"The essential work of the
university keeps going," he said, in a pained tone that acknowledged
bigger, uglier events playing out at the state's premier public
university were overwhelming the mission of teaching and research.
The trouble isn't limited to this week's resignation of President
Michael Hogan over long-standing tensions with faculty.
The past three years have been trying for the university. A 2009
admissions scandal drove out Hogan's predecessor and a chancellor.
Recently, a dean of admissions resigned under pressure over efforts
to improperly boost the law school's image. And the new athletic
director has fired three high-profile coaches in less than four
Outside experts, U of I alumni and those on campus are weary, and
they worry that the school's image is taking a beating.
"We've been through a lot the last four years; we've had lots of
new chancellors and coaches," said Tom Livingston, a 1990 graduate.
"And from the alumni standpoint, when you have such quick turnover,
there is a lack of long-range planning and morale inside the
university, and that translates into a lack of support beyond its
The consequences are real. An attorney who represents prospective
presidents in negotiations with universities said hiring good
faculty -- particularly top-flight researchers who bring in
thousands of dollars -- could suffer.
"This kind of frequent and abrupt changes of presidents could put
the University of Illinois -- and will put the University of
Illinois -- at a competitive disadvantage with other large
universities that do have stability at the top," said Raymond D.
Cotton. The Washington attorney has never represented Hogan.
The law school situation has proven costly, too, as the school's
national ranking fell this year.
But donations -- one of the largest sources of university funding
-- are stronger this year than last, according to the University of
Illinois Foundation. And experts on and off campus agree the value
of the degree that students walk away with hasn't declined.
Longtime administrator Robert Easter has already replaced Hogan
and will receive an annual salary of $450,000, which is $170,000
less than Hogan. Easter said Friday that while he understands the
university's problems can hurt its reputation -- "we can't ignore
the reality" -- he doesn't believe the injuries are critical.
"I understand the applications for admission this year as
freshman are up by almost 3,000," he said. "This institution is
built on a bedrock of really solid fundamentals."
University trustees accepted Hogan's resignation Friday, agreeing
to pay him $285,000 a year when he moves into a tenured faculty
position in July. Hogan came to Illinois from the University of
Connecticut in 2010 to help clean up after the Category I admissions
scandal, which admitted students with political connections over
other, better-qualified applicants. It led B. Joseph White to
Faculty members initially welcomed Hogan, a historian, as an
academic. But some say they quickly grew to distrust him and
bristled at plans they believed were intended to centralize too many
operations of the university's three campuses -- Urbana-Champaign,
Springfield and Chicago.
Some of Hogan's critics now say that, with Easter's appointment,
they're ready to move on. But even on Friday, one faculty group, the
Campus Faculty Association, said Hogan's departure fixes just one
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"We need to hear a clear change of direction from the Board of
Trustees itself," the group wrote in an email signed by its
president, Harriet Murav, a professor of Slavic languages, and
Christopher Kennedy, chairman of the trustees, said he'll direct
Easter to draw up a plan for the direction of the whole university,
something Easter did for the Urbana campus without angering faculty.
While Hogan's troubles simmered, others boiled over.
Paul Pless, an assistant dean of admissions at the law school,
stepped down in late 2011 after an investigation revealed that he
inflated incoming students' grades and entrance-exam scores and
posted that data online to improve the school's image.
Between November and early March, new athletic director Mike
Thomas watched the losses pile up and eventually fired head football
coach Ron Zook, head men's basketball coach Bruce Weber and women's
basketball coach Jolette Law. Their buyouts totaled just over $7
million, though the school says privately raised money will cover
all of that.
The athletic problems matter to many alumni and add to the
perception that something is wrong at the flagship campus. But there
are also academic consequences.
In the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings -- heavily
used by schools to market themselves -- the law school fell this
year from 23rd to 35th, in large part due to a drop in the perceived
quality of the school among its surveyed peers, said Bob Morse,
director of data research at U.S. News & World Report.
"Do I think (news about grade manipulation) played as a factor?
Yes," Morse said. "Do I think it contributed to their view that
something had changed? Yes."
And in academic circles, former President James Stukel said,
there's no doubt the university system's image has been hurt.
"Yeah, I think it's a black eye," said Stukel, who was president
But Stukel, Cotton and others say a degree from Illinois,
particularly the Urbana-Champaign campus, which has top programs in
engineering, a number of sciences and other areas, is still as
valuable as it was four or five years ago.
"Its reputation isn't made by its president," Stukel said. "A
university's reputation is made by its faculty. It's a great
institution by any measure."
By DAVID MERCER]
Jason Keyser of The Associated Press contributed
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