Early last fall, the Illinois State community welcomed a new president, and what was supposed to be a new era. Seven months later, Dr. Timothy Flanagan officially resigned, putting an end to what is now the shortest tenure of any Illinois State president.
Over the course of the year, a confusing series of reports and allegations began to grow. These included being noticeably absent from two committee meetings pertaining to the university budget and an alleged altercation with an employee. Despite these allegations, the abrupt ending to Dr. Flanagan’s presidency was a shock and a sad outcome to what was once a presidency filled with optimism.
Not since David K. Berlo (1971-1973) has an Illinois State president resigned under such negative circumstances. With few clear answers, we are left to question what exactly went wrong with our 18th president, and what his departure means for the university going forward.
When he met with this editorial board at the beginning of the semester, Flanagan appeared as though he was not only completely dedicated to Illinois State, but that he had a clear vision for the future. With plans to increase diversity, scholarships and competition with larger universities, Flanagan’s goals seemed admirable. Labeling his position as the “capstone job” of his career, it appeared at the time as though Flanagan planned to serve at this university for many years to come.
In hindsight, Flanagan was clearly not the right fit for this university. The transition from leading a smaller university to a larger one proved to be too much, and it didn’t take long for this to become apparent. While little is conclusively known about Flanagan’s altercation with a former grounds superintendent, what we do know about the failure to attend committee hearings is inexcusable. There is perhaps no better way to stunt the growth of a university than failure to lobby for funds, making the absences very troubling.
While the change of leadership will likely benefit the university long term, the resignation of Flanagan is not without consequences. At the Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday, it was disclosed that ISU will be paying Flanagan $480,418, the total salary for the remainder of this year and next. This, on top of the salary that will be paid to ISU’s new president, makes an already tight budget even tighter.
Considering these consequences and Flanagan’s short term here, it is impossible to not wonder what exactly went wrong in the hiring process. According to the Pantagraph, Illinois State spent $89,000 to hire the Greenwood/Asher & Associates firm to find proper candidates for the position, a process which took months. With so many resources and time devoted to the task, the candidate selected should have led ISU for years. Instead, the best that can be hoped for going forward is a reevaluation of the process so that this never happens again.
For now however, the outlook for our 19th president, Dr. Larry Dietz, seems very positive. Previously handpicked by Bowman and a well-loved member of the community, Dietz is a natural fit for the position, one that many were advocating for even before Flanagan. Dietz will provide stability and leadership during this tough time, as it seems the perfect person for the job was right in front of us this entire time.
In the future, the hiring of Flanagan may prove to be very costly in more ways than one, but for now the ISU community can take comfort in knowing that the leadership of the university moving forward is in very capable hands.