University of Illinois President’s Chief of Staff Resigns

January 07, 2012

The chief of staff for University of Illinois President Michael Hogan has stepped down amid an internal investigation.

Lisa Troyer resigned from her post this week following allegations that she posed as a member of a faculty advisory group when sending anonymous e-mails to its members about a report that was critical of some of Hogan's proposals.

Nicholas Burbules, who serves as vice-chair of the Senates Conference, said one of the messages urged members of the Conference not to investigate the source of a leaked report that they were working on about enrollment. The e-mail also criticized conference members about their own internal divisions when writing that report.

"This person was basically saying in view of these differences, we should just basically give up and not try to pretend that we can actually issue a report that actually does represent a common view," Burbules said. "The e-mail was pretty clearly intended to influence the deliberations of the conference."

In the end, the Senates Conference did pass an enrollment report by a vote of 13-to-2.

Burbules said the message sent to the Senates Conference was signed by a "Senator." He said he suspects the e-mail sender was Troyer.

"Part of it I think that really is upsetting to people is that it looks as if the poster was posing as a member of the conference, and using anonymity to block their actual identify," he said. "That's, I think, one of the ethical issues that's going to be looked into."

Burbules said the only direct evidence linking Troyer to that anonymous e-mail and other ones sent to the Senates Conference was the embedded text within the body of the messages. U of I computer science professor Roy Campbell told the Chicago Tribune that he was able to connect the embedded text to Troyer's computer.

"Only somebody with a considerable amount of knowledge and information about deliberations within the conference could have written this e-mail," Burbules added. "Whoever wrote this e-mail knew a lot about what had been going on and the argument we had been having within the conference."

Illinois Public Media requested copies of the e-mails. Senates Conference Chair Donald Chambers, a biochemistry professor on the Chicago campus, said he wanted to be cautious about releasing those documents, saying he didn't know what the specific university policy is for that material. University spokesman Tom Hardy said he would check on whether they could be released on Monday.

As of Saturday, Hardy said President Hogan was not available for comment.

Hardy said an investigation began in mid-December looking at the circumstances of the e-mail messages, which he expects will be completed soon. That investigation has also focused on whether hacking was involved in sending the messages.

Hardy could not disclose Troyer's reasons for resigning, and she did not return a request for comment.

"It's a personal decision on her part," Hardy said. "I have not talked to her."

Troyer came to the U of I in July 2010. She had previously served as Hogan's chief of staff at the University of Connecticut, and she was also a former interim associate provost at the University of Iowa. At the U of I, she was making $200,850 during this academic year.

In an announcement to university administrators on Friday, Hogan praised Troyer as "knowledgeable, hard working, loyal, collegial, and dedicated to helping each one of the universities." Hogan explained that Troyer will resume research and teaching duties, concentrating her time in the psychology department.

However, U of I Interim Provost Richard Wheeler told the Chicago Tribune that the U of I needs to finish its investigation before allowing Troyer to stay with the university. Chambers agreed with that assessment.

"The University Senates Conference is the faculty part of shared governance," Chambers said. "So if, in fact, a person is trying to subvert the faculty process, I could easily that a number of my colleagues would be disturbed about just the process of allowing somebody back to the faculty as a default in a potentially ethical situation."

Chambers said concerns in the Conference's enrollment management report are like the issues "that our founding fathers faced."

"We're for things that will facilitate enrollment management and getting the best possible students, and most diverse student body that we can get," Chambers said.

The U of I has tried to move forward following a damaging admissions scandal in 2009 involving politically-backed student applicants. Burbules said he thinks the U of I's Board of Trustees will review the circumstances surrounding the anonymous e-mails, and he said he hopes any knowledge President Hogan had about the messages will also be investigated.

But Hardy said he does not know if there is a sufficient "reason for this matter to go before the Trustees."

"This isn't the first, nor will it be the last time that information technology folks are asked to examine the source of e-mail, and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the security of our information technology system," he said.

Story source: WILL