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State

Top Illinois faculty members say they have ‘no confidence’ in school president

CHICAGO (MCT) — More than 125 of the University of Illinois’ highest profile faculty members have said they have “no confidence” in school President Michael Hogan and have called for his removal.

Their letter, sent Monday to the Board of Trustees, is the faculty’s latest clash with the beleaguered president, whose standing began unraveling earlier this year when his chief of staff and top adviser resigned after anonymous, inflammatory emails sent to a key faculty group were traced to her computer.

Hogan has been president for less than two years, brought in to heal a campus bruised by an admissions scandal. Instead, he is now embroiled in an internal crisis that has preoccupied the state’s flagship public university. He has clashed with faculty on student enrollment strategies and what some are calling an arrogant leadership style.

“In our view he lacks the values, commitments, management style, ethics, and even manners, needed to lead this University, and his Presidency should be ended at the earliest opportunity,” the letter states.

The faculty members contend Hogan has lacked financial discipline; usurped duties usually assumed by the campus chancellor; tried to bully faculty and the chancellor on enrollment issues; and generally has had a “failure of ethical leadership,” a criticism levied by the Urbana-Champaign faculty Senate earlier this month.

The 130 faculty members who signed the letter make up about two-thirds of the named and endowed professors and chairs on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Their titles indicate they are some of the most accomplished scholars in their fields and are key to attracting students, other faculty and funding to the university.

Among the signatories was entomology professor May Berenbaum, who was on the presidential search advisory committee that recommended Hogan.

U. of I. board chairman Christopher Kennedy replied in a letter that trustees “continue to support (Hogan’s) efforts” and said the faculty concerns are “peripheral to the core values that we think a strong president brings.”

Kennedy praised Hogan for being instrumental in attracting a strong leadership team and disputed some of the faculty critiques, saying instead that Hogan has exhibited strong financial controls and has not inappropriately intervened in campus affairs.

Hogan did not respond to a request for comment, and U. of I. spokesman Thomas Hardy said Hogan does not plan to resign. Hardy said that while the letter was signed by “an impressive number of highly regarded members of the faculty,” there are 3,000 faculty members at Urbana-Champaign.

“We all recognize that it is a distraction and takes the focus away from a lot of the good things that are taking place,” he said. “If everybody can just turn down the volume and heat on the rhetoric and agree to do a better job of communicating and working on the tasks at hand, everything will get back to normal.”

U. of I. economics professor Dan Bernhardt characterized the effects of the faculty discord differently. He said Hogan’s diminished leadership will make it difficult to instill a sense of confidence in the university.

“That has a bad impact on his interactions with donors and it is bad for the Legislature. Having a wounded leader is never a good thing when he stays,” Bernhardt said. He said the faculty disappointment “is not an inch deep. It is a mile deep.”

As president, Hogan oversees the university’s campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield and has a salary of $651,000 this year. His vocal critics have largely been from Urbana-Champaign, and Hogan plans to meet with the campus’ faculty leaders to respond to their concerns, Hardy said.

Some of the backlash is a reaction to proposals to change the way the university handles enrollment to centralize admissions and financial aid processing among the three campuses as part of a larger plan to more heavily promote the U. of I. system “brand.” Some faculty are concerned that distinctions of each campus would be diminished.

In a meeting last week, Hogan and Kennedy told faculty leaders that branding recommendations are on hold and that admissions and financial aid decisions will be made at the campus level, Hardy said. They are still undecided on other enrollment issues such as whether to share student information among the three campuses and move to the Common Application used by hundreds of universities.

The enrollment issue sparked the anonymous emails in mid-December, when former chief of staff Lisa Troyer allegedly posed as a member of a faculty leadership group to try to influence debate.

Troyer, who worked side by side with Hogan at three universities, has maintained that she did not write nor send the emails. An external report concluded that they were sent from her computer and there was no evidence that anybody else, including Hogan, knew about the messages.

Hogan has apologized for the incident but faculty members have said it is symptomatic of a larger management problem. Emails released to The Chicago Tribune and other media show Hogan tried to influence faculty decisions, including by directing the chancellors to urge their faculty to support the enrollment proposals. The chancellors are heads of the three campuses and report to Hogan.

Hogan was particularly adversarial when writing to or about new Urbana-Champaign chancellor Phyllis Wise, who took over Oct. 1.

In one email, parts of which are redacted, the president chastised Wise by saying he was “not happy” with her “lack of leadership on enrollment management” and inability to quash faculty opposition. In another, to Kennedy, Hogan wrote that he has reminded Wise that “my goals are her goals” and that he hoped she would “begin to assume a strong leadership role on this and other matters.”

The emails didn’t sit well with the faculty, who said in their letter sent Monday that Hogan sounded more like “Louis XIV than a university president.”

“We have no need of kings on this campus, or of petty tyrants with delusions of grandeur,” according to the letter.

The emails, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also prompted an online petition signed by about 500 faculty members who express “serious doubts and concerns” about Hogan’s leadership style.

U. of I. engineering professor Charles Zukoski, who signed the letter, said faculty no longer trust the president and a consequence may be a lack of participation in university initiatives.

“The tone that is in Hogan’s addresses to Chancellor Wise is dreadful and suggests a leadership style that isn’t about discussion but about ‘My way or the highway,’” Zukoski said. “It is that sort of thing that forced me to say, I don’t think going forward he is going to be able to manage the university.”

Scott Irwin, the U. of I. chair of agricultural marketing, said while everyone understands that Hogan is boss, the university places “a high value on collegiality, reaching consensus and treating others with great dignity and respect.”

“There is the practical question of how do we move forward and how does the university function with this lack of confidence,” Irwin said. “Once there has been this kind of breach of trust between the faculty and administration, it is difficult to see how it could recover.”

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