Earlier this month, University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers won a battle to keep his job — for one more year — after being threatened with termination if he didn’t resign. Powers' story has some familiar issues and conflicts repeated in other state university power struggles over the last several years, including state politics, budget crunches, and influential faculty groups.
In the case of UT-Austin, Powers was given the resign-or-else ultimatum by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, although Gov. Rick Perry and his allies were widely seen as wanting Powers to leave. Powers won out, supported by faculty and his peers at other universities, but leaders at other institutions facing similar battles over the last three years haven’t been so fortunate.
Here are five other higher ed presidents who found themselves embroiled in state university power struggles, with varying levels of success:
1. University of Illinois President Michael Hogan
Michael Hogan was appointed president of the University of Illinois in 2009, following a scandal over admissions favoritism for politically connected students that led Joseph White to resign as president and seven of the nine trustees to step down. But Hogan would have his own scandal to deal with, along with a faculty mutiny, and he resigned in 2012.
According to the Chicago Tribune, he alienated faculty and staff almost from the beginning of his stint, portraying the university system as broken and himself as its savior, along with making changes that faculty feared would lead to the loss of autonomy for individual campuses. Faculty called his leadership style arrogant, manipulative, and bullying for those who disagreed with him. A scandal developed when his chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, was determined to be the author of inflammatory emails trying to influence faculty debate on a Hogan initiative: centralizing admissions and financial aid processing.
2. University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub
Robert Holub was nearly fired in 2011 after a job evaluation committee found that he bristled at criticism and struggled to communicate and build relationships with faculty, legislators, and trustees, the Boston Globe reported. The German literature scholar from the University of California, Berkeley, was allowed to serve for another year until his replacement, Kumble Subbaswamy, was hired.
In a survey of faculty members, at least half of the respondents lacked confidence in his ability to forge unity on campus and build morale, and they also questioned his ability to utilize affirmative action when making admissions and hiring decisions. Some members of the evaluation committee were concerned that he didn’t articulate a plan for increasing the number of black undergrad students at the university, which had dropped 24% from his 2008 hiring to 2011. He also angered trustees and university leaders with his decision in 2011 to spend $119,000 on a feasibility study of a possible medical school without consulting them. He also riled university officials when he called for the state attorney general to investigate the leaking of his job evaluation to the Globe.
3. University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere
Richard Lariviere, president of the University of Oregon, was fired by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education in November 2011 after about two years on the job. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lariviere’s transgressions from the board’s point of view included several violations of their trust, including his lobbying against the board's wishes for a plan to make the flagship university independent from the rest of the Oregon system.
For state lawmakers, his flaws were an aloof and arrogant management style, and failures to cooperate, including granting staff and faculty raises after the state's governor told him not to. But Lariviere had strong faculty support, and he refused to resign when the board gave him the choice of termination or leaving voluntarily. He defended his actions as being in the best interests of the university, not the board.
4. Louisiana State University President John Lombardi
John Lombardi was fired as president of Louisiana State University in April 2012. His critics said he had a brusque management style and outspoken nature that hurt his dealings with LSU chancellors, state legislators, and Gov. Bobby Jindal. Lombardi’s advocates said he was well-versed on the issues that faced the university, and that he took the heat for budget cuts that the legislators and governor were responsible for. He was voted out on a 12-4 vote of the university’s board of supervisors, with eight of the appointees of the governor voting against him. He had served in the position since 2007.
5. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan
Two years after being hired, Teresa Sullivan was forced to resign as president of the University of Virginia on June 9, 2012, over “philosophical differences” with the governing Board of Visitors. Those differences were never made clear, although board members had expressed concern about the school falling behind its competitors in the development of online courses. They also apparently wanted a more “visionary” leader in the job, and Sullivan was more of a numbers cruncher.
Faculty and students protested, and the board’s move was portrayed by the media as a conflict between business interests and public education. Gov. Bob McDonnell distanced himself from the board’s decision before calling on the board members to resolve the situation or resign en masse. Sullivan’s supporters had politically outflanked those of the board members, and on June 26, 2012, the board reinstated the ousted leader. According to the New York Times, there truly were philosophical differences about how to move the university forward during a time of shrinking budgets and alumni giving, combined with caps on tuition hikes.
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