Switch from Hogan to Easter not black-and-white issue

If Hollywood wrote a script for the events surrounding the University’s most recent change in administrative leadership, it’d probably play out like this: Robert Easter rocks back and forth on his hammock, enjoying the heavenly weather of Champaign-Urbana as of late, maybe spotting the occasional cloud that looks like an ice cream cone, sipping an Arnold Palmer and reminiscing about his time with the University of Illinois, immersed in the joys of retirement.

Then there comes the fateful call.

When he hangs up, the humming of hallelujahs and the “Sweet Jesus” chorus of the Urbana-Champaign Senate and faculty sing like gospel all over Chambana-land as former President Mike Hogan falls from his grace.

But this isn’t Hollywood. The events leading up to Hogan’s surprising ­— yet unsurprising — resignation last Thursday cannot be diluted nor divided categorically into black and white. More importantly, we shouldn’t be quick to peg Hogan as the traditional “bad guy” character.

Months of unresolved, underlying disagreements in leadership style and policy-making built the tension between Hogan and faculty on all campuses. This, cherry-topped with a scandal involving one of his closest confidants, in which he also allegedly played a role, added up to enough pressure to burst through the seams of the collected Hogan we met two years ago.

Last week, these tensions drove him to offer his resignation, to leave the University’s most important job to someone better suited to pick up the pieces — UI veteran Robert Easter.

The University’s beloved local celebrity has been riding shotgun for several years now. Easter came to the University 36 years ago as a professor in swine nutrition in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He rose through the ranks, serving as a department head, dean and then provost. It wasn’t a surprise then when he was asked to step in as interim provost when former provost Linda Katehi left for her position as chancellor at the University of California, Davis in 2009. Nor was it a surprise when he stepped up as interim chancellor when administrators were dropping from left and right during the clout scandal in 2009. And then again as interim vice chancellor for research in 2011.

After decades of certain challenges and heavy responsibility, Easter, now 64, was understandably ready to cruise into his final mile.

“I think he was actually looking forward to retirement,” said Jim Pettigrew, now a professor in animal sciences, who attended graduate school with Easter. “He always would say to me when his time was done in administration, he’d like to come back to the department and do some swine nutrition work again.”

But Easter’s loyalty can always be relied on in times of need. In an interview Friday, Easter described the necessity of having a head for the University who isn’t looking to back out anytime soon.

“There needs to be a period where there’s not an interim associated with the title, where someone coming here wouldn’t say, ‘Who is going to be in your chair in three months?’” Easter said.

In times when the University wades in murky waters of promulgated scandal and distrust, there’s faith to be had in Easter as president.

But his appointment doesn’t resolve the remaining bitterness left over from Hogan’s term, nor should we be wagging our fingers at Hogan for the state he’s left our University.

We need to remember that two years ago he came in at a more tumultuous time for the University. The work to be done was insurmountable: cleaning up our pension system, restoring student trust, holding administration and faculty alike to their duties and consolidating costs on all levels, to name a few. What needed to be done was ugly — unpopular — but it needed to be done.

These measures ended up sparing faculty’s salaries; as a matter of fact, this past fall, many even enjoyed a healthy raise in the first time in three years. On a more lighthearted note, Hogan was the guy in the suit who spent an hour on the Quad playing rock-paper-scissors with passing students. And what Hogan did well during his presidency was recruiting the best leadership team, which includes Chancellor Phyllis Wise, to spearhead the change we needed when we were at our ugliest.

It’s easy to put a villain’s mustache on Hogan to rally around the white knight, but respect needs to be handed where it’s due. While we should be nothing less than thankful for Easter’s proactive leadership on campus, let’s not act like Hogan was cackling viciously into his cigar as the University’s administrative reputation spiraled out of control.

Nora is a junior in LAS.