Crisis for U of I President Hogan

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U of I President Michael Hogan had little reason to enjoy his winter vacation. Not even his $600,000 plus salary could buy him a break.  Sometime around mid-semester, Hogan probably thought he was on a roll. His Enrollment Management Plan (EMP) for the university seemed to be on cruise control. He’d been able to create a new Vice President for Health Affairs and had padded the ranks of his administrative cronies with little vocal opposition from faculty or students. Then suddenly, the bolts on the good ship Hogan started coming loose. The first and most public disaster was the email indiscretion of Lisa Troyer, his long-time sidekick and top administrative aide. Troyer, who landed a $200,000 salary when she followed Hogan from UConn to UIUC, got wind of a faculty senate debate over the President’s  plan to centralize enrolments and admissions. She apparently then masqueraded as an “anonymous” professor not at the stage of her career where she could afford to be public. In a message sent from a rogue Yahoo account, this  “anonymous ” professor urged faculty members to agree to disagree and not raise opposition to  the plan. The problem was that the anonymous professor forgot who she was “talking” to. Her messages aroused the suspicions  of a  faculty member from Computer Science, Professor Roy Campbell.  The Computer Science prof traced the messages back to Troyer’s laptop. She resigned almost immediately.  An investigative team appointed by Hogan came in soon thereafter and verified the source of the emails but said there was no evidence Hogan had any knowledge of his aide’s alleged dealings.  For the moment, Hogan seemed to be wearing the Teflon jacket.

But before the U of I President could breathe a sigh of relief an onslaught of opposition to his grand plan bubbled to the surface. First came a letter signed by 123 faculty, mainly esteemed professors occupying prestigious chairs, which blasted Hogan for centralizing power  and  undermining the individual authority of the U of I system’s three campuses.

Before the dust settled on that missive, another percolated up from the Executive of the College of Education with even stronger condemnation of the President’s efforts to centralize enrolment processes.  The College of Education document also lambasted Hogan’s desire to “re-brand” the university as one homogeneous entity emphasizing that   “this rebranding ignores the statutes and the history of this institution, and undermines the distinctive role of this campus as the original, flagship campus.” Then came letters of opposition from Executive Committee of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), the Graduate School of Library and Information Services (GSLIS), and the School of Labor and Employment Relations (LER) .

In the midst of this, the Campus Faculty Association (CFA), an organization which has advocated for faculty for more than two decades, upped the ante by calling for an end to the  EMP. CFA President Harriet Murav declared in a media release:

“The revelation that President Hogan’s chief-of-staff was using anonymous emails to pressure the Faculty Senates Conference, the highest elected faculty body in the University, is deeply troubling. We should halt the process of reviewing the enrollment management plan and take it back for a full discussion in all three campus Senates. This has not been a transparent process of deliberation and reason about an important change in how we admit students. Rather, it has been a rush job from the President’s office. It should stop now.”

In a lengthy response to the EMP, “Image Over Substance” the CFA also questioned Hogan’s commitment to underrepresented students and faculty, criticizing UIUC’s miniscule levels of enrolments of under-represented students (only 7% of undergraduates are African-American) and lamenting the loss of numerous talented faculty of color.

Despite this opposition,  the Board of Trustees was widely expected to approve Hogan’s plan at their meeting on January 19.  However,  they didn’t publicly discuss the document.  Then a few days later, Hogan issued a public apology for the anonymous email episode, proclaiming his sincere “regret” for the incident and  “the personal hardship it has caused to our senators and others.”  In a somewhat ominous apology he assured the campus community that he accepted  “full responsibility”  for this and “for any other such incident that occurs.” He also promised to back off on his efforts to re-brand the three campuses as one entity, though made no indication that he was retreating on the enrolment issue.

While Hogan appears to be sinking into deeper and deeper trouble, there are bigger issues on the table than his personal  pride or even length of tenure.  Even prior to the release of the EMP, the trajectory of the U of I posed serious challenges for students and faculty alike.  For students, ever increasing fees have pluning students deeper into debt and forcing them to take longer to complete their degress.

On the faculty side,  while enrolments have increased by more than 5,000 since 2000, tenured faculty have declined in numbers. The University has become increasingly austere in its hiring policies, relying more and more on part-time faculty who often work on a per course basis without any benefits. Moreover, faculty’s pensions are under attack with a pending state legislature bill threatening to increase employee contributions by nearly 50%. The increment is largely a response to the state’s  failure to fulfill commitments amounting to $85 billions to the pension fund over  the last three decades,

While scandals and letters of protest may cause a few sleepless nights for those in  the higher echelons of the administration, these are storms the likes of Hogan can probably  weather.  Some  faculty argue that  a more fundamental change in the power dynamics in the university is required. The CFA, for example, believes the only way to halt the University’s trend toward cutting costs at the expense of  quality of education is to win collective bargaining rights.

In 2011 faculty at the Chicago UI campus won a drive for a union and they are awaiting the decision in a court case to verify the legality of their victory. It remains to be seen if such a process will be repeated on the other campuses and if a union will have the necessary clout to make the university administration accountable and force them to advance accessible public education rather than continue  functioning like a business with the President playing the role of a hatchet man CEO.

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