooperatively, from the board of trustees to the department head who's worried about recruiting the best and brightest in their department, that we can all work together for that (goal)."
McMillan said he's not sure how that can be accomplished but is hopeful that by the next board meeting in March some issues can be resolved.
"It's a complex issue, but sometimes I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be," he said.