The University of Illinois president's former chief of staff on Friday denied sending two controversial anonymous emails, even through a report issued just minutes earlier determined they came from her laptop, while it was in her possession.
Lisa Troyer resigned last week amid an investigation into the messages, written by someone purporting to be a member of a U. of I. faculty group and trying to sway its opinion on the president's plans on the contentious issue of enrollment management.
"I did not write or send the emails under question," Troyer wrote in a 374-word email sent to the Tribune and other media three minutes after the release of a university-commissioned report into the matter. "I had nothing to do with these emails and, although the source and motivation have not yet been uncovered, I believe that in the fullness of time, the truth behind this matter will be revealed."
Top university officials, including her longtime boss, President Michael Hogan, told the Tribune they stand behind the report's conclusions.
The university hired two outside groups to investigate, law firm Jones Day and forensic data analysis firm Duff & Phelps, and the firms reviewed the laptop's hard drive, thousands of emails and Troyer's phone records. Their report provides a behind-the-scenes look at Troyer's activities in the days leading up to the emails, including a preoccupation with the faculty group's decision on the enrollment issue.
The 29-page report goes to great lengths to illustrate that there is no evidence — and that the possibility is extremely remote — that anyone hacked into the university's computer network or Troyer's laptop. The laptop was in Troyer's possession at the time both emails were created and sent, the report said.
The investigation found no evidence that anyone else, including Hogan, knew about the messages from firstname.lastname@example.org. It did find, however, that Hogan and Troyer spoke on the phone three times the evening the second email was sent. Hogan told the Tribune that she called to alert him that her computer "was under attack," and asked what to do.
"It is reasonable to infer that Troyer composed and sent the … emails, using her laptop and falsely representing herself to be a university senator," the report concluded.
The investigation also found Troyer had created another anonymous Yahoo email address — "email@example.com" —- a week earlier while on the phone with Hogan as they discussed a faculty Senate meeting. She used that address to send "test" emails to herself criticizing faculty members, the report said. Troyer denied to investigators knowledge of that email address, and Hogan said he was unaware of it.
On Dec. 12, anonymous emails were sent from About UIIntegrity to the 20 members of the University Senates Conference, the primary faculty advisory group to the president and board of trustees.
Computer science professor Roy Campbell recognized that the text was created on a computer used by Troyer and alerted the group — and the anonymous sender — to his findings. He also informed the information technology department.
Within an hour after Campbell's email was sent, according to the report, Troyer "attempted to delete relevant and damaging information from her laptop," called a faculty member who had been leaking her information from the group, called Hogan, and called the university's chief information officer to report that her computer had been hacked.
"There was no evidence whatsoever that there was a third-party hacker," said Peggy Daley, a managing director with Duff & Phelps.
The Tribune first wrote about the emails last week when Hogan announced Troyer's resignation with no mention of her being under investigation.
Hogan told the Tribune on Friday that he knew nothing about the anonymous emails until Troyer told him that her computer had been hacked, and that he believed her. When asked whether he still believes her, he said: "I take the report at face value."
Troyer, whose salary is $200,850 this year, has been one of Hogan's chief policy advisers and confidantes for nearly a decade, attending meetings with him and speaking on his behalf when he was unavailable. She followed him from the University of Iowa to the University of Connecticut and then to U. of I. in July 2010.
In announcing her resignation, Hogan called her "hardworking, loyal, collegial," and said she will assume research and teaching duties in the psychology department, where she has a tenured position.
Hogan said Friday that decisions about Troyer's further employment are "up to the campus. There are a variety of things she could do, or they could ask her to do."
Interim Provost Richard Wheeler said Urbana-Champaign faculty and administrators will review the investigation and decide "what kind of weight these findings have." The report cites the university's code of conduct, which states that employees should practice integrity and trustworthiness. It also cites the university's computer policy, which states that email "must carry the proper identity of the sender at all times."
"The campus will consider that along with the particular conclusions in this investigative report," said Donna McNeely, the university's ethics officer.
Wheeler said: "We will put together a process to … determine if there are any further actions that need to be taken in her new role as a tenured member of the psychology faculty. ... There are no good precedents for how to deal with this one."
U. of I. board Chairman Christopher Kennedy said Friday afternoon that he is "absolutely" convinced Troyer acted alone. "It is sad but the truth has come out," Kennedy said. As to why Troyer says otherwise, he said: "Her closest friends at the university have shared the facts … with her and have been unable to penetrate that."
The report was issued as Hogan and Kennedy met with the Senates Conference at the U. of I.'s Chicago campus, a meeting previously scheduled to discuss another issue. Kennedy asked the group to close the meeting to the public as they discussed the anonymous emails.
Friday's meeting came at a difficult time for Hogan, who is facing the greatest push-back from faculty since he took over 18 months ago.
Earlier this week, about 125 of the university's most distinguished professors signed a letter to the trustees and Hogan expressing concern about efforts to centralize various functions among the three campuses, including enrollment management.
Hogan and the board are pushing to change the way the university handles enrollment to centralize admissions and financial aid processing, for example, as part of a larger plan to more heavily promote the U. of I. system "brand." Some faculty are concerned that the distinctions of each campus will be diminished.
The Campus Faculty Association on Friday also condemned the enrollment proposal, calling it an "ill-conceived attempt at a major restructuring of our university."