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University of Illinois chief blames himself for tattered relationship with faculty

7-1-10 UIC campus......Michael Hogan is interviewed by reporters his first day as President University Illinois.......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

7-1-10 UIC campus......Michael Hogan is interviewed by reporters on his first day as President of University of Illinois.......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 10, 2012 11:39AM

Under fire from the faculty at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus, university president Michael Hogan on Thursday expressed confidence that they could work out their differences and blamed himself for a series of communication blunders.

“There are a lot of smart people at a university and you can never go wrong asking them for an opinion on even the most complicated issue,” Hogan said. “I believe we weren’t doing enough of that. Even when we were communicating, we didn’t leave people with the conviction that we were listening.”

At least one faculty leader wasn’t buying Hogan’s explanation.

“I think it’s a mistake to describe this problem as just a problem of miscommunication,” said Nick Burbules, a professor of education policy and a faculty senate member. “The problem is there is disagreement about what he wants to do. The problem is not going to be solved by more communication. The problem is going to be solved by honest engagement with those disagreements.”

Thursday’s series of media interviews followed Monday’s emergency, closed-door board meeting where board members expressed concerns about a recent letter, signed by more than 130 prominent faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The letter said the faculty members had lost confidence in Hogan, stating “his presidency should be ended at the earliest opportunity.”

February’s scathing faculty letter didn’t totally blindside him, he said.

“I can’t say I was completely surprised but I was saddened that I hadn’t done a better job with those faculty,” he said. “I think it hit me squarely then that I need to do a better job.”

Faculty members were peeved about an enrollment management plan pushed by Hogan that they feared could hamper their autonomy within the three campuses of U. of I. The letter also followed the January resignation of Lisa Troyer, Hogan’s handpicked chief of staff, after a university investigation showed she sent anonymous emails to some faculty members trying to push Hogan’s enrollment management plan. Troyer denies sending the emails and has a pending faculty appointment in the psychology department.

Emails also recently surfaced between Hogan and Urbana-Champaign chancellor Phyllis Wise where he bluntly questioned her approach to a number of issues, from enrollment management to bowl game transportation.

Hogan wouldn’t say Thursday if Troyer should remain employed by the university, saying it’s inappropriate to comment on a personnel matter he may one day act on. He did say his tone in the emails to Wise was “inappropriate” and “off base,” blaming a flu bug and trying to catch up on work after December’s Kraft Fight Hunger bowl game in San Francisco.

He said he added “a little extra edge to that straightforward email and that’s what I regret.”

He is planning on meeting with faculty in Urbana-Champaign on March 30. He met with Springfield faculty and staff on Tuesday and will also meet with Chicago faculty, he said.

Hogan was hired in 2010 in the wake of an admissions scandal that forced out his predecessor, B. Joseph White.

Hogan, 68, said he had no plans to retire “as long as I can be an effective president and have some fun along the way.”

“I like my job,” he said. “I love it, actually.”

Burbules said the enrollment management issue was just the latest in a series of disagreements between Hogan and university faculty that have “really eroded the trust of faculty, especially on our campus.”

“I think it would be a very long road to try to rebuild trust,” he said, adding that he was “not alone on this.”

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