Leadership & Governance

U. of Illinois President Resigns in Wake of Widespread Faculty Criticism

David Mercer, AP Images

Michael J. Hogan, president of the U. of Illinois, has been under pressure from faculty for months over his management style.
March 22, 2012

(Updated at 8:55 p.m. EDT with additional background and comment.)

Michael J. Hogan, whose leadership style and policies as president of the University of Illinois were criticized by many faculty members, has resigned, the chairman of the system's Board of Trustees announced on Thursday.

In a written statement, the chairman, Christopher G. Kennedy, said that Mr. Hogan, who has been president for less than two years, would remain in office "through a transition period" until July 1. He will then serve as a tenured faculty member, the university said. Mr. Hogan, a historian, would be replaced permanently, Mr. Kennedy wrote, by Robert Easter, who is interim vice chancellor for research on the flagship campus, in Urbana-Champaign, and has served in a number of leadership roles throughout the system.

"The board feels that the most appropriate next step in univer­sity leadership should come from a proven administrator with a track record of collaboration and success within our university," the chairman wrote.

Mr. Hogan's presidency was supposed to have helped the university system move beyond controversy. When he was hired, in 2010, the board sought a reform-minded leader who would renew a system that had been plagued by an admissions scandal that claimed the jobs of the university's president and the chancellor of the flagship campus. That scandal, provoked by a Chicago Tribune investigation, involved a secret practice of granting special consideration to Urbana-Champaign applicants with connections to lawmakers or trustees.

Under Fire

But Mr. Hogan's administration soon faced turmoil of its own. The president came under fire for a series of decisions, including a push to give his office a more significant role in enrollment management, that his faculty critics said infringed on campus-level autonomy.

They also have attacked his leadership style as being abrasive and have taken issue with his methods, which include pressuring three campus-level chancellors to support his policies and calling on them to squelch faculty opposition. Tense exchanges were evident in e-mails between Mr. Hogan and the chancellors that The News-Gazette, a newspaper in Champaign, obtained through a public-records request.

Mr. Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned earlier this year, after a trustee-sponsored investigation concluded that anonymous e-mails that appeared designed to sway a faculty governing body's decisions on enrollment management had been sent from her computer. Ms. Troyer denied sending the messages.

In recent weeks, letters signed by scores of professors, including many holding named or endowed chairs, have sharply criticized Mr. Hogan and called his presidency a failure. In one letter, dated March 14 and signed by more than 100 faculty, Mr. Hogan's critics told the board that the best interests of all stakeholders in the university "will be served by a rapid and decisive termination of the presidency of Michael Hogan."

"A board that does not act when there is a president who is so ethically and reputationally compromised as to be unable to function is one that is, in truth, itself unable to effectively govern the institution that it stewards," the letter said. "Given the challenges that the university faces in an uncertain period for the State of Illinois, we view it as essential that Hogan's failed presidency be seen for what it is, and that a path be forged which can rapidly restore a healthy governance structure."

In an interview this month, after trustees had met to discuss the growing calls for his resignation, Mr. Hogan said he had lost sight of the importance of communication with the very professors who were demanding his ouster. He issued a statement in which he sought to assure people on the campuses that he was committed to restoring trust and teamwork.

New Leader, Old Friend

In the statement announcing his resignation, Mr. Hogan said it had been a "distinct honor and privilege" to serve as president. "While the university has faced some significant organizational and budgetary challenges over the past several years, we have initiated the reforms necessary to modernize and streamline our business functions and redirect the savings to academic purposes," he said. "The underpinnings of this great institution are sound."

Mr. Kennedy said the university owed Mr. Hogan "a debt of gratitude for moving a number of tough initiatives forward." The chairman added that "some of what Mike Hogan was compelled to do was not popular, but he did what this university needed over the past 20 months."

Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Easter—who has served in the system as a faculty member in animal sciences, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, and interim provost, as well as interim chancellor at Urbana-Champaign—has the trust of alumni, trustees, faculty, researchers, administrators, and staff.

Don Chambers, chair of the University Senates Conference, which represents faculty on the system's three campuses, also praised the selection of Mr. Easter as the next president.

"We have a new leader but an old friend who knows this university inside and out and is respected by everyone throughout the university community," Mr. Chambers said in prepared remarks. "He is a leader with vision and passion, while also a good listener who will cultivate the best ideas across campuses to move our great university forward."