CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Less than two years after he was hired to repair the damage done to the University of Illinois by an admissions scandal and guide the school through difficult financial times, President Michael Hogan resigned Thursday under pressure from faculty unhappy with his leadership.
Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy immediately named longtime university administrator Robert Easter, 64, as Hogan’s successor, saying Easter agreed to do the job for two years.
Hogan’s exit comes less than two weeks after the trustees ordered him to repair his relationship with faculty but follows months of pressure, including letters calling for his ouster signed by some of the university’s most distinguished faculty, Nobel and Pulitzer winners among them.
Hogan had said as recently as last week that he would not resign but, according to Kennedy, said in a conversation on Sunday that he’d decided to step down.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Hogan, 68, said it was an honor to have led the university.
“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.”
Kennedy, who said he’d watched the tensions with faculty take a toll on Hogan over the past year, said that while Hogan’s initiatives had board backing some of those plans hadn’t been carried out in the best ways.
“The board was clear about what they wanted done, maybe not clear about what they should have done,” he said, adding that plans to make the separate pieces of the university work more closely together were not mistakes.
One member of the faculty who had been among Hogan’s critics praised a decision she said had to be difficult to make.
“I felt that there was a growing sense of inevitability,” said Joyce Tolliver, an associate Spanish professor and vice chair of the faculty Senate. “I did not expect for it to happen so quickly.”
Tolliver and other faculty were quick to praise Easter, former dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in Urbana, who has also served in several interim leadership roles the past few years.
Some outside observers said Hogan’s resignation is only the latest black eye for the university, and one that could make hiring a quality replacement for Easter difficult.
“To say that the president walked in and offered to resign, presidents don’t do that unless they have strong, strong motivations to do it,” said Raymond D. Cotton, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in presidential contracts. “And keep in mind how the last presidency ended.”
Hogan, a historian by training, will remain at the university as a tenured faculty member. He made $620,000 as president but the details of what he’ll be paid as a faculty member were still being worked out. Hogan’s predecessor, B. Joseph White, has taught at the university since his resignation in 2009 and is paid $288,000 a year.
Hogan was hired in May 2010 from the University of Connecticut after White resigned during the Category I admissions scandal. Hogan set about trying to find ways to cut costs to deal with dwindling state funding support and finances that had been hurt by the recession.
But as early as the last couple of months of 2010, faculty — particularly on the Urbana-Champaign campus — began to grumble that Hogan was too dictatorial and that he was treating very different campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield as one.
Hogan’s chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned in January over several anonymous emails sent to faculty trying to discourage their opposition to an enrollment management plan favored by Hogan. An investigation concluded Troyer was likely the author. She denied writing the emails and has since taken a faculty job on campus.
In media interviews following his meeting with trustees this month, Hogan vowed to fix his broken faculty relationship.
But last week more than 100 prominent faculty members signed the letter calling for him to be fired.
David Dorris, an attorney from Leroy who is both an Illinois graduate and a former trustee, said Thursday that the university has already been damaged by campus conflict but the decision to elevate the trusted Easter could help ease that.
“The negative affect, the turmoil, has already occurred,” said Dorris, who resigned as trustee during the admissions scandal. “You can’t undo that but they made a very wise decision in choosing Bob Easter.”
Easter wasn’t available for comment Thursday but said in a statement that he will “move forward energetically and collaboratively with an agenda that reaffirms the University of Illinois’ special place among the very best.”
Longtime trustee James Montgomery said Hogan’s plans that angered faculty were all undertaken with board backing, but distrust of the president had grown to the point where he likely could no longer lead. Montgomery said the board and Easter will have to find ways to do much of the same work Hogan was leading without raising further fears.
“There is a serious sense of a need for identity and autonomy among some of the units of the university, and I think that’s something that we’re going to have to address,” he said.
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