Trustees far too willing to pay off U of I bunglers
With each news report, we’re thrilled to know that the supposedly struggling University of Illinois in fact is flush with cash. Never mind all that whining back in January, when university trustees again raised students’ tuition, that taxpayer support for the three-campus system has dwindled.
Who needs taxpayers? Clearly the U of I has so much loot lying around that it awards 24-carat golden parachutes to executives who – how to put this – can’t do their jobs.
At your workplace, perhaps the bosses greet failed performance with a simple message. Something like, “You’re fired – go now.”
But that’s too confrontational for the U of I, its trustees and their chairman, Christopher Kennedy. These folks have yet to encounter a situation they can’t bury in public money:
n When Michael Hogan in March became the second U of I president to implode within 3 years, the trustees awarded him a lovely lily pad on which to land: a history professorship at a starting salary of $285,100. Granted, it’s not the $651,000 Hogan was earning as president. But why would it be? Hogan, with his alienating leadership style and a scandal inside his office, had lost the confidence of almost everyone around him, from the campuses to the Statehouse. But the trustees couldn’t bring themselves to say “You’re fired – go now.” Instead, under terms of an earlier contract, Hogan will spend the first year of his new professorship ... on sabbatical.
n The Tribune’s Jodi S. Cohen reported April 20 that the trustees had spent perhaps $250,000 on lawyers, consultants and public relations specialists to help them ease Hogan out of his bungled presidency. We still haven’t seen a full accounting, but it will include $4,000 the U of I paid an executive coach to meet with Hogan on March 10 and 17. Great investment: On March 18, Hogan met with Kennedy to discuss stepping down.
n On May 31, Cohen noted that Hogan’s March 22 resignation didn’t take effect until July 1, his 2-year anniversary in office. That delay made him eligible for a $37,500 retention bonus. Yes, a retention bonus – rather than a “You’re fired – go now” for a guy being squeezed out of his job for poor performance. The article disclosed that, since March, Hogan often had been a no-show at key events, including a trustees’ meeting, graduation ceremonies and a state budget hearing: “A review of his calendar shows an overall sparse schedule, even though he is still the institution’s top official. ... Hogan has continued to meet regularly with top administrators, but on some other days his only agenda item has been 3 hours set aside for email and correspondence.”
n Last week’s article reported that the U of I will pay Hogan’s former chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, $175,000 just to resign from her faculty post and drop unresolved wage claims. Her “faculty post”? Yes, after Troyer quit amid an email scandal in which she was accused of posing as a faculty leader trying to influence faculty debate, the U of I gave her a $109,000 salary for a 9-month faculty gig. How gracious of Troyer to now withdraw a claim she had filed with the Illinois Department of Labor: Troyer had said she should be paid for a month of administrative work she did between resigning in disgrace as Hogan’s chief of staff and assuming her $109,000 faculty job.
At this point, it’s fair for you, Illinois taxpayer, to ask: If I worked for the U of I, what would I have to do to make these trustees stop paying me money?
Last week’s story had a U of I spokesman describing the latest payoff as “a reasonable, responsible agreement with Dr. Troyer reached through mediation.”
That almost makes the surrender of another $175,000 in public money sound noble. But not quite. The people who oversee the U of I plainly will throw six-figure settlements at anyone who might say “Boo!” Note that the U of I was so fearful of fomenting yet another controversy that it timed the announcement of its Troyer give-away for Tuesday, the better to get lost in Fourth of July news coverage.
Remember, this miserable episode started with trustees putting too much reliance on executive recruiters – and not enough of their own shoe leather – into investigating Hogan’s history at other universities. They certainly haven’t behaved like protectors of an extraordinary institution that this state’s citizens built from scratch, and still financially support.
Just once we’d like to see the U of I trustees say, “You’re fired – go now. We won’t keep pretending that squandering public money to escape our own mistakes is prudent.”