During his brief tenure as president of the University of Connecticut, Michael Hogan battled a souring economy and won some crucial victories but also made some controversial moves that caused observers to scratch their heads.

“It’s been sort of a rocky ride here for him,” said UConn Board of Trustees member Thomas Ritter. “He did some wonderful things and did some stupid things.”

“He wasn’t quite sure what his future was here in Connecticut,” Ritter said.

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Michael Hogan (University of Connecticut photo)

Hogan settled his future this week, surprising the board and many others, with the sudden announcement that he is leaving to become president of the University of Illinois.

“The University of Illinois is a larger school and closer to his roots,” Ritter said.

Hogan has close ties to other Big Ten schools, coming to UConn in 2007 from the University of Iowa, where he was executive vice president and provost. Before that, he was executive dean of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State University.

Hogan, 66, is leaving after just three years in office, the shortest tenure for a UConn president since George A. Works resigned in 1930 after one year.

“We were disappointed in the short stay,” said UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence McHugh. UConn expects to name an interim president as it begins a national search for a permanent successor, he said.

Trustees learned of the resignation only hours before it was publicly announced Tuesday evening.

“That disappointed me,” McHugh said. “The phone call came at 5:30. He was in Chicago. . . . All of the trustees I’ve talked to – none of them knew about it.”

Hogan’s tenure was marked by accomplishments such as last week’s approval by the state legislature of a $362 million plan to renovate and expand the UConn Health Center.

“We’re grateful for the strong leadership Mike Hogan brought to UConn over the last three years,” McHugh said in a prepared statement. “We’ve had many successes during this time, including establishing a bright future for our Health Center, launching a major capital campaign, increasing our research portfolio by over 25 percent, and admitting stronger and more diverse students each year.”

Nevertheless, Hogan reportedly had a strained relationship with some members of the Board of Trustees and with Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

The governor issued a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed that he is leaving the university at such a critical time, particularly on the heels of the landmark financial investment we have just made to the UConn Health Center.”

“We had assumed President Hogan’s commitment to UConn was a long term one; it should have been,” Rell said. “However, we wish him well in his new endeavor and view this as an opportunity to attract a top-tier college president who will commit himself or herself – heart and soul – for many years to our flagship state university, guiding it and shaping it as an institution second to none in the nation.”

His presidency also was marked by controversy, including criticism of his decision not to live in the president’s house, citing his wife’s allergies to mold there. The university instead rented and renovated another home. The student newspaper raised questions about the $170,000 spent for Hogan’s inauguration ceremony. Critics also questioned the $475,000 renovation of the president’s office in Gulley Hall, roughly double the original estimate. More recently, Hogan raised eyebrows by purchasing life-size cardboard cutouts of himself to be placed on campus to promote campus events.

Some students also have been critical of Hogan, contending he has not done enough to protect the quality of the university in a slumping economy.

“Classes are expanding, and the faculty is not increasing,” said Jason Ortiz, a senior from Norwich and a columnist for the Daily Campus student newspaper. “I was a little shocked” by the resignation, he said. “I see it a little bit as running away from a lot of problems.”

His arrival three years ago was greeted favorably by many faculty members because of his academic background, said Edward Marth, executive director of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors. But Hogan, a historian, “had problems dealing with the legislature” and made questionable judgments with decisions such as his office renovation and the purchase of the cutouts, Marth said.

“I think those were the two straws that broke the back of any support he had,” Marth said.

Marth released a statement saying the university “will miss a president who had such a short time here, but most also recognize that Mike’s arrival came at a sudden free-fall for the economy of Connecticut and as a result, the university fortunes plummeted in budget terms as well.”

Hogan is a specialist in post World War II history. “I respected him as a scholar,” said John Clausen, an environmental science professor and chairman of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. “It’s nice to have a university president who has accomplished as much as he has. He’s a very bright guy.”

In a letter, released at UConn Wednesday, Hogan said, “This was a very unexpected development in my life, and was not an easy decision to make. I’ve made many lifelong friends at UConn. I treasure the interactions I’ve had with each of you, and will forever be impressed by the professionalism, creativity, and compassion that characterizes the students, faculty, staff and friends of our university.”

Hogan will assume duties in July at the University of Illinois, a school of more than 71,000 students – more than twice the size of UConn – on campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. According to a published report in Chicago, Hogan will be paid an annual salary of $620,000 if he is approved, as expected, by University of Illinois trustees next week. At UConn, Hogan is being paid $615,000 this year.

“It’s good that he’s going back to the Midwest because it was not a good fit in Connecticut,” said state Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, co-chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “He’ll be more comfortable there than in the state universities of New England, where the legislature does play a more important role. . . .I had the feeling he grew up in a system where he was not used to being challenged.”

State Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, the other higher education co-chair, credited Hogan with winning support for the UConn Health Center renovations but said he appeared to have difficulty adjusting to the lobbying effort.

“What he may not have been used to in the legislature is how much effort you have to put in to get support,” she said. “Coming from the Midwest, where state universities dominate the landscape, is very different from the Northeast.”

In a reference to Hogan’s remodeling of the president’s office, Willis added, “What I’m looking for in the next president is someone who has similar taste, so we don’t have to redecorate again.”

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