Report: Troyer acted alone in anonymous emails

 

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URBANA — Investigators have concluded that former chief of staff Lisa Troyer acted alone in sending anonymous emails to faculty senators debating a controversial enrollment management report, without the knowledge of University of Illinois President Michael Hogan or anyone else.

But faculty aren't ready to give Hogan a pass, with one saying the president owes the university community an apology for a "culture of sabotage" that developed under his watch.

A detailed investigation into the two anonymous emails sent to the University Senates Conference on Dec. 12 — ostensibly from a disaffected faculty "Senator" — concluded there was no evidence that Troyer's Macbook computer had been "hacked" and that the emails were drafted on and sent from her laptop while she was using it.

The report is available online here.

Based on the evidence, "it is reasonable to infer Troyer composed and sent the anonymous emails, falsely representing herself to be a Senator," the report concluded.

The report also found Troyer had composed similar "test" messages on Dec. 5 from an anonymous Yahoo account to faculty senators in Urbana who had spoken against Hogan, but she never sent them.

The inquiry found no evidence that Hogan or anyone else knew that Troyer had sent the Dec. 12 emails or created the "test" messages a week earlier.

Troyer did talk with Hogan three times the night of Dec. 12, shortly after the anonymous emails were initially traced to her university laptop computer by one of the recipients, Professor Roy Campbell, according to the report.

But Hogan told investigators he knew nothing of the emails beforehand and said he initially believed Troyer's statements that her computer had been "hacked" based on "their shared professional history and his belief in her integrity," the report said. The two had worked together for years at the UI, the University of Iowa and the University of Connecticut.

Hogan said he told Troyer that night to contact university IT personnel immediately, which she did, and encouraged her throughout the investigation to be "cooperative and forthcoming," the report said. Hogan also said she had consistently denied having any role in the anonymous emails.

Troyer, who resigned her administrative post on Jan. 4, maintained her innocence in a statement emailed Friday to The News-Gazette and other media.

Troyer remains a tenured faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the Urbana campus, though officials said Friday they would be reviewing that appointment.

Hogan was not available for comment Friday, but released a statement saying, "The investigative team has made a thorough examination of the facts on which to base its conclusions. This was a disappointing event, and we have taken the necessary steps to address it."

The report provides some insight into the pair's close working relationship. Troyer often accessed Hogan's email and replied to messages, and the report described her as a key member of the university's leadership team and someone "deeply loyal" to Hogan.

She was "keenly interested in, and motivated to, advance the president's and the board's agenda" with enrollment management, the reported stated.

UI spokesman Thomas Hardy said he doesn't anticipate any further impact on Hogan.

"This appears to be an incident where somebody acted alone," Hardy said. "He was quick to tell Dr. Troyer that she should notify the appropriate parties to look into what she suspected was a hacking. He was quick to support the engagement of external independent counsel to conduct a very thorough inquiry."

The Dec. 12 emails were sent to 20 members of the University Senates Conference from "aboutuiintegrity@yahoo.com," in connection with Hogan's controversial initiative to streamline and centralize some aspects of admission and other enrollment matters. It urged members not to pretend to have consensus on the plan, which was supported by the Springfield campus but strongly opposed by Urbana, and it criticized "tactics of coercion, threats and bullying."

In fact, investigators found that since September, Troyer had received 36 emails about the internal Senates Conference debate on enrollment management from a member of the panel, UI Springfield Professor Tih-Fen Ting. The emails were sent from "uiadvocate@gmail.com," identified only as "Supporter," which investigators determined was Ting.

On Dec. 9, Ting forwarded Troyer a copy of the Senates Conference draft report on Hogan's enrollment management proposal. Emails show she had been involved in a bitter debate with Urbana faculty over the plan and related issues.

The Dec. 12 anonymous email traced to Troyer said that Hogan had likely received the draft report from an "outside source, so let us stop accusing one another."

It was Ting who also tipped off Troyer that the anonymous emails had been traced to her computer on Dec. 12, first calling her and then forwarding Campbell's email from the "uiadvocate" account, the report said.

Investigators said Ting initially denied sending the "uiadvocate" emails but later acknowledged it, saying she didn't consider them to be confidential. Ting also said she had difficulty believing that Troyer had any involvement with the "aboutuiintegrity" emails.

Ting did not return a phone call and email to The News-Gazette on Friday.

In the view of some Urbana faculty, the report offers proof of the administration's attempt to manipulate the shared-governance process.

"This was a violation of ethics. We have an outstanding reputation and our reputation has been tarnished by a violation of ethics," said Harriet Murav, professor and president of the Campus Faculty Association, a group separate from the Senates Conference.

The University Senates Conference is an advisory board to the president, Murav said. "What was so threatening" that someone from the president's staff had to send those anonymous messages, she asked.

"I believe the university community deserves an apology from President Hogan for the culture he allowed to develop under his administration," said UI Professor Joyce Tolliver, a member of the Urbana campus senate, who was speaking on her own behalf, not for the senate.

"What really appalled me was documentation of the creation of a culture of sabotage of shared governance," she said.

The UI had launched an internal investigation with its ethics office, IT department and legal counsel to determine the source of the emails and whether the university's information technology security was compromised. On Dec. 22, Hogan approved the use of outside experts, legal counsel Jones Day and forensic data analyst Duff & Phelps.

The report was based on a forensic examination of emails and computers and interviews with Hogan, Troyer, Ting, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, Vice President Christophe Pierre and Professor Carrie Switzer, a Senates Conference member.

Investigators also reviewed more than 3,500 emails from Troyer's university email account from the month of December, and additional emails from the fall. Troyer supplied access to her personal gmail account and records of calls to and from her cellphone.

The report concluded Troyer's laptop computer could not have been physically accessed without her knowledge on Dec. 12, based on the layout of the president's office at the Henry Administration Building and staff activities at the time. Troyer told investigators that no other member of the president's staff had access to her computer or email account.

She said she was in a meeting with Pierre in her office when the first anonymous email was sent at 11:56 a.m.; but Pierre said he arrived at her office no earlier than 12:10 p.m., the report said. Troyer also told investigators she had control of her laptop throughout the evening of Dec. 12, when the second anonymous email was sent.

The report said browser activity, firewall logs, email headers and email fragments on Troyer's laptop all supported the conclusion that the emails were composed and sent from that computer. Duff & Phelps examined the hard drive, including Internet activity, browser history records and deleted material. They were able to verify that the firewall was functioning normally.

"There is no evidence of hacking or vulnerabilities in the University network," the report said.

"While there remains an outside possibility that a highly skilled computer (expert) could devise some novel and certainly unknown intrusion method," the report uncovered an "overwhelming amount of forensic evidence that her computer was used and created (the emails), that she had physical control of the machine, and the university network was not accessed by third parties," said Peggy Daly of Duff & Phelps.

Investigators asked Troyer if there were any other avenues they should explore for potential hacking, and "she couldn't point to anything," Daly said Friday.

In order for a third party to "hack" into Troyer's laptop and send the emails, he or she would have had to know her work habits and have extensive knowledge about the enrollment management debate; and insert unauthorized activity in between her own documented activity without her knowledge and pass through the university's firewall, campus network and Troyer's firewall "without leaving any trace whatsoever," investigators said.

The hacker would also have to be able to send a test message to Troyer's inbox and delete it later without her seeing it, leave behind artifacts implicating her, then secretly conduct a search for the term "permanent delete," and initiate — and later abort — a program called "secure erase" — all activity recorded on her laptop, investigators said.

Hardy and ethics officer Donna McNeely said the campus has no plans to change its ethics training or management as a result of the incident, which comes just a few months after an admissions dean at the law school was found to have manipulated student academic data.

"The university has very strong policies and procedures and a code of conduct regarding how we expect employees to behave and act on the part of the university," said McNeely. "We conduct annual ethics training every fall."

It's also been open about the findings of the recent investigations, which should be a "deterrent" for employees considering such action in the future, McNeely said.

UI Board of Trustees Chair Christopher Kennedy called it a "misguided attempt by one individual to sway opinion" and said work on enrollment management should continue.

"This is an unfortunate incident and a personal, ethical lapse which the president moved swiftly to investigate," Kennedy said in the release.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).