Leadership & Governance

Tapped as Reformer, U. of Illinois President Treads Hot Water

Seth Perlman, AP Images

Faculty critics accuse Michael J. Hogan, president of the U. of Illinois system, of bullying tactics in pushing his agenda. The trustees on Monday signaled continued support for Mr. Hogan but also made clear they want a change of direction.
March 05, 2012

On the road to recovery, the University of Illinois appears to be having a relapse.

Less than three years after an admissions scandal claimed the jobs of the university's president and the chancellor of its flagship campus, a new leadership crisis has emerged. At its center is Michael J. Hogan, whose 2010 appointment as president was welcomed as a turning of the page for an institution fatigued by controversy. Instead, the future of Mr. Hogan's own presidency is already in doubt.

In an emergency closed session Monday, the university's Board of Trustees discussed growing calls from faculty for Mr. Hogan's resignation. While no formal action was announced, the board's meeting provided further indication that a months-long controversy over Mr. Hogan's leadership style and tactics shows no sign of dissipating.

Christopher G. Kennedy, the board's chairman, told reporters after the meeting that the trustees made clear they wanted a new approach from the president's office.

"We let him know that we thought we needed our people to change, or we needed change in our people," Mr. Kennedy said, according to a transcript, which was provided to The Chronicle by university officials.

The board will meet again in 10 days to review Mr. Hogan's progress, Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Hogan has come under fire for a series of decisions, including a push to give his office a more significant role in enrollment management, including campus-level admissions. Mr. Hogan's faculty critics say these efforts infringe on campus-level autonomy.

More troubling than his proposals, Mr. Hogan's critics charge, are the president's methods, which include pressuring three campus-level chancellors to support his policies and calling on them to squelch faculty opposition. Those tactics were highlighted in tense e-mail exchanges between Mr. Hogan and the chancellors, including a particularly pointed back-and-forth with Phyllis Wise, who heads the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus.

In a January 5 e-mail to Ms. Wise, Mr. Hogan said he was "not happy" with her "lack of leadership" on his proposal to centralize enrollment-management functions.

In a separate e-mail to Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Hogan said he "reminded" Ms. Wise that "my goals are her goals."

The statement has reinforced faculty perceptions of Mr. Hogan as a top-down manager. Indeed, the president has earned the moniker on campus as "Hogan the Shogun," said Edward A. Kolodziej, whose letter criticizing the president was signed by more than 120 professors with named or endowed chairs.

"'My goals are your goals. Shut up and deal' is what that means," said Mr. Kolodziej, director of Urbana-Champaign's Center for Global Studies.

While critical of Mr. Hogan's style, Mr. Kolodziej said he is encouraged that the board appears responsive to faculty concerns. For that reason, he has stopped short of calling for Mr. Hogan's resignation, as other faculty have done.

Mr. Hogan's e-mails, which The News-Gazette, a local newspaper, obtained through a public-records request, were just the latest in a series of troubling revelations, said Joyce L. Tolliver, vice chair of Urbana-Champaign's Academic Senate.

In January, a trustee-sponsored investigation concluded that anonymous e-mails that appeared designed to sway a faculty governing body's decisions on enrollment management were sent from the computer of Mr. Hogan's former chief of staff, Lisa Troyer. Ms. Troyer denied sending the e-mails but resigned amid the probe.

"Nobody wants another failed presidency, and I believe the presidency has already failed," Ms. Tolliver said. "Things would have to change radically, almost miraculously, in order for him to lead the institution in the future. We have already passed the tipping point."

Ms. Tolliver's view is shared by 130 professors who hold named or endowed chairs, who signed yet another letter last week critical of Mr. Hogan.

"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.

New Board Is Tested

The calls for Mr. Hogan's ouster present a challenge for a largely reconstituted Illinois governing board. After resignations and attrition, the board has purged all but one of the trustees who were on the board at the time of the 2009 admissions scandal. The controversy, provoked by a Chicago Tribune investigation, centered on a secret practice of granting special consideration to Urbana-Champaign applicants with connections to lawmakers or trustees.

Mr. Kennedy, who was appointed as board chairman in 2009 as part of a series of reforms in the wake of the scandal, gave early backing to Mr. Hogan as faculty concerns mounted last week. On Monday, while signaling the need for a change in Mr. Hogan's approach, Mr. Kennedy reiterated his support for the president.

"I don't think there is anything we could do to provide that support that is more important than the clear and specific direction and feedback that we provided today," he said.

Nicholas C. Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, said he was confident the board is "sincerely trying to find the right path forward." At the same time, he noted that the trustees, who came into their positions with reform agendas, must view recent events as a setback.

"I think it's especially galling for them," said Mr. Burbules, vice chairman of the University Senates Conference, which includes representatives from all three campuses. "They are now finding themselves and the administration they put in place once again mired in embarrassing newspaper stories and revelations."